Nobody plans to leave on vacation and disappear forever. But that is exactly what happened to one American traveler who came to my home island six years ago and never went home. Just last week, a tourist was snorkeling in the bay and came across a sunken car. He looked inside, and found, to his horror, a human skeleton! The mysterious remains proved to belong to the missing American.
“This is Death Island,” one of my friends remarked. It’s sort of true… the sunshine and palm trees make everything look ever so safe and happy, but hardly a week goes by without a chilling report in the newspaper. An innocent girl stabbed to death in broad daylight, a veterinarian shot dead by an unknown killer, a body floating in the lagoon. Every location has its own horror stories, but some ways to die are more common than others. You never know if you’ll come home from your next vacation in a body bag.
The government keeps records of deaths abroad and their causes. Here are the most common ways to die while traveling. Note that terrorism and airplane crashes don’t make the list.
Death by vehicle is the most common way to die while on vacation. I guess it’s the most common way to die anywhere. Although it’s not nearly as horrifying an idea as dying at gun point, the unexpectedness factor makes it just as terrifying. This is another threat we face every day at home but there are factors that make it even more of a risk when traveling in new environments.
Visitors may be unfamiliar with local laws and safety regulations, increasing the likelihood of serious harm. You could get hit by a bike in Amsterdam, fall onto train tracks in Bangkok, or drive on the wrong side of the road in Ireland. A dark night, blinding headlights, a missing rail—and that’s it. Sadly, many of these deaths are preventable by simple common sense. Many American tourists die in Europe because they habitually look left instead of right before crossing the street.
There’s a cross on a tropical island road not far from my house. I get chills every time I pass it. A hundred yards from her hotel, a tourist was stabbed to death with shards of glass as she went on her midmorning run. You may feel safe in your vacation home’s neighborhood, but you never know when a six-foot-five murderer may be lurking in the bushes, just waiting for you to walk by. Be smart: don’t go anywhere even remotely unsafe when you’re alone.
You never expect that something so banal as food poisoning could cut your travels (and your life) short, but it’s more common than you think. Exotic places have exotic eats and, for those used to a bland, processed, sanitized diet, these foreign foodstuffs can cause intestinal distress. Add to this the presence of microorganisms travelers may never have encountered before, and the risks from food poisoning can be quite high. Food poisoning causes stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea but the real killer is the resulting dehydration. Travelers may not take food borne illness seriously or may not know how to get medical help. This makes food poisoning one of the top causes of illness and death in travelers.
Why the heck would anyone commit suicide on vacation? I don’t know, but apparently a lot of people do it. Please, please don’t end it all while you’re traveling. If you’re having a mental health crisis, stay where there are people who can take support you. Or better yet, go on vacation and bring those people along. Don’t make the untimely end of your vacation your loved ones’ nightmare.
Falling off cliffs and stuff
You’re hiking along a remote trail, when you see something just ahead. You go closer to see what it is, and recoil in horror. Across the path is laying a dead body. Around it, the crumbled edged of the cliff are scattered at random. Another casualty of ignoring sign and railways. And, of course, there’s the idiocy of taking selfies in dangerous situations instead of paying attention to what they’re doing. A lot of people die at places like the Grand Canyon because they think the laws of gravity don’t apply to them. Or that they can jump across that chasm. Or they can make it up that cliff. By the time they realize they’re wrong, it’s too late.
Devil’s Pool in Australia has claimed about twenty lives over the past half-century. All of them have been men, which is not only statistically unlikely but also chillingly consistent with the local story behind the pool. According to the legend, a young woman jilted by her lover drowned herself there and vowed to take down as many men as possible with her. Moral of the story: stay away from dangerous water. And haunted sites. The disturbingly high number of bodies that are pulled from lakes, rivers, and oceans each year makes drowning belong in its own category instead of the “falling off cliffs and stuff” category. From allegedly cursed watering holes to tragedies at hotel pools, drowning is a tragically common way to die on vacation.
Oddly enough, the least common causes of travel deaths include terrorism and plane accidents. These are the things we worry about most, but rarely do they happen! Stop worrying about dying on the plane—it won’t happen. You should be spending your time more productively, like worrying about drowning and being hit by a truck. Happy travels!