Traveling in Politically Unstable Countries

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The 9/11 attacks in New York and the recent trouble in Egypt has shown us that even the most stable of countries can sometimes fall into disarray.

Because of the way that almost every country now is made up of people from different religions, cultures and backgrounds, keeping all of them happy can be a problem. Tensions can be easily created and can bubble under the surface for years, needing just a single spark to set them off (just look at the London riots in 2011 as an example).

As a traveler, there’s always the chance that the country you’re visiting may fall into political turmoil (resulting in a dangerous environment), and although this is extremely unlikely it’s good to have an idea of how to act (and more importantly, how to stay safe) during such an event.

Political UnrestPolitical unrest is just a part of life these days, but providing you know what you’re doing and you’re reasonably well informed on what’s going on in the world you have no reason to worry. As Rick Steves says: “An awareness of current social and political problems is as important to smart travel as a listing of top sights.”

How to Avoid Politically Unstable Countries

So how can we go about ensuring our travel is always safe? Here’s a few tips:

  • A few months before you set off, start periodically looking online for political news stories in the country you’re traveling to. This will enable you to have an idea of what’s going on and what you can expect. Unfortunately, guidebooks seldom contain information regarding political conflicts or civil unrest (as things can change so quickly), so looking for up-to-date news stories is the best way to find out what’s going on.
  • Check out the State Department’s website for travel warnings. These travel advisories will offer you information on which countries/areas should be avoided.

What to Do if Political Unrest Erupt Around You

There may be times when, despite your best efforts you find yourself in a country in the middle of political unrest. If this is the case:

  • Try to leave the country as safely and as quickly as you can if you feel you may be in danger. If you’re flying out of a country, make sure to get to the airport extra early as there may be additional (and time consuming) security checks that you’ll have to pass through.
  • Avoid making yourself a target. Walking around with a Yankees baseball cap and a load of fancy jewelry on whilst holding a large map won’t exactly make you blend into the crowd. In times like this, try to blend in and look like a local.
  • Many cultures view America (and indeed the western world) as a corrupt fat cat-like enemy. Stay in local hostels and eat at local restaurants. Terrorists don’t bomb ‘Bob’s local hostel’ – they’re far more likely to target ‘The Hilton’ hotel.

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