Gap Year Safety

The majority of people who live or travel abroad will not have any problems with their safety. However we have some tips to help ensure you do not become one of them.

As a westerner traveling or living abroad you can attract negative attention. It is important that you do as much as you can to avoid this attention. This means staying in groups, being respectful of your environment, dressing appropriately and paying close attentions to your surroundings.

Losing your belongings can be a mere inconvenience or it can significantly impact your journey. It is therefore important that you keep your items safe while traveling. The first bit of advice is not to keep you bag over one shoulder, if you have a handbag or satchel you should replace this with a backpack or store your one strapped bag in a backpack. In areas popular with tourists all around the world it is common for gangs on mopeds to grab and slash on shoulder bags from unsuspecting tourists. It is also important that you pockets and backpacks are secure as pickpockets can take things from you or your bag without you or anyone around you realising. Therefore we would advise that you use a travel lock to keep your bag securely fastened while walking around busy areas. When walking around with you backpack and your day bag it is a very common (although unstylish) technique to carry your day bag on your front. This is not only more comfortable, but also safer,as you will be more aware of your day bag and your concerns over style can be ignored in favour of safety.

Many hostels have lockers in the dormitories allowing you to lock you own things away. It is a good idea to bring a travel padlock with you, even if living out of a backpack, to lock away your things when you are out or asleep.

It is also important that you don’t attract too much attention to yourself, being overly loud or of course drunk can be both offensive to locals and highlight you as a soft target to muggers. 

Dressing inappropriately is a problem for both men and women. For men this is unlikely to result in more than an argument but for women it can attract unwelcome attention and even touching by locals who are not used to or respectful of girls wearing clothes that may even be seen as reasonably modest by western standards. If you are visiting holy sites or places of worship it is normally expected that men cover their knees and shoulders and remove any hats, while women may even need to cover up as far as their ankles and cover their arms and heads. They should not wear low cut tops. If in doubt look at other travellers around you and be sure you follow the majority. In some places you may be offered a wrap-around skirt or long-sleeved sweater to wear.

 

Food Safety

While it may be unpleasant to talk about travellers’ diarrhoea is the most common health problem encountered by travellers, with 20-30% affected. Contaminated water can also spread diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis A and cholera. It is therefore a key health concern that you drink clean water and eat well prepared food.

It is normally quite easy to get hold of clean bottled water. One thing to look out for is whether or not the bottles are sealed, it is not unheard of for less scrupulous shop or stall owners to simply fill up bottles with water from the tap. You should also make sure you use the bottled water when brushing your teeth as even small amounts on a toothbrush can carry disease and cause sickness. If you have to use tap water, then boiling it for at least a minute or using chemical disinfectant tablets will eliminate the majority of water borne diseases; however this has been proven to be ineffective on certain parasites.

The first step towards food and general hygiene is to wash your hands regularly. As you may not have access to clean hand washing facilities, it is wise to carry around antibacterial hand rub. Using this before eating a meal or after getting your hand dirty is a much better option than simply wiping your hands on your t-shirt!

A second important step is to try and avoid contaminated food. This can be done by only eating fresh well cooked food (as far as you can check), ensuring that vegetables and fruit are cleaned using uncontaminated water (potentially meaning not to eat fruit or vegetables that you haven’t prepared yourself) and only eating fruit that you can peel yourself (such as oranges, lychee and bananas). You should also avoid food that is shared in buffets as you cannot be sure about its storage or the cleanliness of other diners.

 

'Extreme' activities

Before taking part in an activity it is worth doing a sense check; the things to keep in mind are ‘are the people in charge trustworthy?’, ‘are adequate safety precautions being taken?’ and ‘will I feel stupid if this goes wrong?’ There are a wide range of activities that may seem like bad ideas but with the right precautions are reasonably safe, other activities, such as cliff diving, are unlikely to be safe even if precautions are taken. Ultimately the focus of a gap year or special trip is to have fun, but it is important that you think about what you are doing and the risks involved before making a decision that could impact the rest of your life.

Despite what may seem like a fairly safe or relaxed activity, such as hiking, you can require additional travel insurance. It is important that you check your policy before taking part as the costs of injuries from taking part in even fairly simple activities can quickly spiral, leaving you with difficulties meeting the costs of medical bills or even securing further treatment.