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Travel Isn't Going to Kill You -- but Staying at Home Will

by Matt Hershberger Nov 22, 2016

HERE’S A HEADLINE YOU’LL never see: “52-year-old man dies in his easy chair after years of doing not very much at all.” Assuming the dead man isn’t a celebrity or a public figure, this would not make the evening news. It’s just not grabby.

Here are some headlines you will see:

These stories are all tragic, and they are all newsworthy. But when you hear stories like these on a more or less constant basis — and you don’t hear stories of people dying of obesity or stress-related illnesses — you may understandably begin to think that travel is an extremely dangerous thing to do. And travel isn’t totally without its risks: people do die in terrorist attacks or plane crashes or in violent confrontations with wild animals.

But the number one killer in the US is heart disease. Other major killers include diabetes, strokes, and drug overdoses — all of which can be linked to a lack of physical activity or to a high level of stress. In 2009, Science Daily published a report saying that sedentary lifestyles are the single greatest health risk to Americans. And a longitudinal study from Oregon State has found that people who live “high stress” lives have a much higher risk of premature death.

So how does this compare to travel risks?

1. Plane crashes

40% of passengers fear dying in a plane crash. And this is understandable — it’s a horrible, dramatic, and helpless way to die. But it’s actually one of the safest methods of travel. Worldwide, you’d have to take a flight a day for about 10,000 years to be involved in a fatal plane crash. In the US, the number is closer to 55,000 years.

This is because only 1 in 1.2 million flights crash, and 95.7% of passengers who are in these crashes survive. You are far more likely to die in your car — about 138 people die per year in plane crashes, while 36,676 die in motor vehicle crashes.

Fear isn’t a rational thing. But if it were, you would be far more scared to go run errands than you would be to get on a plane. You would be far more scared during the drive to the airport than you would be once you arrived.

2. Terrorism

Terrorism, like plane crashes, is terrifying. That’s actually why they call it terrorism — it’s designed specifically to provoke fear and a sense of permanent insecurity. But terrorism is not a huge threat to you personally when you travel. The terrorist attacks in Paris last year were awful — but as the Washington Post pointed out, three times as many French citizens died that day from cancer. puts your chances of being killed by a terrorist at around 1 in 20 million. You are more likely to be killed by the furniture in your home than you are at the hands of a terrorist. And as I have written elsewhere, changing travel plans because of the fear of terrorism is basically exactly what the terrorists want.

Imagine again that your fear of death could be rational — you would not have very strong fears about dying in a terrorist attack. Global Research points out that you are 5,882 times more likely to die of medical error than terrorism. You are, depending on the numbers, 23,528 times more likely to die of obesity. You are 187 times more likely to starve to death in America than you are to die of terrorism. You would be far more scared of doctors and your bathroom scale than you would be of terrorists.

3. Wild animal attacks

There have been a lot of wild animal attacks in the news over the past couple of years. But the reason for this is actually a fairly positive one — more people are getting out into nature. The US National Park Service logged a record 307 million visits in 2015. Unfortunately, a lot of these people don’t follow the rules of the park, and either wander off the trail or get too close to wild animals.

But as the Washington Post recently pointed out, you aren’t likely to die in a National Park. And if you do die, it’s probably not going to be at the paws of a grizzly bear. Between 120 and 140 people die in the park each year, which means that you, as a visitor, have about 1 in 2 million chance of being among their number.

Of those that do die in the Parks, a large portion are from vehicle accidents, suicides, and pre-existing medical conditions. The number one cause of death is drowning, and more people die from avalanches, exposure, and falls than die in wildlife attacks.

The same goes for shark attacks — you are 30 times more likely to get hit by lightning than you are to be the victim of a shark attack, and are much more likely to drown.

Don’t be scared of the world.

You’re going to die someday, and there’s a chance that you’ll die out in the world doing something awesome. But there’s a much larger chance that, if you don’t go out and see the world, if you don’t stay active, if you stay cloistered in your home, that you’re going to die of stress and obesity-related illnesses.

There’s science behind the health benefits of travel — it can reduce your stress level, it can prevent workplace burnout, it improves the quality of your sleep, it improves your relationships (which in turn improve health), it promotes creativity, and it gets you out and moving.

Do not let the news stories convince you that you’re safer under the covers and in front of the TV. You are not. You are not only safer out there engaging with the world, but you are also likely to live a much more enjoyable, fulfilling life.

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