Unexpected Situations

In a Nutshell

How to prepare for the unexpected, from speaker cancellations to medical emergencies to security issues

It goes without saying that not everything will go according to plan. Whatever happens, your job as trip leader is to stay calm and insulate the participants as much as possible while you and the other team leaders working with your tour guide handle the situation.

Be prepared

Every trip leader should have at all times:

  • A cell phone that can be used in Israel
  • Contact information for every hotel, restaurant, speaker, and venue in the itinerary
  • Each participants’ emergency contact information
  • Each of the other trip leaders’ and the tour guide’s cell phone numbers
  • Emergency numbers, including:
    • Tour company home office
    • A contact person at your university
    • The U.S. Embassy in Israel: 03-519-7475 or after-hours emergencies 03-519-7575
    • Emergency numbers in Israel: 100 Police, 101 Ambulance, 102 Fire

Speaker cancellations

Speaker cancellations are not uncommon, particularly when the speaker is a politician or public servant. Here are some options for how to respond:

  • If this particular speaker is essential to the narrative of your trip, you may be able to rearrange your itinerary to accommodate the speaker later in the trip.
  • Ask if the speaker or his or her office can send a backup speaker.
  • Reach out locally for a speaker with similar expertise or viewpoint.
  • Ask your tour guide for advice reaching out to local backup speakers.
  • Consider giving your participants free time; most likely they will appreciate it and put the time to good use, especially on a trip with a packed schedule.

Medical emergencies

All trip participants should be covered by medical insurance as a prerequisite for being part of the group See Waivers & Insurance for more information. <LINK TO Waivers & Insurace>. Some trips may opt to hire a medic to travel with the group. You can arrange this through the tour company.

In case of a medical emergency:

  • For minor injuries, be sure there is a first-aid kit on the bus.
  • If the medical issue is not severe, many cities have walk-in clinics. Your tour guide should be able to direct you to the nearest clinic. A Hebrew-speaking trip leaders should go with the injured participant.
  • Call an ambulance (call 101); one of trip leaders who speaks Hebrew should accompany the participant who is taken ill; never send a participant to the hospital alone.
  • If your tour guide is taken ill, get him or her to the care needed and contact the travel company immediately.

Someone loses a passport

Contact the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv: 03-519-7475 (accepts public inquiries from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Monday – Thursday).

Security issues at the airport

At Ben Gurion Aiport it is not unusual for a traveler to be detained, especially someone who is Muslim or has relatives in the Middle East or has traveled in the Middle East. The person might be held for many hours. If this happens, the group should not wait for more than an hour. Continue with the day’s schedule and leave one Hebrew-speaking trip leader with a cell phone at the airport to await the person’s release and catch up with the group later.

If none of the trip leaders speak Hebrew, ask the tour company if they can send a staff person. If the participant continues to be detained, get in touch with the U.S. Embassy and consulate. Remember to brief all participants beforehand on what to expect at Ben Gurion security, especially those of Middle Eastern descent who are more likely to get detained.

Security issues entering or departing the West Bank

There are many reasons you might encounter security issues entering and leaving the West Bank, so always warn your participants that a problem could arise. A checkpoint may be closed, for example. All you can do in that case is work with the tour guide to come up with alternative activities for the day.

As you are leaving, if West Bank security detains a participant, try not to allow the person to be taken from the group. Make it clear that the group will stay until that person is released. If you need to, call the tour company and consulate or embassy.

Israelis in your group should be sure to obtain official permission to enter the West Bank.

A participant is arrested

Call the consulate and let them know a member of your group has been arrested. The consequences will depend on severity of the charges, and the legal system will kick in. Trip leaders have the power and responsibility to send home any participant who is breaking the law or acting in a way that is dangerous or destructive to the trip and the other participants.

A participant gets lost/is missing

Participants may become separated from the group, either intentionally or unintentionally. You need to make it clear from the outset that participants who intentionally deviate from the itinerary and do their own thing without informing a trip leader will be sent home. Be sure that all participants have the numbers and emails of all group leaders, as well as contact information (name, phone, address) for all hotels. Try to stay calm, and find out from other participants when and where the last sighting was, and whether anyone knows where the person might be. Contact the lost participant however you can—phone, email, etc. and have other friends so the same. If the individual is not back after a few hours, consider calling the local police.


If a participant is too ill to travel (but not in need of emergency medical care), let the person stay in the hotel for the day if you can. If the group is moving on, then leave a trip leader for an overnight with the person; they can catch up when the person is well enough to travel.

Political unrest, conflict

Trip leaders should monitor the political and security situation in the months, weeks and days leading up to the trip:

  • Keep in touch with the tour company.
  • Monitor U.S. State Department travel warnings. Do your best to avoid areas where you might encounter issues.
  • Inform participants when issues occur.
  • If things heat up when you’re there, don’t take risks. If the State Department and Embassy recommend evacuation, get in touch with the tour company and your university liaison for advice.

Stay informed about the latest travel advisories regarding travel to and within Israel.

Keep funders apprised

If you encounter a serious emergency, let your funders know what is happening. More often than not, they can help.