Difficult Travel: Going to Places with Political and Civil Unrest

This is a guest post by Chris Oquist.

[Ed. note: While AirTreks does encourage adventurous travel, we will always stress the importance of taking State Department warnings into consideration when considering travel in politically volatile countries or regions. We believe personal safety should always be of greater importance than having “unique adventures”.]

Blockupy 2013 - difficult travel

Photo: libertinus

For some reason, when I read or hear about a place experiencing turmoil or unrest, I want to go there.  Egypt, Syria, Somalia, etc, etc.  The media portrays these countries, and many other like them, as places of death and destruction, places to be feared and in some cases, doubly feared if you are an American.

Why am I attracted to these places?  It’s not because I’m attracted to the death and violence.  Since the beginning of human civilization (and I use the term ‘civilization’ loosely) there have been places defined by violence.  It’s an integral thread of the tapestry of human existence.

Death and violence are inevitable.  So, why should that stop me or you, or anyone, from going to these places, regardless of purpose (humanitarian, employment, or personal exploration)?

It shouldn’t.

U.S. State Department travel warnings shouldn’t either, honestly – though it’s a good idea to be aware of precisely what those warnings are.  Additionally, consider registering for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Registering will let the State Department know where an when you’ll be traveling, so if you do find yourself in a precarious situation they might be able to provide assistance.  Of course, that might depend on how precarious that situation is.

Registering on that site is just one thing you can do to prepare.  There are other steps, considerably more important things to consider before entering a tumultuous nation.

One – Research and Prep

Anti Morsi Protest in Down Town Cairo
Keep as up to date on current affairs as realistically possible.  Before leaving check as many news sources as you can.  Answer questions like: what areas of the country are being affected?  Will I be in or near those areas?  In many countries, the images broadcast on news programs are a tiny sliver of a greater reality.  One single block of a major city might be the only place experience unrest or violence with demonstration or similar activities, while the rest of the city or region is relatively peaceful.

With sensationalism a number one priority of news organizations, it can be difficult for viewers to discern what is really going on, and for travelers, it might lead them to enter an area unprepared.

Two – Notification

Ghetto Wall - difficult travel
The worst thing you can do before entering an unstable country is to keep it a secret.  Tell as many people as possible.  This not only includes family and friends, but the State Department (of course, some regions to require subversive travel to enter, and notifying the State Department before travel has the possibility of putting a dampener on those plans, regardless, you can tell them after you arrive at your destination to avoid inevitable hassles).

Additionally, once you do enter a country, notify the embassy of your arrive and travel plans, that is, if there is an embassy.  And don’t forget to maintain communication, if possible.  Keep people updated to know you are safe and out of harm’s way.

Three – Keep a Low Profile

La place
Some tourists have a knack for looking like tourists.  They seem to adhere to stereotypes and in these regions of unrest, that’s a really bad idea.  In these places, you want to be as subdued as possible.  You don’t want to stand out.

If you’re a male and you’re going to a region where a majority of adult males have beards, grow a beard (probably want to get started on that fairly early).  Wear grays, tans, and beiges.  No jewelry.  Have anything of value, a camera or laptop?  Keep those out of sight.  Don’t wear your camera around your neck in a visible fashion.  Keep it and anything else in a secure shoulder bag.


Chris Oquist is a private pilot and web developer at Banyan Pilot Shop in South Florida.  He is an avid blogger and article writer whose expertise includes aviation headsets and other pilot supplies. As an aviation enthusiast, Chris is passionate about sharing his knowledge on all-things-aviation.