Comfort’s Trap: A Wake-Up Call for Holiday Safety Mindset


Qi Zhang
Amidst a serene Portuguese beach, our family holiday took an unexpected turn. Laughter filled the air as the children played, but whistles suddenly shattered the tranquility… This incident exposed our cognitive biases, urging us to confront the lurking dangers we had overlooked. Comfort should never blind us, read this personal story for crucial insights that will keep you safe during your own cherished getaways.


This year, our family holiday took us to Portugal, near Nazarè, a renowned spot for surfers due to its incredible waves. Our plan was simple: enjoy the pleasant weather and the beautiful coastline resources.

On our first day, we settled into a quiet beach near our rented house. However, it quickly turned out to be the opposite of a relaxing afternoon. Little did we know that this day would teach us a valuable lesson about risk perception and safety.

The Comfort

Upon arrival, we found only a handful of people scattered along the sandy shore, enjoying the sun and the beach. My two sons wasted no time in joining the others, eagerly responding to the inviting ocean, and jumping into the waves. Equally enthusiastic were my 74-year-old parents, who accompanied the kids and were busy capturing precious moments with their cameras.

As the children ventured further into the waves, my mum’s concern grew (she couldn’t swim, and I understood her anxiety). However, their calls for the boys to come back were met with limited success, as the kids, familiar with the ocean and waves, played without heeding the warnings.

The Trap

Suddenly, the atmosphere changed. I heard the sound of two urgent whistles, and as I looked up, I caught thesight of my parents struggling in the waves, with my dad falling while trying to help my mum. Strangely, I still had not registered the danger seeing it from afar. The beach was so calm, and perhaps it’s just a funny scene?  Before I could fully comprehend my uneasy feelings, the lifeguards behind me already sprang into action. They dashed into the waves, grabbing my dad by the arm, and pulling him to safety. Beachgoers rallied to assist the guards, and my mum was also quickly helped out of the waves.

They were both soaked and shaking. It was at that moment I realized the severity of the situation. We learned of a tragic incident that had occurred just the previous week – a 67-year-old man had died on this beach due to the struggle in the hidden current beneath the waves. It served as a stark reminder of the hidden dangers lurking in seemingly familiar places.

The Wake-Up Call

In the aftermath of the incident, I couldn’t help but reflect on how I had overlooked the potential risks. It felt as if my brain had played a trick on me. It became evident that certain cognitive biases had clouded my judgment, leading to a false sense of security.

The first bias was the “Familiarity Bias“.  The beach’s familiarity bred a sense of comfort, making me believe that everything was under control, and the ocean was like our home turf.

The second bias, the “Overconfidence Effect” made me overestimate my children’s swimming skills and overlook the fact that my mum couldn’t swim. My dad’s proficiency in swimming when he was young also contributed to my misplaced confidence, neglecting the fact of his age and dizziness that came along with it.

The “Illusion of Control” bias led me to rely on the presence of lifeguards, unconsciously assuming that they had everything under control. I outsourced the responsibility of safety to the professionals without fully considering the situation.

Finally, the “Social Influence” bias played a part as well. Seeing others play joyfully at the edge of the waves influenced our decision to do the same, without realizing the potential danger of the deeper waters.

Recognizing these biases was a valuable lesson. I understood that assessing risks accurately and maintaining a realistic perception of safety required vigilance and self-awareness. This experience became a part of my safety event history, providing valuable insights that would shape my future approach to risk reduction.

As we continued our holiday, we embraced a newfound appreciation for the delicate balance between enjoyment and safety. Especially on a holiday, where our minds are tuned to relaxation and fun with family and friends, there is always a seed of danger that calls for safety leadership. We learned that the allure of a familiar and inviting beach can hide potential risks, and it’s essential to remain vigilant and cautious in any setting, no matter how familiar it may seem.