Are terrorism and biting insects the traveller’s greatest problems?

Headline showing efect of Terrorism of holidaymakers

A headline following Travel Industry research into the factors influencing travellers’ choice of holiday destination

I am sometimes asked what advice I would give to stay safe when travelling.

The people who ask might think I have special insight because I have travelled abroad to provide direct psychological support to people affected by traumatic or tragic events for the last 16 years. But the advice that I have gleaned over the years isn’t very exotic. Disappointingly it doesn’t include any special tricks learned in distant lands for avoiding terrorism or repelling critters that bite.

For the record, my top tips for avoiding the type of incidents that might result in a Psychological Trauma Consultant like me turning up to support you or your family are:

1. Carefully watch children when they make their first visits to your hotel or villa swimming pool. Even dutiful parents can be tragically distracted by other considerations such as unpacking and finding their way around – or enjoying the first ‘all-inclusive’ cold drink which they’ve been looking forward to during a long journey.

2. Don’t mix alcohol and swimming – all swimming, but especially swimming in the sea.

3. Encourage groups of young adults on holiday without parents (especially if they are are likely to drink) to try and get rooms on the ground or first floors to minimise the likelihood of a serious balcony fall.

4. And, most important of all, keep your wits about you when using the roads; whether as a pedestrian, a driver or a passenger (use the seatbelts).

The headline you see above was published on April 21 following research commissioned by Travel Weekly in the UK. It tells a completely different story. Following international media coverage of the terrorist atrocities in Europe and the Zika virus in South and Central America it’s no surprise that travellers around the world are reconsidering their plans.

So it might be a surprise to see this quote from Nathalie MacDermott, clinical research fellow in infectious disease at Imperial College London. After describing the possible effects of the Zika virus Nathalie said:

“It is worth remembering the highest risk from travel is often not disease. It is road accidents.”      Independent  5 February 2016

…and that’s from a disease specialist!

This chimes with the statistic, quoted in one of our previous posts on Pulse, that although Europe is a relatively safe part of the world in which to travel, if an individual traveller were unlucky enough to suffer a serious incident it is two thousand times more likely to be a road accident than a terrorist incident.

Naturally, it is sensible to assess the significance of rare but horrific and highly publicised events. But when we do we can fall prey to our particular kind of risk-averse psychological make-up. Being human beings we often come to the conclusion that these rare dangers aren’t rare at all. Instead they indicate a dominant threat that trumps all others. It isn’t always in our nature to carefully balance up the risks posed by the exceptional danger against the mundane reality that the principle dangers when travelling abroad are often, when analysed, very similar to the dangers that we manage every day nearer home.

In my experience the most frequent serious problems that travellers endure are, by far, transport accidents, illness and low level crime such as robbery or sexual assault.

If you are planning to carry on travelling but would like to minimising the risks you are likely to encounter you could get hold of a copy of ‘Looking for Lemons’ by Lloyd Figgins (and read it). Lloyd is an international risk mitigation expert who has ‘walked the walk’. And it might make you smile.

Martin Alderton      Managing Consultant      Clarity Stress and Trauma Ltd

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