I was in Sri Lanka just a few weeks ago and more than once I remarked that I felt safer there than any other country I’d travelled to in Asia. And then, just a few weeks after I’d left, I awoke to the devastating news about a series of suicide bombs across Sri Lanka causing many fatalities and injuries.
I watched the news with horror as the death toll rose to 253, one of the worst terrorist attacks our world has seen over recent months.
Since then, I’ve seen so much chat in Facebook groups and on Twitter about whether it is safe to travel in view of these terrorist attacks. I’ve seen so many extreme conflicting views and irresponsible advice given, I decided it was time to share some common sense travel advice.
Some people were telling others to travel imminently despite not being covered by their travel insurance. Others were warning people off Sri Lanka labelling it a ‘dangerous country.’ Neither of these opinions seemed sensible to me. So instead, I’m offering a more balanced opinion based on my extensive research, current government advice and my own experiences in Sri Lanka before this tragedy took place.
Whilst the advice in this article is based on recent events in Sri Lanka, actually, it will be relevant for anyone considering travelling to a country which is at risk of acts of terrorism.
Hopefully, this article will give you a balanced view and help you make up your mind about when you feel safe and happy to travel after a terrorist attack.
Let’s look firstly at imminent travel plans…
What you can expect from this article...
- 1 Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka imminently?
- 2 What to do if you are already travelling in Sri Lanka
- 3 So does that mean I should cancel my trip coming up in a few months?
- 4 Travelling to Sri Lanka in the next few months could be better than ever
- 5 What can we do to protect ourselves from being victims of terrorist attacks when we travel?
- 6 So let’s summarise, is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?
- 7 Find out more information…
Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka imminently?
*** UPDATE July 2019, The FTO has now downgraded the risk and Sri Lanka is deemed much safer to travel! ***
If you’re planning to travel to Sri Lanka (or any other country victim of suicide bombings) aren’t for a few months, I’d encourage you to hold your horse and wait to see how things pan out. (More on that later.) But for some who have flights to Sri Lanka booked this week, your decision is more pressing.
I see so many people urging others to continue with their imminent travel plans regardless and I’m personally not convinced that is the right move. In a few weeks, maybe. But we’re just not quite there yet.
Here is why.
Whilst security has been stepped up across the island, a state of emergency still remains in place. Whilst there have been a number of arrests have taken place, security operations and investigations are ongoing and the extent of continued ongoing threat remains unclear.
As a result, the country remains on lockdown. There is a curfew at night and restricted access to social media. Regular church services and congregations has been stopped. Life in Sri Lanka has not yet returned to normality.
Many countries have declared Sri lanka as not safe enough for travel and are discouraging travel unless its absolutely essential. The consequence of this is that many people’s travel insurance will not cover them if they choose to travel anyway.
So if you are travelling there in the next few days, be prepared to see Sri Lanka under lockdown. You will have to abide by curfews and you may not be able to access Whatsapp or Facebook to contact your family and reassure them of your safety. If you get sick, your travel insurance may not cover you at all. These things all need to be considered. Even if you will be safe, you may not get the same great experience I had there.
What to do if you have flights booked to Sri Lanka which you can’t refund.
If you’ve already booked flights that can’t be refunded, you need to decide if you are still going to travel to Sri Lanka or divert elsewhere. That will depend on whether the country is still in lockdown and the FTO advice as we discussed above.
If you decide not to travel in Sri Lanka or your travel insurance won’t be valid, you may want to consider travelling to somewhere nearby where you can book a cheap flight from Colombo airport. That way, you are not wasting your flight and you still get to have a fab holiday.
Some of the best places to travel which are just a cheap quick flight transfer from Colombo would include India, Nepal and The Maldives.
If you want a similar experience to Sri Lanka, consider visiting Kerala in India. It’s one of the most laid back destinations in India which is often compared to beautiful Sri Lanka both in terms of landscape and culture.
You may be thinking The Maldives is a super expensive destination for honeymooners only but this isn’t correct. I used to think the same until I discovered that G Adventures offered affordable sailing trips there. I’m now of the mindset that this is the absolute BEST way to see The Maldives. Click here to see just how affordable it is! Or you may want to read my Maldives Sailing Trip Review!
What to do if you are already travelling in Sri Lanka
You will need to decide whether to continue your trip or come home early and that will likely depend on your travel insurance. Be sure to check that it will still continue to cover you if you decide to stay!
Make sure you keep in regular touch with your family. They may be worrying about you and this will help reassure them of your safety. It’s also important that someone knows where you will be when, just in case another attack happens. So I would recommend printing a copy of your itinerary for your loved ones including the towns and hotels where you will be staying and any planned activities.
Terrorists usually target busy crowded places and places of religious significance. If you are in a crowded place, make sure you are aware of exits and keep an eye out for any unusual behaviour. Never be afraid to report suspicious behaviour.
Whilst the situation remains unclear, it may be best to avoid busy transport networks like buses and trains. In Sri Lanka, you can hire drivers very easily and cheaply or you could consider taking a group tour where private transport will be included. I did a tour with G Adventures and highly recommend it. The other advantage of taking tours during unsettling times like this is that someone will always know your whereabouts. You can ead my Sri Lanka tour review here.
If you decide to stay in Sri Lanka then I would suggest you are likely safer in smaller beach towns than in big cities and large hotels. Staying in small guesthouses along the South Coast might be a good idea. I can highly recommend staying at Dalawella beach and if you decide to stay in Mirissa, stay just outside of the city and take day trips such as to quiet beaches like Secret beach in Mirissa.
When it comes to going home, plan extra time to get to the airport as there may be delays especially at security. I’d always recommend going straight through security as you are safer that side of the airport than in public areas.
So does that mean I should cancel my trip coming up in a few months?
No, not in my opinion.
Sri Lanka is a wonderful country with kind, peaceful people. It’s a beautiful place with fascinating cultures, amazing scenery and exotic wildlife and there are so many amazing things to do in Sri Lanka. It actually one of my absolute favourite countries. It is also somewhere that relies on tourism to boost its economy which is still recovering after a long civil war which ended just 10 years ago.
My greatest worry is that people will label Sri Lanka as a dangerous, unstable country. That was not my experience. I felt safe at all times whilst I was there and once things calm down, I’m sure that sense of peace and calm will return.
The sad truth is that terrorism is everywhere. Check out this depressing map if you don’t believe me. Terrorists target those who are least expecting it. When they cause chaos in otherwise peaceful, happy places, they create a bigger show and incite more fear. They want to scare us, control us and clip our wings. But if we let them, they win.
So whilst I am urging you to be sensible about choosing when to travel, I am certainly not suggesting that you should avoid travelling to anywhere affected by terrorism. In fact, I encourage you all to fly free and show that we are not afraid and they will not win!
What should I do if I have a trip to Sri Lanka booked in the next few months?
Before panicking and cancelling your plans, I would hold fire a little longer. Already the situation is improving. Today, people in Sri Lanka were allowed access to Facebook again, surely a sign that the government is beginning to feel slightly more secure.
My advice to you is to hold tight and watch what happens over the next few weeks. I would imagine things will calm down and Sri Lanka will become as safe as any other country to visit. After all, we are still visiting London and Paris aren’t we?!
The truth is that there is nowhere safe from terrorist attacks these days (except maybe Antarctica?!?!) and we cannot let terrorism beat us. We need to continue living our best lives.
Yes, travelling when the risk of terrorism is critical is not advisable due to invalid travel insurance and unacceptable dangers. But travelling when there is some risk, well I’m afraid that is just real life these days.
So keep an eye on the foreign travel advice, as soon as it is downgraded from very high risk to some risk, then go ahead and book that dream trip as there is ‘some risk’ in virtually every country in the world, probably including the one in which you live.
Go and show those terrorists that they wont ever win this war!
Travelling to Sri Lanka in the next few months could be better than ever
Once the government are satisfied they have a good handle on the situation, the risk will be downgraded on foreign travel advice websites. At this point, travel insurance will become valid again and this could be a good time to book to visit Sri Lanka.
Well firstly, Sri Lanka may be a little quieter for a while – beautiful beaches without the crowds?! Awesome!
This also means that you may be able to nab an absolute bargain
The locals are going to be so happy to have tourists back again as many rely on tourism for their living. Sri Lankans are some of the nicest people I have ever met and they always look after tourists really well. But expect even better service as everyone works even harder in the tourism industry to showcase their beautiful country and draw the tourists back.
So visiting Sri Lanka in a few weeks or months when the situation is calmer, could be absolutely wonderful!
What can we do to protect ourselves from being victims of terrorist attacks when we travel?
Firstly, stay aware of changing situations. You can sign up for email alerts for specific countries and be kept up to date on any developing risks.
Be mindful of additional risks during national holidays and on dates of religious significance. Also following international political or social developments.
Always be aware of where exit points are and keep vigilant for unusual suspicious behaviours. If you are travelling somewhere which is very high risk, you may also want to take additional security measures such as avoiding sitting by windows as this is often the most dangerous place to be during bomb blasts.
However, you need to balance these safety precautions with realism too. We have to live our lives and we can’t stay fearful at all times. Sometimes we have to just trust that fate will be on our side and make the most of our time on planet earth!
So let’s summarise, is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?
My personal feeling is that we should follow foreign travel advice. If the risk is considered very high and we are advised to avoid all but essential travel then we should do just that!
BUT we shouldn’t let terrorism stop us from travelling. As soon as the risk is downgraded to ‘some risk’ and travel insurance becomes validated again, we have to accept that nowhere is truly safe from terrorism anymore and so we should carry on living our best lives.
However, its important we stay vigilant and keep up to date. I’d recommend signing up for email updates for the country you are planning to visit so you are one step ahead.
Now go and book a holiday somewhere fabulous and show those terrorists they won’t ever clip our wings, we will fly free…
Find out more information…
- UK Foreign advice specifically about Sri Lanka.
- UK Foreign Advice about all countries
- Foreign Travel advice for US citizens
- Country updates by email for US citizens
- Country-specific updates by email for UK citizens
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