Staying Safe During Civil Unrest: 5 Essential Tips for Travelers

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Riots and protests are always possible when traveling. Here are some tips to help you avoid or deal with civil unrest while traveling.


Photo © Getty Images/Chris Fisher

Whether you're planning to visit a potentially volatile region or traveling to a major city that's known for protests, it's always good to familiarize yourself with the political situation before you go. Try to find out if there have been any recent violent demonstrations at your chosen destination, research what the demonstrations were about, and how the authorities handled them.

How to stay safe while traveling

  • Keep abreast of current news or contact your embassy and request regular updates if you are in a volatile area
  • If you hear that a demonstration is taking place, avoid the area or stay in your accommodation until you are sure that it's safe to go out
  • Before you go out, establish where the demonstration has taken place, and if possible avoid the area. Take along and consult a map so that you will know where you are at all times
  • If you come across a demonstration, don't become inquisitive, just leave the area and find another route to your intended destination
  • Should you need to go to an area which experiences a lot of demonstrations, try not to go alone. Where possible take someone with you and operate as a team looking out for each other. Keep close and maintain visual contact
  • Avoid any place where police or security force action is in progress.

Satety tips for a protest or riot

  • If you find yourself caught up in a protest or riot keep to the edge of the crowd where it is safest. Try not to be identified as one of the demonstrators by keeping well away from the leaders/agitators
  • At the first opportunity break away and seek refuge in a nearby building, or find a suitable doorway or alley and stay there until the crowd passes
  • When leaving the fringe of the demonstration just walk away – don't run as tyou will draw attention to yourself
  • If you are arrested by the police/military, do not resist. Go peacefully and contact your embassy as well as your travel insurance provider (Worldwide 24 hour Emergency Assistance if your policy is with World Nomads) to help you resolve your predicament
  • If you are caught up in the crowd, stay clear of glass shop fronts, stay on your feet and move with the flow
  • If you are swept along in the crush, create a space for yourself by grasping your wrists and bracing your elbows away from your sides; bend over slightly – this should allow you breathing room
  • If pushed to the ground, try to get against a wall and roll yourself into a tight ball and cover your head with your hands until the crowd passes
  • Remember to keep calm – the crowd should sweep past in a short space of time
  • If there is gun fire, drop to the ground and cover your head and neck, and lie as flat as you can.

Accommodation safety tips

Here's what to do if a protest or riot happens while you are at your accommodation

  • Do not leave or go into the street
  • Contact your embassy or consulate and advise them of your situation and whereabouts
  • On hearing gunfire or explosions outside, stay away from the windows. Do not be tempted to watch the activity from your window. Draw the curtains or blinds to prevent shards of broken glass entering
  • If you are in premises which have doors or windows opening on to the road side of the property, ensure that all windows and external doors are closed and locked
  • Move to an inside room which will provide greater protection from gunfire, rocks or grenades
  • If a demonstration is taking place outside your hotel, liaise with hotel management to keep updated on the situation outside the hotel.

Trapped in a car during civil unrest

  • Never drive through a crowd
  • If you find yourself in the path of a crowd, turn down the nearest side road, reverse or turn around and drive away calmly
  • If you cannot drive away, park the car, lock it and leave it, taking shelter in a side street or doorway
  • If you don't have time for this, stop and turn the engine off. Lock the doors and remain calm. Be sure not to show hostility or anger.

What to do after a civil unrest event

  • If it is unsafe to stay where you are, seek a place of safety in a less volatile area
  • If you have suffered injury, seek medical assistance. Report any loss or damage to your property to the police
  • Report your situation or whereabouts to family/friends/business associates
  • Report incidents to local police and obtain a report reference. Where applicable, report and claim on insurance.

Before you buy a travel insurance policy, check your government travel warnings and health advice – there may be no travel insurance cover for locations with a government travel ban or health advice against travel.

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  • Paige said

    Interesting article. Thank you for the tips.

    Maybe make mention that World Nomads does not necessarily cover expenses incurred due to civil unrest.

    My teens and I landed in Hong Kong moments before a massive crowd closed the airport. We were in stifling frightening crowds, no transportation, no water available, and it was only due to the kindness of the protesters that we were pushed aboard one of the few trains leaving the airport. The airport was shut down for 2 days. I refused to return to the airport in order to try to make the next leg of our journey, and instead took a ferry to Macau and booked a cheap flight on to Tokyo, where my flight home would leave from.

    This is exactly the kind of situation I would expect to be covered by trip insurance, a true emergency situation, and yet, due to technicalities in timing, etc., World Nomads would not cover this expense. I was expected to go back into a potentially dangerous situation in order to try to catch my flight.

    So a valuable part of this story would be to let your potentional customers know what the situation is in terms of what you will and will not cover.


    • Ellen Hall said

      Hi Paige, we're sorry to hear this was your experience in Hong Kong. This article was written to share general, practical safety tips with travelers who find themselves caught in situations of civil unrest. We also have a section with more specific information on what is and isn’t covered here:

      Ellen Hall, Editorial Producer


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