As I sat on an Air France Boeing 777 bound for Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport from the busiest airport in the world, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, several weeks ago, I have to admit that for one second I thought about it: Could this flight be a target for terrorism?
We were heading to Portugal to begin a cruise that also included Spain, France and Ireland. Should the fear of what might happen stop me from going? Once in Europe, would I not walk through the streets of Bordeaux (a port of call on the cruise) during the European football matches being played in this historic city, listening to the fun-loving and boisterous crowds of Irish fans cheering from the local bars? Should I avoid sitting at a sidewalk café in the quaint seaside town of Cancale to enjoy their world-famous oysters and the perfect accompanying glass of dry French white wine?
Would I give up any of these experiences and travel opportunities because of the potential of terrorism or medical issues? No. And nor should you. Travel smart, be aware and take precautions, but go.
On a trip to the Caribbean last week, one of the young women I was traveling with was advised by her friends not to come because of the Zika virus. This island — Nevis, one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean — has not even had one case of Zika.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been a total of 1,316 worldwide travel-associated cases of Zika reported by U.S. citizens to date. For the record, while in Nevis, I was proactive and used both a DEET-based spray at night and a natural-based spray combined with sunscreen during the day, and never once was I bitten. The constant cool breezes from the Atlantic Ocean on the east of the island and the Caribbean Sea on the west keep most of the mosquitos at bay. If I walk outdoors in Atlanta, I’m a mosquito magnet.
There are a lot of scary things out there that might happen. If you listen to the media (and how can you not with the constant stream of incoming messages across our mobile devices and on social media), you wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything because there’s danger almost everywhere. There are alligators at Walt Disney World; disease-infested mosquitos harboring not only Zika but also Chikungunya, malaria and yellow fever in many counties; primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue that you can pick up while swimming in fresh water in 15 Southern Tier states; a flesh-eating bacteria (necrotizing fasciitis) that has been reported in states such as Georgia; and, of course, there are terrorists lurking in corners all around the world. But the reality is you are more likely to die from lightning, snakebite or falling in your bathtub than any of these risks.
When you do travel, or even when you go out at home (especially if you live in a major city), be thoughtful of your surroundings, and be practical. If you’re attending a large event with big crowds, be aware of what’s around you, and find your own space. If you know there was a shark attack along the shores of the beach you’re visiting, don’t venture into shark-infested waters. If you’re traveling to places that are known to have certain diseases, such as malaria, visit a travel clinic, and take the necessary medications and precautions before you go. My advice on the fears over Zika: If you and your partner or spouse are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, then avoid known locations with hotbeds of Zika-infested mosquitos, especially during prime months. Most importantly, don’t overreact. Plan with facts, and don’t react to the hype.
According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, few U.S. citizens have died in terrorist attacks worldwide in the past 10 years. The reality is that most terrorist attacks are concentrated in certain countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Nigeria, and the recent attacks in Paris, Nice and Belgium have been one-offs. It doesn’t make them any less horrific, but that isn’t the norm, yet we’re afraid it’s going to happen to us because the media replays the images over and over again, creating fear.
To put things in perspective, when it comes to flying, there are more than 100,000 flights per day for a total of 37.4 million each year (according to the latest data from 2014), and the U.S. Department of Transportation statistics show that flyers travel more than 600 billion miles a year. You’re 19 times more likely to fall down a flight of stairs and die than you are by flying.
There’s a big world out there to explore, and you don’t want to miss it, so plan your travel accordingly and go.