Yes, there have been two major travel catastrophes in the news this summer: the Asiana Airlines plane crash at San Francisco International, and now the horrific Renfe train crash in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Neither incident allowed the passengers on board to see or prepare for what was coming. Terrorists couldn’t be blamed, or bad weather, or even an act of God. Instead, it looks like inept crew caused both tragedies… which may cause us equal parts rage, and fear, as we ask ourselves: Why should we travel? Doesn’t traveling mean putting ourselves at the mercy of the people entrusted with our safety? What if I was in that 0.0001% of innocent people who died because of someone else’s recklessness?
Everyone who braves their way abroad has to answer these questions for themselves, and the best time to ask yourself (as painful as it is) is after a major travel tragedy. If you don’t, your fear will stick with you deep down, until you find yourself reaching for your xanax instead of that Eurail brochure. Think about it: how much does trust, faith, and belief in your own good fortune play into your confidence? It depends not only on your anxiety, but your personality and your overall view of life.
So you might be thinking, are there practical ways to avoid a tragedy like the high-speed Renfe train crash? For many people the answer is simple: ride those bumblingly slow intercity trains until they forget about what happened in in Santiago de Compostela. So how long until people forget? Maybe by the time the holidays roll around… or maybe not until next summer. What makes a train crash so upsetting is that people generally feel so much safer on a train than on a plane, simply because they’re on the ground and moving at a slower speed. There aren’t security alerts blaring over the loudspeakers as is the case at most airports. There aren’t four officers and a metal detector between you and that cozy window seat. A train is like an old friend: slower, friendlier, safer.
I was on a train in Germany once that made me very nervous. We were hurtling between Stuttgart and Koln at well over 120 miles an hour. I couldn’t tell if the animals we were passing were cows, or horses! So what did I do? I got off in little old Siegburg because I was starting to feel sick with dread. Nothing happened to that train I was on, of course; everything was just fine. I made myself an hour late that night, but I felt relieved to know that I could listen to my gut when I didn’t feel safe on a high-speed train. Remember, there’s a certain advantage to trains over planes: if your sixth sense is telling you to get the heck off, or you just need to stand still and regain control of your nerves for awhile, it’s a whole lot easier to disembark. So don’t let the Renfe tragedy get the best of your travel confidence; understand that accidents can happen, that tragedies are exceedingly rare, and that you have a lot more control than you think. Everything in between is just the essence of adventure.