Last updated: 12:00 PM ET, Mon March 28 2016

Why You Should Not Be Afraid To Travel To Europe

Features & Advice | David Cogswell | March 28, 2016

Why You Should Not Be Afraid To Travel To Europe

A member of a group I was recently traveling with in Yellowstone National Park asked me if I was concerned about the safety of travel to Europe. His own concern had figured into his choice to travel in the U.S. that time instead of Europe.

Now we have the bombing in Brussels, another unspeakable tragedy, and once again it is causing people to question whether or not they should travel. Americans were already concerned about traveling to Europe before the grim news of the Brussels attacks blanketed the news channels.

We had already witnessed the Paris attacks and the Istanbul attacks. Now with the Brussels attacks, surely more people will decide not to travel to Europe. Europe, historically the first international jumping off point for American travelers, is now seen by many people as too risky a travel destination.

That itself is a sad turn of events.

It’s always awkward for people in the travel industry to promote travel in the wake of a horrific tragedy. Obviously if your livelihood is based on travel, you like to see people traveling. It bodes well for your business. But no reasonable human being would wish for people to travel if it put them in danger. No person of conscience would put his own livelihood up against someone else’s life or well being.

In the wake of such an attack, tour operators must honor the feelings of their customers. And they urge customers to buy cancellation insurance to make it easy to make those decisions. If you feel unsafe and want to cancel your reservation, then go ahead. Most tour operators are extremely flexible about cancellations in the wake of terrorist attacks. Their hope is that you will come back later when the fear has subsided.

But it’s not just about business. Those who promote travel as a business usually also believe in travel as a beneficial activity for human beings. Everyone wants to travel, longs to see wonderful places that they have read about or seen in films. Travel is generally recognized as an enhancement of the quality of life, a great luxury. They hold the same belief for their customers as for their own family members.

In the wake of a fear-inducing event, the travel industry must respect their customers’ fear, even if it is damaging to their own livelihood, even if they know that the actual risks do not really warrant the fear response.

How can you promote travel to someone who thinks it means putting them in danger? It is a very delicate position to be in. No one wants to be seen as someone who is only concerned with making money and doesn’t care what happens to their customers as long as the cash register keeps ringing.

However, even in the wake of Brussels, the odds do not support the fear. It is still true that your likelihood of being the victim of a terrorist attack is one of the least of the dangers you face whether you travel or stay at home.

Don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself. Google the words “odds of dying in a terrorist attack” and see what you come up with.

Zeeshan ul Hassan, a data scientist writing for, recently crunched the numbers and found that your chances of being killed in any kind of terrorist attack worldwide are one in 9.3 million.

You are three times more likely to die of food poisoning (one in 3 million) than from a terrorist attack. You are nearly twice as likely to die from hot tap water (one in 5 million). You have roughly the same chance of being president (one in 10 million) and a much higher chance of dating a supermodel (one in 88,000).

According to Hassan, you are 14 times more likely to die in your bathtub than in a terrorist attack, 11 times more likely to die by slipping in the shower, 16 times by lightning, 450 times by falling, 118 times by drowning.

You are 500 times more likely to die in a car accident (3,000 people die every day in road accidents worldwide, 100 in the U.S.). A CDC report released in 2011 said that poisoning from prescription drugs is even more likely to kill you than a car accident. And there are 80,000 deaths a year in America from alcohol.

The 2011 Report on Terrorism from the National Counter Terrorism Center concluded that Americans are as likely to be “crushed to death by their televisions or furniture” as they are to be killed by terrorists.

Someone could reasonably say that you can reduce their risk in many of these areas. If there is a storm and you find shelter you can reduce your chances of being struck by lightning. You can be careful about what you eat, what prescription drugs you take. It may be possible for some people to stay out of cars, though that’s unlikely for most Americans. Surely you can reduce the risk by driving carefully. But you can’t control other drivers, and even the best drivers sometimes have accidents.

The bottom line is that there is some risk in daily life. The risk of being the victim of a terrorist attack is a tiny one statistically, but the stories we hear about those incidents are deeply frightening, no doubt about it.

Meanwhile, life goes on and, sad to say, your time is dwindling. Though we don’t often like to hear it mentioned, no one gets out of here alive. There are no immortal beings. So how do you want to spend your time? Do you want to spend it hiding from highly improbable danger? Other people are going around doing the things you would like to do. Why should they have all the fun while you stay home in fear?

Remember, terrorism is about inspiring terror. The perpetrators of attacks against innocent people engage in such activities because it is the most harm that they can do. They do not have the means to carry out broader attacks.

And yet, if they succeed in making us cower in fear, obviously they have achieved their objective. So let’s remember that living well is still the best revenge. Let’s follow the example of the French woman whose husband had been taken in the Paris attacks and responded by writing an open letter to the perpetrators: “I will insult you with my happiness.”

Let’s do that. Nothing could make terrorism more futile than that.

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