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15 of the most common travel injuries in America

When we go on vacation, we like to leave our everyday cares behind.  Thoughts of work and daily stress are supposed to remain at home.  When we travel we want to enjoy our time away, explore new places, and have exciting adventures.

But what happens when reality differs from our vacation plans?  When we travel, we are subject to the same risks we face in daily life…and much more.  In fact, we are more vulnerable. We are in unfamiliar surroundings. We don’t appreciate the risks of particular areas.  We are much more dependent on others for support, direction and assistance. And often we engage in activities that we would not at home.

While travel and vacations can be fun, they are also a time when many of us suffer serious or life-threatening injuries.  Some don’t make it home.

In an attempt to help prevent vacation accidents, here are 15 of the most common travel injuries in America, because awareness of risks is the first step in avoiding danger. 

1. Falls (trips and falls/slips and falls)

most common travel injuries in America

Falls from tripping or slipping are the most common accident while traveling.  Falls can occur anywhere, from the transportation part of the trip (airports, public transportation) to the hotel to the activity. Particularly around pools and on wet surfaces, falls can be serious and all-too-common.  Pay particular attention to the flooring in hotel common areas and bathrooms.  After bathing, make sure you have a safe way out of the shower or tub.  Many vacations are destroyed by a serious bathroom fall. Falls increase in frequency and severity as we age. 2.4 million American over 65 will require emergency medical treatment this year.

Because hotels are usually unfamiliar to the guests, navigating them especially at night can be dangerous.  Leave a light on in the bathroom so you don’t become disoriented when getting up.

2. Sexual assault

most common travel injuries in America

Nobody anticipates being sexually assaulted when they travel.  But everyone is more vulnerable when they are out of their comfort zone.  Criminals know this and target travelers.  Pay particular attention to areas where you walk, and avoid walking alone especially at night.  Inside hotels, use all the locks available on the door and the peep hole if someone comes to your room.  If someone knocks on your hotel room door and claims to be with the hotel, call down to the front desk to confirm that.  A common ruse is for someone to claim to be with the hotel and when the door is opened, the guest is subject to be being assaulted.

Look for hotels with limited access floors where guests must use their key cards to access that floor.  Avoid hotels that do not use access cards.  Access cards are changed with each guest (unlike hard keys) and are traceable for each swipe.

Never give your room number out or say it loud enough for others to hear. The industry standard for hotels is that at check-in they will not announce your room number but will instead hand you your key card in a small envelope with your room number printed on it.  There’s a reason why.  If someone knows your room number (and/or your name), they can potentially access your room or follow you. Protect your key and room number as you would any personal information.  Do not leave extra key cards around your room which can be picked up by others.

3. Cruise ship injuries

most common travel injuries in America - cruise ships

Cruise ships are floating cities.  But they differ from cities since in a week or so everyone will be someplace else in the world.  The crew is from dozens of countries. The cruise line makes tremendous profits by selling (and pouring) alcoholic beverages. People feel a sense of invincibility aboard a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. This can lead to many risks.

Most common risks include slips or trips and falls (see #1 above), some of which are unique to cruise ships.  Most cruise ships have elevated thresholds at entrances and within decks.  The purpose is to limit water in the event of a breach. But they can wreak havoc with the traveling public who have to step up and over these short walls.

Every cruise ship has pools. The pools attract water being left around the area, often making it a slippery floor.  Be aware of this risk and understand that often water will be tracked further into the ship, including areas where water is not expected. Report any water or liquid to the ship personnel immediately to avoid someone slipping.

Cruise ships also present the risk of sexual assault by other guests or crew.  Some of the crewmembers have been brought in from third world countries, work long hours under unpleasant conditions.  They may become intoxicated or just give in to temptation.  It is not unusual to learn that a cabin steward has sexually assaulted a passenger (and of course crew usually have access to rooms and keys).  Be aware of your surroundings aboard cruise ships, use deadbolt locks, and stay with others.

4. Cruise or vacation excursions

most common travel injuries in America - vacation

Following up on cruise injuries, cruise lines sell lots of shore excursions and mini trips for when they are in port.  Many of these activities are not provided by the cruise line itself but by a local vendor.  Many of these are not up to the standards we would expect in the United States. Many maintain insurance coverage or have training up to industry standards.

Sometimes the transportation on the excursions is substandard, and can result in serious injury or death. Vans and buses are not maintained or driven in the same manner as Americans expect. A spate of deadly excursions killing many cruise passenger has renewed the call for improved safety for vacationers.

Some of these shore excursions involve dangerous activities, often activities someone would not try if they were home (jet skiing, parasailing, diving, zip lining, paddle boarding, etc.). See #7 below.

5. Drink spiking or over-serving alcohol

most common travel injuries in America - drinking alcohol

Drink spiking is a dangerous crime that tends to occur in bars and often at resorts, where unsuspecting guests are drugged by having their drinks spiked.

Incidents of drink spiking occur all the time, and are rarely publicized.  Some have gained notoriety especially where there has been a spate of such incidents.  Recently there was a situation where guests at Mexican resorts were poisoned by tainted liquor. Some things you can do to reduce the chance of problems:

  • Always insist on watching your drink being made or poured.  If ordering a beer, make sure it has not been opened until you are present.
  • If the odor is suspicious, or the color odd, reject the drink
  • Buy your own bottles at a store.  Sometimes bar bottles (including room mini-bar) can be refilled
  • Never leave your drink unattended. Keep it with you at all times.
  • If you feel ill at all, contact the front desk and get help right away. Often in drink spiking situations, the guest just thinks they drank too much or are unsure of what happened.  Act quickly, and hold onto the drink, which is the only way to tell what it was spiked with.  Most of the time the evidence is gone.

Over-serving of alcohol is common at resorts, who derive a lot of profit from liquor sales.  By over-serving guests, they make more money but end up with intoxicated patrons, who are both more vulnerable to mishaps and crime and more likely to exercise poor judgment. This is common at all-inclusive resorts and cruise ships.

6. Cruise-borne illnesses (norovirus)

most common travel injuries in America - disease

It has been well-documented that cruise ships are breeding grounds for contagious diseases. The most common is the norovirus. All of the cruise lines have had some outbreak of norovirus aboard their ships. Norovirus, generally not deadly, is a gastrointestinal infection which has affected at least 100,000 travelers.

The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) now requires cruise ships to document and report gastrointestinal illnesses to them.

7. Water sports accidents (jet ski, scuba diving, parasailing)

most common travel injuries in America - parasailing

Some of the allure of a resort or cruise vacation is the opportunity to engage in water sports activities otherwise unavailable at home.  It may be the chance to jet ski or parasail. Perhaps it is scuba diving or another water sport.  In each case they present risks to the user.  This is greatly enhanced when the participant is unfamiliar with the activity or may be physically unqualified to otherwise engage in it.

Jet skiing can be particularly dangerous.  Rarely are tourists fully trained in any meaningful way in how to operate a jet ski.  In reality, a jet ski (also known as personal watercraft) is that it is difficult to steer unless it is under throttle.  When something goes wrong, or a user has to slow down, the ability to steer is eliminated.  When jet skis are traveling at high rates of speed there is little reaction time available.  Fixed objects become sources of impalement, and a rider can be thrown easily.  Spinal cord injuries are a common result as are lacerations and blunt force trauma. About 45 people die each year on jet skis but injuries are substantially more frequent.

Parasailing has been the subject of many national news articles.  While appearing placid and serene, in reality attaching someone to a parachute several hundred feet up places them at great risk.  The most frequent mishap results in drowning, but trauma and death have also occurred.

In 2007 two sisters were parasailing off the coast of Pompano Beach, Florida when the winds forced the parasailing boat to shore, where it was stuck, unable to reel in the girls.  The line snapped in high winds, hurtling the sisters into a building.  One was killed and the other suffered brain trauma.  This tragedy, in addition to several that followed, brought about the first parasailing safety law in the United States.  It only applies in Florida and is still limited in the protection it provides.

Scuba diving is a popular sport, especially in Florida and the Caribbean.  Beautiful ocean reefs allow for breathtaking views by divers.  While diving can be a safe activity for those trained, certified and observing good diving standards, for the newly initiated or the casual diver it can be very dangerous.

8. Drowning (beach and pool)

most common travel injuries in America - pools

Almost every resort or beach vacation occurs around water.  While many people are familiar with pools, oceans and bays are much more dangerous for travelers. Between rip currents, Man ‘O War/jellyfish and other hazards, wading into the water requires vigilance.  Sometimes people think they can dive into the ocean, only to hit a sandbar or a wave.  Spinal cord injuries can occur in those circumstances.

A major source of injury and death is drowning. When someone on vacation swims, they may lose awareness as to their surroundings or not realize that their alcohol consumption affects their judgment and swimming ability. Pools can also subject vacationers to risks (especially children) unless they are supervised and swimming with someone else.  Always swim with another person. Never let children around pools or in the water alone. 

9. Boating accidents

most common travel injuries in America - boating

Boating is a large part of the resort vacation experience.  With over 1 million registered vessels in Florida alone, the waterways are filled with boaters enjoying pleasure crafts.  But boating carries with it responsibilities.  And boaters are always at the mercy of weather and other boaters.

BUI – boating under the influence – is a major issue in Florida’s waterways.  Like car crashes, it is the single largest factor in major boating accidents.  If you are on a boat, make sure the captain does not use alcohol.  Everyone on the vessel is required to have a personal floatation device (life jacket or similar). 

If you are vacationing and are NOT an experienced boater, go with a captain or someone who is skilled at piloting a vessel. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can captain a boat just because you can drive a car.  Very different vehicles.

10. Moped and motorcycle accidents

Especially in the islands, tourists are encouraged to take mopeds, scooters and motorcycles.  While this seems like a great way to get around – and park – riding these vehicles are among the most dangerous things you can do while on vacation.  Even with a helmet (and many visitors do not take advantage of them), mopeds and scooters offer no protection from a crash. Couple that with the fact that most vacationers are not experienced motorcycle or scooter drivers, and you have a recipe for disaster. Likewise you will be unfamiliar with the roads, the area and conditions.  Let’s just say that moped, scooter and motorcycle accidents are a major source of injuries for vacationers.

11. Amusement and theme park injuries

Amusement and theme parks are great attractions, especially for families.  With all the fun, how can this be a source a travel injury?  Simple: they are large, there are lots of moving parts, and visitors are easily distracted.  The nature of theme parks is to distract and create all sorts of visual and auditory interest.  There is a sensory overload factor that causes many to forget where they are and allow them to be vulnerable to falls or worse.

Keep in mind that while we know amusement and theme parks are great for the kids, so do the pedophiles.  Which is while it is essential to make sure that kids are never left alone.  There is also too much temptation for some kids to enter areas they shouldn’t, stand on rides where there is a risk of injury or otherwise fall victim to the mass of humanity that greets us at most major theme parks.  The rides themselves have been known to malfunction, either through maintenance problems or defective design.  When that happens, people are injured and killed.

12. Traffic crashes

Car, bus and taxicab crashes are the leading cause of death among healthy travelers. With as many as, 1.3 million people killed and 25–50 million injured in traffic crashes worldwide, it’s no wonder these are the greatest threats to our safety.  This is particularly true when we are vacationing. 85% of these injuries and deaths take place in low-income countries. 

Each year 25,000 tourists die in traffic crashes. Sometimes it is the vacationer who is driving, and the lack of familiarity with the roads and rules plays a major role in these incidents.  Often tourists are not familiar with driving on the left hand side of the road (in countries where they do so).  People on vacation tend to drink more too.  Plus many countries have very different safety standards from what we have in the United States. A few tips to reduce your chance of being injured in a car crash while you’re on vacation:

      • Always wear seatbelts and put children in car seats
      • Avoid riding in a car in a third world country during nighttime hours
      • Don’t ride motorcycles (See #10 above). If you do, wear a helmet
      • Know local traffic laws before you drive outside the country
      • Never drink and drive.
      • Ride only in marked taxis that are equipped with seatbelts. If they don’t have them, don’t get in.
      • Stay out of overloaded buses or vans, especially if you will be on mountain roads
      • Watch when crossing streets.  This is particularly true when you visit a country where they drive on the left side.  Your orientation will be off.

13. Air travel injuries

Although we have been repeatedly reassured that air travel is the safest form of transportation, air crashes and airplane mishaps do occur.  We do not have to dig too far into the news stories to find that recent problems plaguing the aircraft industry have resulted in numerous deaths. Yet plane crashes are rare events.  But there are many other risks travelers face when traveling by air.

A more common risk is being struck by falling luggage when other passengers are opening overhead compartments.  So too is the risk of clear air turbulence, which can strike any flight.  This is why airlines strongly recommend that while you are seated you keep your seatbelt on.

While most people feel they are safe from assault at 35,000 feet, there has been an increase in the amount of in-flight sexual assaults.  So much so that the U.S. Department of Transportation has created a task force to deal with this.

14. Sunburn/Heat stroke/dehydration

One of the most common travel injuries is also the easiest to prevent: sunburn.  By just applying a good sunscreen (and reapplying after time or after being in the water), you can prevent the horror of a serious sunburn.  Some sunburns can be dangerous, so do not overlook this. Plus there are the long-term consequences of a serious sunburn that can accelerate skin aging and even cause skin cancers.

To avoid dehydration, particularly overlooked at altitude and in dry regions, drink water before you get thirsty.  In high altitude especially, by the time you are thirsty your body is already nearing a form of dehydration.  Also avoid drinking alcohol at altitude (and on airplanes) and it has a  much greater effect and is dehydrating.  Stay out of the sun as much as possible to avoid heatstroke, and seek immediate medical attention of you feel faint or dizzy.  These are early signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

15. Medical malpractice

The third leading cause of death in America, preventable medical mistakes take the lives of as many as 450,000 Americans each year.  Yet most people hardly think about this when they travel.

The truth is that when people travel they are less likely to scrutinize their health care providers.  They are vulnerable and sick  Particularly in underdeveloped countries and on cruise ships, medical care is substandard.  Be wary of medical providers until you check them out.  Some credit card companies will pay for repatriation back to the United States if you fall ill abroad. Take advantage of that.

Conclusion

If these common travel injuries do not scare you off from vacationing or business travel, take advantage of the tips to avoid the most common and serious risks.  Use common sense and never forget that just because you may be on vacation, the area in which you are traveling is not. 

Get to know the area where you are staying as soon as you can to reduce your vulnerability.  Hired a qualified guide.  Take advantage of the concierge or bell staff at your hotel to find out areas you should avoid (and the places you should not miss).

Have fun while traveling.  Just make sure you get back home in one piece.

Article by:

John Leighton

A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite

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