Gap years and adventure trips are one of life’s most amazing and rewarding travel experiences, and the changing global security environment shouldn’t spoil a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see other cultures firsthand. In this article, the HowSafeIsMyTrip team examine how you can stay safe on your big adventure, and avoid scams, crimes and threats that could ruin your trip.
Travelling overseas is one of the most amazing things you can do, and although the global security landscape is changing, you shouldn’t be deterred from going on the trip of a lifetime. With a few simple steps, you can ensure that your trip is done safely in a way that doesn’t spoil the adventure! While your parents and loved ones might be worried about you going overseas, by taking a proactive approach to safety ahead of your trip you will be able to reassure them that you are doing things properly, and you’ll enjoy your trip more without having to worry about becoming a victim!
The most important element of staying safe on any trip is doing your research ahead of time. By understanding the environment that you are about to enter, you can dramatically reduce your chances of becoming a victim of a trip-spoiling crime, scam or threat. Prior to setting off, check out any available overseas travel advice, such as the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the U.S. State Department, or even our own free travel guide. Take this advice seriously, and try to plan your trip around less volatile destinations where possible. If you still want to go to high and extreme risk countries, then consider professional security support.
The next step is to understand the local environment at your destination. What are the most common scams pulled on tourists there? What are the medical risks? What vaccinations do you need? By understanding these risks, you can begin forming a plan to overcome them. If you already know about the local scams, you’re less likely to fall for them when you are targeted!
Crime risks are also important to understand. What are the common crimes at your destination? Are tourists targeted more often than locals? Which local areas are dangerous? Is there a kidnap threat here? Are female travellers targeted more? By understanding these risks, you can move around your destination with more confidence, avoiding the dodgy areas or bad times of day to be caught out.
Political and armed conflict risks are worth taking a look at too. Major unrest can derail your travel plans, so being aware of any potential trouble on the horizon can keep you alert for problems. If the situation changes dramatically in a country you are visiting, don’t be afraid to change your plans and consider moving on early or avoiding trouble spots. Just make sure that someone back home knows that your itinerary has changed!
Things to take
Safety should always be a top consideration when packing for a long trip. Find a way to separate and hide your travel money, to avoid having it all stored in one place. That way, if your wallet is stolen, you will still have a back-up store of money to keep you going. Anti-pickpocket wallets that you wear under your clothes are a great low-cost investment, and allow you to keep your large stash of gap-year money hidden when making small purchases. When buying luggage, you should keep the threat of pickpockets in mind. A rucksack that can be locked is always a good idea, although pickpockets can still cut through bags to get to the valuables inside! Comfort is also an important consideration, as you might be walking around with your backpack more than you expect!
When packing, you should also consider the local environment. Check whether any medication you plan on taking is illegal in your destination countries, and make sure you have enough critical medicines to last your trip in the event that you can’t re-stock locally. Also consider health/safety items, such as sun cream, insect repellent, anti-malarial tablets, and other critical items.
Care should be taken when choosing your accommodation, as unscrupulous hotel/hostel owners can often take advantage of young travellers with scams. Ensure that all prices are agreed upon beforehand, and don’t be afraid to challenge questionable items on your bill (as long as you feel physically safe in doing so!). Check out reviews of your accommodation plans where possible, and remember that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!
Be wary of other travellers; remember that just because someone seems friendly, doesn’t mean that they are your friend! Other travellers – especially in shared hostel accommodation – can be a major factor in scams, thefts and other crimes, and professional scammers will often try to befriend other travellers in order to take advantage of them. Making friends is a big part of travelling, but treat everyone you meet with a healthy dose of polite skepticism.
Staying in touch with someone back home is a critical part of travelling safely. Make sure that someone knows your itinerary, and have regular “check-in” calls with them so that they know that you are safe. Ensure that you have their phone number memorised (you might lose your phone!), and where possible share your insurance and booking information with them for emergency use. While it might seem silly, imagine how dangerous it could be if no-one expected to hear from you for months while you are on the road!
Travel insurance is an absolute must! Ensure that you are covered for all of the countries you are visiting, and that you have medical evacuation coverage to get you home in the event of a severe medical emergency. If you plan on doing any extreme sports, make sure that you are covered, and consider supplementary insurance if not.
For some destinations, specialist coverage such as kidnap insurance is worth considering. While this sounds extreme, the unfortunate truth is that “western” youngsters are valuable targets in many parts of the world, and even broke student travellers will be perceived as fabulously wealthy targets by local standards in many places. The most important rule about kidnap insurance is not to talk about it; if you tell people that you are insured, you may void your coverage!
Understanding the quality of local law enforcement is critical to staying safe. Not all countries can take trustworthy and helpful police officers for granted, and this is especially true in the developing world. Before your trip, research the police and security services in your destination countries and understand problems such as corruption, demands-for-bribes, police involvement in crimes and even language abilities of local officers. This will allow you to make better judgments when you run into problems on the road. In a country where corruption is a bigger problem, calling the police to report a crime can make a situation worse, and you might want to pursue justice through your local embassy or other security support assets.
Know where your country’s embassies are in each of your destinations, and have their contact details to hand. In the event of problems, such as local legal issues, lost passports or even lost money, your embassy will often be a great source of help. That said, embassies are not magically able to make any problem disappear, especially in local legal cases. Don’t expect special treatment if you break the law just because you are a foreign tourist!
If you (or a loved one) are planning a big adventure, then consider our surprisingly affordable travel security management services. You can enjoy peace-of-mind on your big adventure knowing that you have experienced security experts on hand for 24/7 emergency support, as well as professional threat intelligence reports tailored specifically for your trip. Get in touch to find out more!
The author of this article is a former British Army Intelligence officer and corporate travel security manager with several years experience working and living in Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific in a variety of geopolitical intelligence, travel security and corporate security roles.
The information provided by How Safe Is My Trip Ltd (England & Wales registered company number 10953024) is intended to help you navigate a dangerous world, but is not intended to replace common sense or entirely remove the risks associated with travelling. Unforeseen circumstances are an inevitability with travel and as a result not everything can be planned for. While we endeavour to provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information, we live in a rapidly changing world where not all risks can be predicted or mitigated against. By making use of the information provided to you by How Safe Is My Trip Ltd, you acknowledge that any dangers you are exposed to by travelling are faced at your own risk. The information provided by How Safe Is My Trip Ltd should not be considered a recommendation in favour of any particular destination. As an England & Wales registered company, interaction between How Safe Is My Trip Ltd, the general public, and clients will be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the England & Wales and shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England & Wales.