What are the REAL odds of being in a terror attack overseas?
According to Reuters, if you really want to stay safe overseas, the best thing you can do is (no, not putting a Canadian flag on your backpack) wear a helmet, a seat belt and avoid unscheduled flights. Statistically speaking, this is spot-on advice. However, with so many other people talking about terrorism and throwing out random numbers, I wanted to cut through the clutter and offer a more convincing argument.
In order to talk about the real odds of you being in a terrorist attack, my inner skeptic decided I should do some research myself to come up with actual numbers, not just recycled facts and hype.
Death overseas statistics:
The Consular section of the US state department publishes an annual report on American deaths overseas. *The caveat here is that your non-natural death has to be reported, which I assume most are.
The 2014 numbers:
- Total deaths: 812
- Vehicular: 226
- Drowning: 105
- Drug related: 27
- Terrorism: 19
The 19 terrorism related deaths listed above were very location specific; here’s a breakdown:
- Afghanistan: 10
- Jerusalem: 4
- Mogadishu: 3
- Syria: 2
So what does that mean?
It means if you were reported dead last year while traveling, you had a 1.4% of it being a result of terrorism.
You might be thinking, “That seems kind of high, JC”, and you would be right because we’re lacking perspective.
Two things here to keep in mind here:
- The 1.4% drops to zero if you are an American who traveled internationally in 2014 but did not/not travel to Afghanistan, Mogadishu, Jerusalem, or Syria.
- According to the US Travel Organization, Americans took 2.1 billion international trips in 2014.
So if there were 2,100,000,000 trips in 2014 and 19 of the reported American deaths overseas were due to terrorism… using those statistics, you have a .0000009% chance of dying in a terrorist attack while traveling. Again, that number is 0% if you didn’t go to the four listed areas.
Numbers are hard.
I get it.
Basically all these numbers mean you have a MUCH greater chance of being struck by lightning or death by a TV falling on you than being in a terrorist attack.
However – this does not mean you wander into the southern deserts of Algeria by yourself. If you’ve done your research you’re aware of which areas are harboring extremist groups and which countries might find you a decidedly good target for a kidnapping or other symbolic gesture.
If you ARE in an area where there are known separatist groups, Islamic extremists, etc you can better your odds by staying in secure, non-touristy hotels, avoiding joints where tourists typically hang out and staying away from known shady areas. Basically just get out and get some culture, don’t just stay at the Holiday inn or eat exclusively at Hard Rock, etc and do your homework first so you know which areas to avoid.