Terror attacks on popular holiday destinations are a rare but unfortunate reality, and they can happen anywhere at any time. As travellers there is always a chance, no matter how low, that we may get caught up in an incident anywhere we happen to be in the world. These simple safety tips should be your guide to keeping yourself safe if you are ever unfortunate enough to be caught up in a terrorist attack.
Paris, Egypt, Turkey, Bali, the list of high profile travel and holiday destinations is a long one, unfortunately the long line of cowards hiding behind religion and twisted ideology is seemingly never ending.
With recent high profile attacks on Paris, Egypt and Turkey hitting the headlines all over the world it is very easy to get caught up in the hysteria and allow paranoid fear to dictate your thoughts and actions. Don’t do that.
It is important to remember that despite the headlines, the chances of becoming a victim are statistically extremely low, and also if you are unfortunate enough to become a victim or get caught up in events where something terrible has happened, a clear head, some preparation and knowledge and a strong plan of action will be your best form of defence.
Extremist activity should never affect what we do.
Before you go.
Being prepared before you go is essential.
- Consider a gap year safety course or consultation. Like any form of training or schooling, these are all designed to prepare you for any given situation, and can make you much more aware of how to spot potential danger, avoid it if possible, deescalate it if necessary and survive it if all else fails. The Bemused Backpacker Travel Safety Consultation is one, and can help walk you through all those potential worst case scenarios and give you the knowledge you need to survive.
- Do your research. Listening to official advice on what to do is important, but is just a starting point. Remember that many government warnings are overblown at worst or generalised at best, but they are still a good indication of whether you should look deeper into what the situation is on the ground or not. If there are heavy or severe warnings of terror attacks that stop short of stating that ‘all essential travel should be avoided’, then use your common sense. Ask yourself when the last terrorist attack was, is there heightened security in that area due to a recent attack, what specific area is considered unsafe, is it the whole country or just a very small, specific spot? All these questions will help you risk assess if it is safe to travel to an area.
- Leave copies of your itinerary and contact details with friends or family. This isn’t just for their peace of mind, although it certainly does help with that too, this is about giving you extra forms of help if something does happen, and ways for them to try and help if it does. If you can’t contact the embassy or emergency services and they hear of an attack on the news, they may be able to do it for you and give them your details.
- Gather all the essential information you might need and keep a copy with you. Telephone numbers and locations of your country’s embassy, local police stations, hospitals and other emergency services, back up emergency contact details for your friends and family and even local transport or accommodation details are all useful in an emergency.
- Know what to do before it happens. Before you arrive in any new place have a back up plan to evacuate and get out in an emergency.
- Get the right travel insurance. Getting the right travel insurance is absolutely essential for any trip, but ensuring that you get one that covers you for every eventuality is very tricky. As unlikely and as rare as it may be to become a victim, terrorism is very real, and you need to be covered for it. Terrorism and acts of war are often excluded in the majority of basic policies, as this is an easy, blanket way for insurers to get themselves out of paying if anything truly terrible happens. This more often than not means they will refuse to pay out on cancelled flights or planned itinerary changes if a terrorist act or conflict occurs, but more pertinently they will also refuse to cover medical or repatriation expenses if something does happen. There are insurers out there who cover terrorist acts within their policies, you just have to shop around and make sure you read all of the small print before you buy.
Preparing yourself thouroughly should have the effect of reducing any unwarranted fear or paranoia about any given destination. Caution is good, fear is not.
On the ground.
Odds are when you arrive in a new country and are travelling through it, things will be fine and you will be absolutely safe. There are however ways to decrease the risk factor – no matter how small – of anything bad happening to you.
- Be alert. This really should go without saying. Make yourself become aware of your surroundings, look out for any suspicious activity or objects, and listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, leave.
- Make a plan. If you are with friends, have at least one back up option of where to fall back on and rendezvous if something does happen.
- Take notice of local news. I know when you are travelling the world listening to the news is often the last thing on your mind, but the occasional glance at a headline and chatting to locals can give you infinitely valuable insight.
- Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations. I’m not talking about large festivals or popular tourist spots here, yes they may be targets but they are also the reason many people travel to any given destination. I’m talking about rallies, political demonstrations, large gatherings where tensions may be running high. Generally they are pretty easy to avoid.
- Try and learn a little bit of the language. Knowing a few basic phrases in the local language is a good idea for any trip at the best of times and will add a whole new level to your travel experience, but you should also learn a few phrases such as ‘help me’, or ‘I’m hurt’, and a few essential words such as hospital or ambulance. These few basic things could come in really useful in an emergency.
When an attack happens in a location near you or in the same country.
Often when attacks happen they are relatively localised to one or two specific areas, and you may find yourself somewhere where an attack has happened but in the next city over or on the other side of the country. You may even be close to the outskirts of the attack itself. The point being terrorist attacks can happen anywhere at any time. You may not be in any immediate danger but the situation will still require action.
- Stay put. If you are already in a safe location, stay there! Do not go out into the street if at all possible.
- Don’t be an idiot. Some people for whatever inexplicable reason think it may be a good idea to head to the location, whether to take photos, start live streaming what is happening or just watch out of morbid curiosity, whatever the reason, don’t be that person. Stay away.
- Get somewhere safe. If you are out in public then head to the nearest safety point as soon as is practical, your hotel, a hotel, an embassy, anywhere practical and close. This is particularly true if you are on the outskirts of any attack.
- Listen to local news and pay attention to local staff. Locals are often the best source of up to date information and it is often a good idea to listen to them. Hotel staff in particular are useful as they will specifically be looking out for their guests.
- Contact family or friends if possible. Letting people know you are okay is important and can be a huge source of relief. Social media is often excellent for this too.
- Contact your embassy. Give them your details and let them know where you are and that you are okay. It may help if someone has contacted them looking for you (if they couldn’t reach you). It also never hurts to let them have that information either.
- Listen to any temporary restrictions. Quite often local police or governments will place temporary restrictions, curfews or no go zones. Listen to them and obey!
If you are caught up in the middle of a terrorist attack.
If you find yourself caught up in a bomb blast, a shooting or any other type of terrorist attack then it can be one of the most terrifying experiences of your life, but this is where knowing what to do can really come in useful.
- Don’t be a hero, or an idiot. If an attack happens and you aren’t immediately hurt, then don’t hang around! Don’t try and take pictures or stand and gawk or you’ll get in the way of the emergency services, and unless you are Chuck Norris, Steven Segal or an actual member of the military or emergency services, then don’t try and help either. You’ll get in the way or even worse create extra work for the real heroes who are actually trying to help.
- Try to leave the area as quickly as possible. This should go without saying, but if you are able you should make your way to the nearest safe haven immediately and then move further away when safely possible.
- Obey all instructions. Local police, military or other emergency services will often be on the ground pretty quickly. Listen to everything they say and do it without question.
- Stay away from dangerous areas. You are already in a danger zone, but if you are uninjured and are trying to make your way out of it try – as much as is practical – to stay away from glass windows or any other object where debris and shrapnel can cause you injury if a second blast goes off.
- If you are injured. Contact local emergency services, be aware that local services may be put under extreme pressure in this type of emergency so you will go through triage and be treated on the severity of your injury.
- Remember the silent solution. Not many people know about this but if you need to ring the emergency services and cannot speak for whatever reason, then that doesn’t mean they will automatically come out to you. The UK has a silent solution protocol where if you ring 999 but cannot speak to the operator, then you dial 55 (or SS, hence the name) to help them know this is not an accidental or prank call, and that you need help but can’t speak (if it will give your location away to an attacker for example). Obviously this protocol is for the UK but the principle is the same in any country, when you contact the emergency services just press a touchtone button to silently convey you need help.
It is important to remember that whilst terrorist attacks and other forms of conflict are an unfortunate reality in todays society, on the whole the world is still a very safe place to travel.
The attacks that have happened in recent years, in Paris, Egypt, Turkey, London, Manchester and so, so many other places to numerous to list were horrific, there is no getting around that. They were devastating cowardly attacks by people with an extremely warped and perverted ideology. They do not represent the absolute majority of religions, countries, cultures, races or creeds, so it is nonsensical to judge an entire country or culture unsafe by the cowardly acts of an extremist minority.
Despite what the overblown mass media will have you believe, the chances of being caught up in a terrorist attack are extremely low.
Travel safe, travel smart, but travel!
It is also important to remember that these attacks can happen anywhere at any time. London and New York have been victims in the recent past. Nowhere is truly safe from terrorism, that is the point. Terrorist attacks can happen just as easily at home as they can on a plane to a tropical paradise. Yet no one declares our home countries as unsafe. No one in the West scurries into a bunker every time the government changes the bulb to a red one in the Foreign Commonwealth Office or GCHQ, yet they are quick enough to declare entire regions as unsafe and cancel travel plans because of a single incident.
Common sense and logic should prevail.
You should still make, or even keep, your plans to travel. Just do your research and be prepared just in case anything does happen. Remember, terrorism wants you to stop travelling. Terrorists want you to live in fear and stay at home. Don’t let them win. Travel safe, travel smart, but travel!
What did you think of this article? Would you cancel or change plans after a terrorist attack? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.