Last updated: 12:00 PM ET, Mon March 14 2016

What Should Travelers Really Be Worried About?

Impacting Travel | Josh Lew | March 14, 2016

What Should Travelers Really Be Worried About?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

This seems like a dangerous time to travel. Every few weeks, a new terror attack, plane crash or mass shooting hits the headlines. Formerly safe destinations like Mali, Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt are now seen as dangerous places. 2015 showed us that even popular tourist spots like Thailand are not immune to bombings and violence.

Headlines can change the places that people want to visit, but it turns out that the most dangerous aspects of travel are not usually covered by the media. When Time Magazine looked at State Department records for “non-natural” deaths of Americans abroad, the data showed a much different picture of the dangers of travel than what is portrayed in the news.

The odds are in your favor

First of all, according to the data, each year an average of 827 Americans die while traveling abroad. Considering that more than 60 million U.S. passport holders travel outside the country annually, the chances of returning home unscathed are very, very good.

Traffic accidents are the biggest danger

According to Time’s research, a total of 10,545 Americans died abroad between October 2002 and June 2015. About one third of those deaths (3,104) were caused by traffic accidents and one-fifth by homicide (2,000). There were also a surprising number of drownings (1,320 over the last 13 years). It should be noted that the State Department’s data included suicides, of which 1,461 occurred in the same 2002-2015 time period.

Certain countries were dangerous for certain reasons. For example, because of the prevalence of water-based attractions, there was a greater number of drownings in places like Mexico, the Bahamas and Costa Rica.

READ MORE: Travel Insurance Saves The Day For A Guy Who Should Know Better

Dangerous countries?

When you look at the raw numbers over the past year, the most dangerous countries to visit were Mexico (228 American deaths), Thailand (35 deaths) and Costa Rica (31). When it came to violent deaths (murder), Mexico was by far the most dangerous, with 843 homicides involving Americans reported since 2002. The Philippines had 110 homicides over the same period, though it had far fewer American visitors. Other less-visited places like Honduras and Haiti also had a high danger of homicide.

So what are the safest places to visit?

It depends on how you read the DOS data. Thailand is seemingly dangerous when you look at its raw numbers, but if suicides and drug overdoses are not counted, it drops far down the rankings. More Americans die in Mexico than anywhere else, but more visit there than anywhere else, by a large margin. In 2014, 26 million U.S. residents crossed the southern border. That is more than twice as many as visited any other country. 

Canada is arguably the safest destination overall, with 1.29 U.S. citizens dying there for every one million who visit. By this measure, the U.K. (3.16 deaths per million visits) and France (four deaths per million) are also quite safe. 

Time's look at the State Department data shows that despite terrorism, plane crashes and natural disasters stealing the headlines, travelers should be most concerned about traffic accidents and other more-common dangers. 


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