Before the protests in Hong Kong, visitors jockeyed for space on the Sky Terrace 428, a viewing platform on Victoria Peak. Six months later, the crowds have disappeared. Washington Post photo by Andrea Sachs

Hong Kong, I changed for you. Instead of bolting out of the hotel upon my arrival, leaving the day open to chance, I sat in my guest room figuring out how to avoid surprises. 

For anyone visiting a city or country seized by protests, this is what you do. You stay informed. You remain alert. You cast a sideways glance at happenstance. You can still explore with abandon, just not on the protest route.

"Planning your trip around protests can be more stressful than necessary, but if you can move around and avoid them, it's not as dangerous," said Matthew Bradley, regional security director for the Americas at International SOS. "You just need to be super flexible and willing to go with the flow."

"This is definitely the age of mass protests," said Samuel Brannen, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There is not a region or place in the world that isn't experiencing them."

To be sure, these disruptions are not pleasant, especially when you crave a soothing vacation. But (safely) witnessing a defining moment in a country's history can provide unparalleled insights into a culture and a deeper understanding of its people and their passions.

"Culturally, it's not insensitive to visit," said Bradley. "You can experience their pursuit of democracy."

Do your research

As protests proliferate around the world, more travellers will have to face this tough question: Should you visit a destination experiencing unrest?

For the answer, you need to dig a little. Start with the travel advisories issued by government agencies.

Bradley urges travellers to hold off on travel if the uprisings restrict movement and cause a shortage of resources, such as food and fuel. (Two examples: Haiti and Bolivia.) Also take heed if either side of the struggle resorts to violence.

And finally, find a local source - a relative, an old college roommate, a Facebook friend - who lives in the destination or recently visited it and can provide a first-person narrative. 

Fewer tourists, fewer lines

"It's the worst time to visit," said Michael Tsang, founder of Hong Kong Free Tours, "and the best time to visit."

The best and the worst occupy two sides of the same coin. 

Observing the unrest

Hong Kong Free Tours started offering its Protest Tour in October, soon after the government banned protesters from wearing masks. The last tour, in November, did not go well. The two participants, plus Michael, who was guiding, were exposed to tear gas. Michael suspended the excursion before tiptoeing back onto the streets a few weeks ago. 

The event, which drew more than 800 000 supporters, had been peaceful, but violence could still erupt.

The Washington Post