Simple precautions and good habits to help you have a safe year out, working holiday or gap year.
Travel is educational, confidence building and a whole heap of fun. However, just as at home, there are hazards to look out for and some simple things that you can do to ensure you have a trouble free trip.
Staying Safe in 15 seconds
- Register with your home government before travelling
- Check travel advice regularly before and during your trip
- Speak with your GP before travelling
- Find out and adhere to local laws and customs
- Research a place before you visit to know safe/unsafe areas
- Make sure you have appropriate, valid travel insurance (more info and quotes here)
- Avoid going out on your own at night and plan how you’ll get home
- Share your travel plans with friends/family and keep them updated
- Keep copies of passport, birth certificate and insurance.
- Please read on. In truth we can’t summarise this section in 15 seconds!
Before you leave home
- Make copies/photos/scans of important documents (passport, birth certificate and insurance). Keep them somewhere safe (soft or hard copy) in case you need them while away – specifically if you need to replace a lost passport.
- Take your insurance with you; read it before you go and know what to do and who to contact in an emergency situation (for example if you need hospital care or have to return home immediately).
- Register with your home government: In doing so you enable your home country’s embassy and crisis staff to give you better assistance in an emergency such as a natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency.
America – STEP
Australia – Smartraveller
Britain – FCO Travel Updates (register for email alerts)
Canada – Registration of Canadians Abroad
Ireland – Department of Foreign Affairs
New Zealand – Safetravel
Singapore – MFA
- Get a Global SIM or roaming package and leave the number with friends and family before you go.
- Leave your travel itinerary and initial accommodation details with someone at home.
- Check the the latest travel news for your destination country using the links above and where possible register to receive travel updates.
- Research the local laws and customs. Know what is culturally, socially and legally acceptable/unacceptable.
- Visit your GP to discuss any needs you may have while abroad especially if you are taking medication or have an ongoing medical condition.
- Check any health requirements for countries that you will be visiting. Will you need any inoculations or are there specific health risks?
Arriving in a new country
Prepare. A little of effort now will pay-off in the long run
- Book arrival accommodation in advance (at least for the first night) and make sure that it is in a safe area (use a reputable travel guide/website, ask friends or check at the point of booking)
- Know how you will get from the airport to your accommodation (taxi, airport shuttle bus, public transport?)
- Find out any areas or places best avoided
- Arrive with some local currency (where possible). Most international airports will have ATM’s and currency exchange, but they could be closed or out of action. Avoid getting caught out.
- When booking flights check the arrival time as well as the departure time. Having a sensible arrival time will be more useful than a convenient departure.
- Phone, text or email people to let them know you’ve arrived safely. Don’t underestimate how much they can worry.
Bags and personal belongings
Losing your bag and its contents isn’t the end of the world but it is massive inconvenience with visits to the police station, paperwork for insurance, visits to the consular office, not to mention the loss of irreplaceable photos and potential delays. Here are some scams to be aware of and tips for keeping things safe:
- Keep valuables (camera/phone, passport, etc.) with you where possible and keep them safe in a closed bag. Keep the zip/fastenings facing against your body and keep the bag on your front where you can see it. Any popular tourist spots will attract pick-pockets. Never let down your guard. Avoid leaving bags at your feet under tables/chairs etc. they are easily snatched.
- Valuables you don’t need on a daily basis can be checked in at your accommodation in a safe in the room, a safety deposit box or stored safely with Reception.
- Clothes and bags left in shared accommodation should be closed/locked and if possible secure them to something in the room – looped through a bed frame or similar. Its a long way from being full-proof but it may act as a deterrent to the opportunist thief.
Staying safe at night
When you arrive in a new place get recommendations for the best places to go to and those to avoid. Travelling should be social and you’ll have some great times, but don’t be complacent.
- Make sure you know how you’ll get home, public transport may not be the best option late at night. Have a plan.
- Avoid going out on your own.
- Chat to the locals and get to know people, but be cautious especially of free drinks. Drink spiking is a global problem.
- Be aware of local licensing laws and age restrictions (for example the drinking age in America is 21 which can be a surprise to European travellers).
- Recreational drugs should be avoided. Laws and attitudes differ from one country to another and the penalties can be severe. Being an overseas visitor is not an excuse for breaking the law and you won’t be treated with any greater leniency. See below.
Our only advice can be to abstain from and avoid any recreational drugs. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. In some countries you can be arrested if drugs are found in the house that you live in, regardless of who “owns” them or which room they were in. This sobering video courtesy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office highlights what can happen and who can be affected.
If you are seen to be vigilant opportunist thieves are more likely to pick someone who is less careful. Take some simple precautions to avoid being an easy target. Most trips will be incident free, but someone somewhere will come unstuck. Don’t let it be you.
Don’t be put off travel by these comments or other peoples scare stories. Travel is fantastic and the places you visit will be no more or less hazardous than your home. However, at home you know what’s acceptable and what’s not. You know the good clubs, the bad clubs and streets or areas to avoid. When you arrive somewhere new take some time to find these things out so that you can enjoy your trip to the max.
FCO Travel Aware
In association with the ‘Travel Aware’ Campaign, we are working with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to do all that we can to help British travellers stay safe overseas. Before you go overseas, check out the Travel Aware website at www.gov.uk/travelaware. It is packed with essential travel advice and tips, and up-to-date country information.