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Terror troubles travelers - again

Last year, Madrid. Last week, London. Next, … well, who knows?
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Last year, Madrid. Last week, London. Next, … well, who knows?

Just over a year ago, I wrote a column about the railway bombings in Madrid. Now here we are again.

The targets of the bombings have changed, but many other factors surrounding these cowardly acts remain the same: Families suffer, the general population becomes more anxious, government security ramps up and law enforcement begins the task of hunting down the culprits. People are once again asking me, “Is it safe for Americans to travel overseas?” and once again I respond, “No, it is not safe for Americans to travel overseas. Never has been. Never will be.”

But just as was true a year ago, Americans traveling overseas need to put things in perspective. Certainly the bombings are tragic reminders of the danger that a few miscreants can cause, but even without the hazards posed by terrorists, the world is a dangerous and unpredictable place. (Remember the tsunami?)

The U.S. State Department, for instance, had no more of an idea of the impending danger in London than it did of the Madrid train bombings last year. And fewer than 24 hours before the bombings, Tom Wright, chief executive of VisitBritain, said of the previous day’s decision of the International Olympic Committee to award the 2012 Olympics to London, “It is as much a vote of confidence for Britain’s tourism and leisure facilities as it is for our sporting venues and events.” These bombings blindsided us all — and so will the next ones.

The danger of falling victim to a terrorist incident follows American travelers not only to London but everywhere, every day. Certainly that danger is real, but it is also overblown when considered in the larger context of overall travel risks. Traffic accidents, heart attacks and disease — not terrorist events — still account for most of the fatalities suffered by American travelers abroad.

So my advice is this: Don’t stay home out of fear, but reduce the predictable and preventable risks to your safety by keeping yourself informed, staying alert, and trusting your intuition when you travel.

Terry Riley, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a corporate psychologist specializing in the management of travel behavior. Terry is the author of "Travel Can Be Murder" and "The Complete Travel Diet." He also edits , a satirical news report. or .