Photo: Michał Huniewicz
WE HUMANS AREN’T VERY GOOD at calculating risk, especially when it comes to travel: whenever there’s a terrorist attack in a foreign country, trips are frantically canceled (sometimes at a huge financial loss) because of the worry that the country is no longer safe. But this isn’t rational. If anything, a country that just underwent a terrorist attack is going to be more on the alert, and will be, for the time being, a bit safer.
It’s not just terrorism, though. We allow our fears — as irrational as they may be — dictate our travel plans far more than we should. Here are five fears you need to stop freaking out about.
Australian golfer Jason Day is one of many to pull out of the Rio Olympics over Zika. When he pulled out, he said, “The reason for my decision is my concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus and the potential risks it might present to my wife’s future pregnancies and to future members of our family.”
A lot of people are terrified of Zika, but the truth of it is this: for the vast majority of people, getting Zika would not be a big deal. It leaves the system relatively quickly — in a matter of a few weeks. There’s some evidence it stays in semen a little bit longer and can be sexually transmitted, but the simple solution for Day, if he’d gone to Rio and contracted Zika, would be to just abstain from having unprotected sex for a few months.
Even then, if he had transmitted it to his wife, she would have needed to be pregnant at the time for it to be harmful to their unborn child. If she got it, she would simply have to wait a few weeks, and then she would have been Zika-free and, also, now immune to the virus.
There’s some chatter that golfers are actually using Zika as a cynical excuse to pull out of Rio, which isn’t as lucrative as touring with the PGA. And this seems to make more sense than the reason Day gave: it’s a risk, sure, but it’s a really, really, really small risk. The World Health Organization has said there’s not enough of a threat from Zika to cancel the Olympics, in part because the summer Olympics are actually taking place during Brazil’s winter, when there are less mosquitoes breeding. The hype around Zika is just that — hype.
The short of it is this: unless you are a pregnant woman, Zika is not a good reason to cancel your travel plans.
2. Plane crashes
You can download an app called that will tell you what the odds are of the flight you’re getting on crashing. The numbers are pretty much always in your favor. Flying from London Heathrow to New York JFK? Your chance of going down is 1 in 5.4 million.
Flying is safer than driving. So don’t cancel your trip because you’re worried about a plane crash. Cancel it because plane travel is the worst.
The odds are absurdly small that you’ll be killed in a terrorist attack. 29 Americans are killed by terrorists per year on average. You are as likely to be crushed to death by a falling television of piece of furniture. Furthermore, canceling a trip because of a terrorist attack is a great way of letting the terrorists win.
Afraid to go in the water because of sharks? Stop. Just stop. Sharks are a really, really, really small threat to humans. For one thing, we are not their normal prey. The people they attack at the highest rates are surfers, because surfers can resemble seals to sharks. Furthermore, the highest number of unprovoked shark attacks in a year on record is 79. That’s worldwide. Some years, they kill just a handful of people. On average, it’s around 12 people a year. We, on the other hand, kill around 11,417 sharks per hour.
Shark attacks are an awful and dramatic way to die, but you have, as an American, a 1 in 3.7 million chance of being killed by a shark. You’re far more likely to drown.
You’re going to die someday. Accept that now — that you’re going to miss out on everything after you die, just as you missed out on everything before you were born — and you’ll be a way better traveler.