We would all like to think that we make rational and well-thought-out decisions, based on the best available information at hand when it comes to our own personal safety. Some of us would also like to believe that with age, so too comes a degree of wisdom that assists us in making “better decisions”. Sadly, our minds don’t agree with us and are prone to a number of influences and processes that at times make us miss what in hindsight seems to blindingly obvious. The following helps in understanding some of the tricks our mind play upon us in the form of bias, thus influencing our decision-making capacity around personal safety. For those that manage others, it will help in understanding how people come to some decisions, how their thoughts and decisions are influenced or why you need to be proactive in assisting “better” decision making at times. After all, it can take a ton of education to change an ounce of perception….but now you know why!

How safe is travel?

Confirmation bias

I didn’t buy travel insurance, nothing happened, so travel insurance isn’t necessary. People tend to prioritise information/content that agrees with current understanding or preconceptions.

Placebo effect

They have airport security and I was checked, this location is secure. Consumption of distractions or a strong belief in something can create a sense of confirmation, no matter how inaccurate the event or facts may be.

Pro-innovation bias

I love to book my transport and accommodation using crowd sharing apps, it’s the future. People overvalue the usefulness whilst undervaluing the limitations/risk of new technology or innovations.

Information/observational bias

None of my friends were vaccinated and none of them got sick, therefore I won’t get vaccinated. Focusing on the wrong data or too small a metric will lead to poor decisions.

Ostrich effect

I already know everything I need to know about riding a quad bike. I’ll be fine. Ignoring dangerous and/or limiting information is akin to burying one’s head in the sand, not taking in real information from the actual environment in which you live.

Outcome bias

I backpacked all around Asia by myself and nothing bad happened. Evaluating a decision based on the outcome, rather than the specific process in which a decision was made at the time significantly alters the realities of present threats/hazards.


I’ve travelled a lot, I know how to keep safe. While a few are overconfident, those who experience an activity frequently or consider themselves experts can convince themselves of many things, even false facts and alternate realities.


Look, the tide just dropped quickly, let’s explore the rocks. What’s a tsunami? People tend to only remember recent events, overlooking historical events and data that may present events in a whole different light, if only they knew.


If travel is dangerous it would be because of flying. Road travel is safer. We tend to focus on the most easily recognisable feature of a process, rather than each aspect and weighing the threat appropriately.

Selective perception

I work in the travel industry and I never hear of any major issues other than a few natural disasters, every now and again. Expectations influence perceptions, these perceptions cause us to make evaluations based on those perceptions, regardless of whether they are factual or selective.


Watch out for that man with the beard and tattoos, he’s dangerous. Preconceived categories and classifications of generic events or activities make for fast decision making, not accurate or factual ones.

Survivorship bias

I had no problems riding a motorbike in that country whilst on holidays. Errors in judgment arise when we focus on examples based only on available or surviving information, even if we haven’t heard of all the negative outcomes that just didn’t get published or made available to everyone.

Zero-risk bias

You can only go on that trip if it will be safe. Humans love absolutes, especially certainty, even if we just trick ourselves into belief in a major headline, whilst ignoring all the twists, turns and hazards in the full narrative.

Anchoring bias

Don’t worry, I read that you have less than 1% chance of being injured or hurt. Nearly everyone is over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear, especially data. This results in exposure to dangerous or changing situations, based on false beliefs/data.

Availability heuristic

My friend is an air hostess and she has never had any issues or concerns when travelling. Overestimating the importance of available information results in ignorance of additional data or content not yet digested.

Bandwagon effect

No one wears a seatbelt in the taxis here and all the tourists ride around in those three-wheeled motorbikes too. If there are a large number of people doing something already, statistically, it is highly likely that new additions will assimilate the group behavior, no matter how flawed or dangerous it may seem if considered in isolation.

Blind-spot bias

There doesn’t seem to be many people around after dark but I’m still going to walk down to that place to eat. It is much easier to identify flaws in other people’s thinking that it is to identify your own bias or limitations. It can sometimes be impossible to recognize your own bias when making decisions, even if it affects your safety.

Choice-supportive bias

We subscribe to a news alert service and it tells us everything we need to know. People tend to feel positive about things they buy or choose directly, to the point of ignoring obvious flaws and limitations.

Clustering illusion

Terrorism is the single biggest risk to travellers. Humans tend to see patterns in random events, even if it is factually incorrect or untrue. The bias is noted in a lot of gamblers and others that are totally convinced of a trend, taken from a few random events.

Conservatism bias

We treat all our employees as adults and don’t make demands or ‘nanny-state’ rules around here. It has served us well. Most people will favor prior practices and perceptions, regardless of emerging or changed norms, resulting in slow change, that puts people and businesses at risk.

20 Typical Human Thinking Biases That Threaten Personal Safety

Travel Safety Experts
Travel Safety Experts

Travel health, safety, security and risk management experts