- Tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic have been widely publicized this month, but officials say the number of American deaths there is nothing new.
- Traffic accidents and drowning are among the most common causes of international travellers’ deaths, but taking certain precautions can go a long way in preventing them.
- Of the 93 million Americans who travel internationally in the average year, only about 800 die as a result of traffic, violence, drowning or other incidents.
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Vacationers may be reconsidering their trips to the Dominican Republic after recent reports put a spotlight on a string of suspicious tourist deaths on the Caribbean island.
But officials said the number of American deaths abroad is “not unusual,” and other reports suggest travellers are better off preparing for more likely – though still unlikely – health risks, like drownings and traffic accidents, than cancelling plans for fear of foul play.
Here are the most common ways tourists die on vacations, and how you can lower your risk of falling victim.
Traffic is the most common cause of tourist death abroad in most countries
About a third of tourism deaths reported internationally are traffic-related, and include car, bus, motorcycle, and pedestrian accidents.
Traffic can be riskier abroad than at home for a lot of reasons. Crumbling roads and unlicensed drivers are a few dangers mentioned by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Travelling can be exhausting, which can also make traffic more dangerous. Unfamiliar roads, potential obstacles like animals, and confusing local laws are also tied to some accidents.
Many safety precautions, however, are the same no matter where you are. Always fasten your seatbelt in cars (and buses, if they have them). Wear a helmet on bikes and motorcycles. Avoid travelling at night or in bad weather when possible, and learn the local laws before you travel. And of course, don’t drink and drive.
Homicide, while definitely a concern for travellers, is only one of the three major causes of death for U.S. tourists
Violent crimes like robbery and even homicide can be one of the scariest risks to face while travelling. Most tourist-involved crimes, though, are petty thefts and never escalate to murder, according to the CDC.
Still, violent crimes happen, so stay aware of your surroundings – translation: keep your head up and iPhone away, especially when you’re off the beaten path. Keep your showy jewellery, expensive watches, wads of cash, or anything else that might attract would-be thieves in a hotel safe or, better yet, back home.
If local resort employees or tour guides give you advice, listen. Stay in your resort area, where security tends to be more thorough, and don’t go off alone or after dark. Be wary of strangers and don’t take gifts, especially food or drinks, from people you don’t know.
Take a look at the U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council website, too, which issues country-specific safety and travel tips. Be aware of the particular risks you might encounter – like civil unrest, high crime rates, or military activity – and prepare accordingly.
Drowning is almost as deadly as murder when it comes to the number of tourist deaths per year on average
The CDC and U.S. State Department cite drowning as the third most common cause of death for Americans abroad. Stay safe by swimming with a buddy and never alone. Bring enough life vests or similar flotation devices along for activities like boating, and lay off the booze. As for scuba diving, don’t do it – unless you’re an experienced diver or have a qualified, reliable instructor.
No matter how tempting, avoid jumping or diving into the water. You never know what’s below the surface, and shallow water or obstacles can cause head and spinal cord injuries that can easily lead to drowning.
Know the health risks before you travel
In many countries, including the Dominican Republic, tap water can carry diseases like hepatitis A and typhoid, according to the CDC and U.S. Department of State.Stick to bottled and purified water in such places, and remember: If it’s not safe to drink, it’s not safe to brush your teeth with either. Watch out for ice made from tap water, which can carry the same contagions. Raw fruits and vegetables are also suspect, unless they have been thoroughly washed (in clean water) or you’ve peeled them yourself.
Animals abroad are another beast. Rabies can be a risk – bites from rabid dogs or cats can be fatal if not treated quickly, so resist the urge to touch, feed, or otherwise befriend strange animals while travelling. Bats and other mammals can also carry rabies. If you do get bitten, wash the wound immediately and thoroughly with soap and water. Then, find a doctor.
Mosquito bites can be dangerous too, since the insects can carry all kinds of diseases. If you’re spending a lot of time outdoors, especially sleeping, consider getting a prescription for a preventative medicine before you depart. Use bug spray and wear long sleeves and pants in mosquito-prone areas.
Malaria, one of the most common mosquito-spread illnesses, is one of the biggest health threats to travellers, according to research. If you have a fever or flu-like symptoms, even after you’ve returned from vacation, see a doctor right away and tell them your travel history.
Finally, stay up to date on all recommended vaccinations (a helpful list can be found on the CDC website).
Overall tourism deaths, including in the Dominican Republic, don’t seem to be on the rise
There were an average of 15 reported deaths per year in the Domincan Republic from June 2010 to June 2018, according to U.S. Department of State data. This doesn’t include deaths by natural causes like illnesses, so the number is likely much higher.
Deaths in the Dominican Republic are just a small percentage of the total deaths of all Americans travelling abroad, which are just a fraction of a per cent of the American tourism industry as a whole. Internationally, 827 American tourist deaths were reported from June 2017 to June 2018.
More than 93 million Americans travelled abroad in that same period, meaning the vast majority of travellers returned safety.
- Read more:
- A travel analyst explains the risks of visiting the Dominican Republic, and what to watch out for if you do
- The mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic reportedly may be linked to illicit alcohol, and it wouldn’t be the first time
- Put your phone down: Two-thirds of Americans make the mistake of checking their work email while on vacation
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