Helpline Question of the Month: Is it Safe to Travel during Protests?
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Whenever there are protests going on in Europe, spiced with even a tiny bit of street violence, our visually-driven news media is sure to whip up anxiety from would-be travelers and (especially) their loved ones. But how does one get a more balanced picture of what actual inconvenience or danger to travelers is out there? And exactly where (as in which blocks within a city) might protests be taking place? At times like this, Rick Steves' Travelers Helpline connects less experienced travelers with their veteran counterparts, many of whom are residing or traveling in Europe at this moment. It's a good reality check — and it's free. That's just what Sue in Silverado, CA was in the market for recently.
Tag along on this little trip through our Travelers Helpline...
"Is it safe for two women to be traveling around Italy next week, during all the protesting?"
Travel News Extra: What Rick's tour guides in Greece and Spain are saying about "unrest"
Land of La
What protesting are you referring to? Protests would be centralized, most likely in Rome and only one part of Rome. Remember can't get the word out if it's not publicized and there's better TV coverage in Roma. So, I'd be aware but travel just the same. Italy is fabulous. Bella! Oh wait, are you referring to the anti-American protests that are presently occurring? Go to Italy. Enjoy yourself. Italy is not Egypt. Nor Syria. Don't let FOX NEWS dictate your travel plans. You want to know what's happening in Europe look at BBC News.
Sue, I'm presently in Italy (Sicily at the moment) and wouldn't be too worried about the protests. These are usually somewhat "localized" in my experience, so if there's a demonstration happening near you simply go to another area. I was in Rome during some type of demonstration on a previous trip, and simply went inside Termini and had a fine hot meal. When I ventured outside again, the demonstration had moved on to another area. In my view, this isn't a concern. Happy travels!
Sue, my experience with "protests" in Europe are that they are not a safety issue, as noted, this is not the middle east we are talking here. Protests are a very common occurrence and are almost always peaceful, but if in any doubt, simply go somewhere else. I DO NOT mean avoid Italy, I mean, if you are walking down the street and see a crowd of protesters just walk the other way, it's not a big deal.
I would consider it crazy to cancel your trip, really, go you will be fine.
Pittsburgh, PA USA
I must have missed the part where Sue said she was watching Fox news.
Toledo, Ohio US
I consider street protests in Italy great photo ops. I've never felt unsafe, and there's usually a festive atmosphere (balloons, percussion instruments, singing, chanting). Just another slice of life, but if you don't want to get near it, you'll hear it from afar in plenty of time to adjust your course.
San Diego, CA
Since the protests that are occurring in the middle east are a far cry from peaceful and there are other kinds of protests occurring in Europe, I recommend you check the state department website for travel warnings. Here is a link to the site, http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html
silverado, ca usa
Thank you for all your advice. We're looking forward to our trip. Just to clarify a few things. First we don't watch fox news, and the information on MSN online was about the protesting, that had reached Australia, not just the middle east. I had also heard about our airlines protesting, but that only lasted 6hrs. Please understand, I'm a new traveler and I was just trying to learn as much as possible before we go. It's better to ask, even if its silly, then to wonder. Thanks again.
The things happening in the middle east and North Africa with regards to protests are worrying for people traveling to those areas. Those protests are centered around anti-western sentiment.
That isn't the issue with airline strikes or political protests against austerity or other local issues as happens in europe.
You need to research the factors behind the protests to understand what is safe and what isn't safe. Europe is fine.
First of all, there is no silly question to ask. You are concerned so you asked. We were involved in two protests, one in I think was Killarney, Ireland where students had all walked out as protest to teacher's contract or something like that. Second was in Barcelona, again students, this time I think was college students. At first we thought it was a movie scene but then when we saw police in riot gear with guns, we know it wasn't. We simply went into nearby restaurant, had a glass or so of wine until things quieted down and never did we feel unsafe. This was several years ago. From what I have read on internet, most of protests are in Middle East and around an embassy. You should be perfectly fine.
Things are fine in Rome. We had some demonstrations last week due to the Alcoa situation in Sardegna, but they were localized and easily avoided.
Sign up for the Dept of State Smart Traveler Program and beyond that, stay attentive to your surroundings. Enjoy! The weather is grand now!!!
Not to try to scare anyone, but to add a bit of reality yesterday about 100-200 people went to try to protest at the American embassy here. The French gendarmes and riot police were ready for them, and took about 100 people in for questioning. When the protesters couldn't get close to the embassy (news reports say they didn't make it closer than the Tuileries), they then set off for the Ministry of the Interior.
All this is to say:
- With extremist Muslims being inflamed about the video, opportunistic leaders in just about any country that can round up a few extremists will seek to grab some attention, so you can't rule out demonstrations popping up anywhere.
- The authorities in Western European capitals have an interest in protecting their American allies, and are good at their job. The protests are *very* unlikely, in my estimation, to get out of hand.
- My husband and I were out and about all day yesterday in Paris and had no idea this had happened until we got home and saw the evening news. (i.e. very localized).
- However, from the looks of the news video, if you had been in the Tuileries or near Madeleine at the right time yesterday, you might have been quite shocked and a bit scared at what you saw.
All of which is to say, Sue, that your question isn't at all silly, and that your awareness will stand you in good stead. You should be fine, but keep your eyes and ears open. Most likely, you won't encounter anything like this at all but if you do, quietly go the other way, don't stick around to watch.
Thanks for the report, Kim. I guess Claudia's MSNBC forgot to mention that...
Sue, we are leaving in the morning and will be in England and Scotland for 2 weeks. Of course, this is something that has crossed my mind. Any time you hear "anti-American protests around the world" it makes us take notice. I'm not going to let it hinder my trip that I've been saving for for months and months. Just like any other situation, you keep your eyes and ears open and use common sense. This is true for the next two weeks just as it was true last year. The protests in Western Europe are very isolated. But, believe me, I understand where you're coming from.... and I don't watch FOX News either.
I was wondering if I was going to need to reassure folks back home, as it was the top story on the evening news here and on the local papers' websites. But it doesn't look like the news made it to the States at all! Which is just as well . . .
Dear fellow Okies, have a great time in Scotland and England these next two weeks!!
San Diego, CA
Kim, let me check Fox News and MSNBC and I'll let you know if you need to contact the family. But seriously, as you posted the protests can occur anywhere, anytime, not just the Middle East. To think otherwise is foolish, the OP of this thread was smart in asking this question.
CENTENNIAL (now homeless & dependent on free Wifi), CO USA
There is a huge difference between protests and riots. We have been through a number of protests over thr years that were just noisey and not threatening. The ME is rioting.
Today the French riot police were out in force all over Place de la Concorde (embassy neighborhood) at all the metro exits, on all the corners, etc. decked out in full gear, with plastic shields and everything. A definite show of force, because the French gov't took a lot of criticism over the weekend for the protesters having even tried to get near the embassy. Again, not your usual sight on Parisian streets!
Barry -- thanks for the offer, but my folks don't have cable, so they don't have any idea what's on MSNBC or Fox anyway!! :)
Adelaide, SA Australia
The riots in Australia were confined to Sydney, involving a few opportunistic radical right wing Muslim groups. Their act has been loudly condemned by the majority of Muslim leaders in Australia.
We were caught up in a protest march in Avignon in 2010. The only problem for us was that our taxi couldn't get through the mob and had to drop us off well short of our B & B. It was a nice day for a walk!
You should wear a Spain jersey with 4-0 on the back and see what that starts. I'm kidding. Do not do that.
Thanks for the news, Kim. Good to know.
Land of La
Clarification regarding news preferences: No MSNBC, no FOX, No CNN, and no Headline news because what they broadcast isn't news, it's entertainment.
Prefer LinkTv Mosaic News and BBC news. Better world perspective.
On France: If you're in Paris this weekend, you'll see LOTS of riot police out in force. Authorities have refused two demonstration requests submitted by groups who want to protest "insults to Islam" (I.e. the film and the publication this week by a French newspaper of cartoons mocking Mohamed).
Even though the protest permits have been denied, the police will be on hand in case anyone tries to do so. le Figaro this morning (Friday) notes that the police presence will be strong at Trocadero, Place de la Concorde, and at metro and train stations that link up the city center with the suburbs (for any rabble-rousers trying to come in town from the depressed suburbs ringing the city).
I imagine the police will have this pretty well in hand; my point is to alert folks that if you're here this weekend, you may well encounter this increased police presence. The same is true for other major French cities.
Again, to underline, my guess is that protests won't be a problem, but that the police presence itself may look a little shocking. Ask your hotel to give you the latest s as you head out and about this weekend.
Happy and safe travels, the weather is gorgeous!
Hüttenfeld, Hessen Germany
Lest we get the idea that the entire Moslem population of Europe is universally on the verge of rioting, many of the respectable local imams have issued appeals for calm amongst their followers. The cheif imam of Antwerp basically told his followers that a cheap, poorly made Youtube film is more worthy of ridicule than anger. He strongly criticized the rioters among his flock (in Dutch):
http://www.standaard.be/artikel/detail.aspx?artikelid=DMF20120917_009&word=antwerpen+imam Somehow, I doubt any of this was reported in the US.
As a relatively anonymous tourist, you have little to fear if you take some simple precautions. If you see a police cordon or an angry crowd... just walk away. It really is hard to just randomly walk into the middle of a riot. Anyone who actually wants to cause America any harm will go after a fixed target with a known routine, like an embassy or a business closely associated with the US. They're not going to sit around and wait for an unsuspecting tourist to randomly walk into their trap...
Tom, yes, we've had the same things here, Muslim religious leaders calling for calm. In fact, it was the top headline in Le Figaro online yesterday morning.
Our independent, volunteer Travelers Helpline contributors are sincere, but not infallible! Follow their advice at your own risk. This thread was gently edited for brevity and clarity. Ask your European travel question on the Travelers Helpline.