Ask people what some of the top causes of injury or illness while traveling are and the answers might surprise you. Some will say  terrorist attacks. In fact, according to NBC News, you are more likely to choke on food, die from being buried alive or being struck by lightning than you are to be involved in a terrorist attack.

Others will say car accident.  That’s getting close, but still not exactly correct.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with James Page,* Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and Head of Assistance and Claims of AIG Travel. Mr. Page shared a wealth of information on the top causes of injury and illness while traveling and how to avoid them. During my lifetime of travel, I’ve seen – and experienced – many such examples. I share a few here, interspersed with Mr. Page’s advice.

It turns out, the single most common cause of injury while traveling is poor judgement, and poor judgement manifests itself in many ways.

The top 10 causes of injuries while traveling

1. Believing that you can just jump on any vehicle and tour a new location without any proper instruction is the number one activity that causes injuries while traveling. You know what I’m talking about; the cool scooter tours in Vietnam, the jet skis in Cancun or, in my unbelievably dumb judgement, the white water rafting trip down the Zambezi where I almost drowned.  Understand the vehicle you are maneuvering and know the route. Wear protective gear. Secure proper instruction or don’t do it.

causes of injury while traveling. Scooters

A deadly cocktail

2. Now here is a lethal cocktail;  excessive alcohol and poor judgment.  As a wine lover myself, far be it from me to eschew a  glass of sauvignon blanc, but overindulge, especially while traveling and you’re looking for trouble. The second most common reason for injury like falling off balconies, decks, ships or horses are frequently linked to alcohol consumption.

Know your limits!

3. The third top cause of injury while traveling is something that we’re all at least a little guilty of…venturing beyond our physical limits. In other words, know your limits and stay within them.  If you are out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs, you probably shouldn’t hike to Everest base camp.  If you knee hurts while walking the dog, it’s going to hurt a lot more hiking the Appalachian Trail.

What’s a transfer trauma…and why does it sound so scary?

4. Here is one that surprised me. Transfer traumas! What’s a transfer trauma? It’s when you step off a bus, train or ferry, if you don’t watch where you place your foot, you can experience a nasty fall.  I can see that. Think about it. Ever try getting off a subway train with those huge gaps to the platform? I’m surprised these injuries are not higher up on the list.

Transfer trauma one of the causes of injury whioe traveling

Don’t feed the animals!

5. Here is one of the classic causes of injury while traveling; mishaps when approaching animals. Been there, done that (I’m raising my hand). I  am guilty of one of the biggest no-nos of travel… feeding the monkeys.  In my defense I will say that the monkeys I fed were really cute. Look at these guys! Would you have done the same thing? Still. I realize now that’s a bad idea, especially after The Great Monkey Attack of Angkor Wat.

causes of injuries while traveling are monkey bites

6. I laughed when I read this one. “Medical conditions do not disappear when you are traveling!” Seriously, are you surprised? Your high blood pressure and cholesterol do not magically disappear while you are on vacation. You still need to take your medications and watch your dietary intake. Nuff said.

7. Wash your hands – A lot. Over and over and over.  This little habit grows on you. Something as simple as this can prevent you getting any number of afflictions. My husband carries around a little container of antiseptic gel and uses it a lot.  I made fun of him for years for being overcautious until I read that this is one of the easiest way to avoid illness.

Pay attention!

8. We’ve all seen videos of people falling into ditches, manholes or escalators while looking at their cellphones. It’s a thing, all right. Watch where you are walking! Store your selfie sticks until you get to wherever you’re going to take your photo. Ignoring standard safety measures to take better photos is an accident waiting to happen.

9. Eating exotic cuisine, or food you are not used to, is the No. 9 cause of illness while traveling. Now, one man’s “exotic” is another man’s daily bread.  I have eaten everything from iguanas and crickets to ant eggs and sheep eyeballs and actually enjoyed everyone of them, but I’ve been doing this all my life. Do people build up a resistance to weird food? Maybe. But perhaps people who have never encountered exotic or unusual food should pace themselves. It’s not just what the foods are, but how they are prepared that can cause stomach issues.

The last thing you want is stomach issues on a trip.  I speak from experience. I got horribly sick from eating a big, fat, beautiful (but unwashed) peach in Dubrovnik. I was in a hurry to catch the bus to Split. I knew I SHOULD wash that peach, but it looked so appealing. I was running out of time and I was hungry so I bit into it. Four hours later when I got off the bus I thought I was going to die. I spent the entire trip to Split in my Airbnb recovering.

Wash Fruit Before You Eat It

Like many things related to traveling, you have to weigh the pros and cons. Experimenting with different cuisines is one of the great pleasures of traveling. Don’t deprive yourself of trying a new food because you think you might get sick. But do evaluate the condition of the restaurant. Don’t be shy about asking how the food is prepared. Finally, use your best judgement.

10. Here are activities that I can vouch for as being  problematic. We all like to try our hand at adventurous and strenuous activities when we travel, sometimes with no prior experience. Examples include rock climbing, zip-lining, parasailing or my favorite, white water rafting. They are all dangerous but they are SO MUCH FUN!! How do you reconcile this? All I can say is get proper instruction, make sure you have the proper gear, or don’t do it at all.  Jeopardizing your body or your health is not worth it under any circumstances.

Falling off a mechanical bull is oinjury while traveling.

Whether you decide to be foolish or prudent while traveling, always, always, always get travel insurance because seriously guys, you never know.

 More tips to make sure your trip is safe.

  • Register with your Embassy prior to travel. If you are a U.S. citizen, consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to download the Smart Traveler app for important emergency information and register with the local embassy. Know the security risk level of your destination.
  • Ensure your phone is able to make calls to your home country and that you know how to place an emergency call in a foreign country.
  • Leave a copy of your passport and itinerary with someone at home who is designated as your emergency contact registered with the embassy.
  • Confirm if you need any vaccinations before you travel and be educated about the risks of your destination including water, streets, proper gestures, etc.
  • OMG! Don’t pack medication or medical equipment in your checked baggage. Take your meds on your carry-on with you.
  • Have your passport with you when you take a cruise, even if you depart from the US. You never know when you will need to  disembark due to an emergency and travel home.
  • Educate yourself on insurance; does your primary health insurance cover you outside the US? Are you purchasing appropriate coverage for travel insurance based on your destination?
  • Know how to say a few key words such as “police” and “help” in the language of the country you are visiting.
  • Learn about local customs before you arrive. Is certain clothing like shorts considered inappropriate? Dress accordingly.
  • The same common-sense rules apply overseas. Avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics and religion. People often will give foreigners’ faux-pas some leeway, but then again, they may not.
  • Don’t forget to carry chargers for your digital devices. Don’t risk running out of batteries in an emergency. 
  • Prepare a list of your emergency contacts including family, friends and coworkers, as well as contact information for insurance and emergency travel assistance. Keep both hard and digital copies.
  • Activate travel notices with your bank and credit cards; familiarize yourself with local currency and the closest banks and ATMs.

What surprised me about these causes on injury and illness while traveling is how simple it is to avoid them. It’s all common sense and sober (pun intended) judgement.  A little pre-planning goes a long way towards safe travels.

  • * As Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and Head of Assistance and Claims of AIG Travel, James Page has global responsibility for the AIG Travel Operations and Assistance Services. Previously, he was President of AIG Travel Assist, Inc., and President of American International Assistance Services, Inc. James joined AIG in 2000 and has played an integral role in the development and growth of the assistance business and call center operations worldwide.

We asked frequent travelers what  some of their best safety travel tips were . The answers may surprise you.


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