When you start planning your dream gap year, we’re guessing that getting sick, being scammed or having your wallet stolen aren’t what you had in mind? The chances are you’re planning a fantastic gap year brimming with amazing experiences. And with a few careful gap year safety considerations, you can make sure you have a fun-filled and safe trip.
Most gap years are hassle and trouble-free, especially if you are prepared. We’ve rounded up our top suggestions to help you stay safe on your gap year:
Gap year safety: what to do before you travel
Having the right information and equipment will go a long way to keeping you safe. Here are our suggestions for what to do before you travel:
● Prepare your itinerary in advance and leave a copy with your family.
● While no tourist board can guarantee you will have a safe trip, some destinations are generally considered safer than others. The Government’s Foreign Travel Advice shares information about travel warnings, entry requirements and safety and security.
● Always have at least your first night’s accommodation booked for each of your first few destinations. Make a note of the hotel or hostel’s contact details, in case you’re delayed and need to reschedule.
● If possible, aim to arrive in a new location during the day, so you can find your way around in daylight.
● Get the relevant gap year insurance before you travel. We’ve shared our top tips in our guide to gap year insurance.
● For a safe gap year, add key phone numbers to your phone. These should include the emergency services’ number for each of your destinations. You should also have your insurance providers’ contact details saved, alongside your policy number.
● As well as saving them in your phone, write down these important phone numbers and keep them hidden in your bag. If you can’t remember them, also write your family’s phone numbers. We’d also advise emailing all of this information to yourself.
● Photograph or scan your passport in colour and email it to yourself so you have a copy if needed.
● Buy an emergency travel first aid kit and make sure it stays in your bag.
● Research the local cultures and customs of the destinations you are visiting. Find out if there are any clothes that could cause offence, and make sure you have appropriate things to wear before you arrive. In some destinations you may not be allowed to photograph certain things or people.
● If you are a LGBTIQ+ traveller, research social attitudes and laws in destinations you plan to visit, as rights that may affect you will vary by country.
● Make sure you have your visas and vaccinations sorted. We’ve included these in our list of gap year essentials that people often forget about.
● Don’t pack anything valuable. You will need your phone and wallet, but leave expensive and sentimental jewellery, clothes and items at home.
How to stay safe on your gap year
When you’re abroad it can be tempting to slip into a holiday mindset and become lax with your personal safety. But it’s important to take the same precautions that you would at home.
Here are some of our top tips to keep yourself safe while you are travelling:
● Familiarise yourself with a destination when you arrive and be aware of where to get help. If you get lost, try to ask for help in a well-lit place, like a shop.
● Avoid walking on your own in the dark.
● If you are travelling on your own, then let someone know where you are going and when you will be back.
● Always book safe transportation and never hitch-hike.
● Don’t carry around huge sums of cash or valuables.
● Avoid getting drunk or taking drugs as your judgement will be impaired. Just as in the UK, your drink could be spiked while abroad, so keep it with you at all times.
● As you travel you’re likely to book transport, excursions and tours with local providers. Choose carefully, as you want a reputable and safe supplier, rather than the cheapest and pushiest.
● Check if the tap water is safe to drink.
How to keep your belongings safe on a gap year
While you may end up losing a few items along the way, you don’t want anything to be stolen. Safe gap years are possible if you take a few simple steps to keep your belongings protected.
Think about how you can keep your wallet, passport and phone close to your body and hidden – you don’t want any of them sticking out of your back pocket. Look for bags that you wear across your body, or a bum bag or money belt that you can hide under your clothes.
There are also lots of thief-proof bags, bag locks and anti-theft devices you can buy, which can provide gap year safety peace-of-mind. You can also wear a lightweight rucksack on your front. Try to avoid a single strap bag that you wear over one shoulder, as someone could snatch it.
It’s also sensible to avoid keeping everything in one place, in case you are pick-pocketed. For example, you could keep your bank card in a money belt and a small amount of cash in your bag. Some travellers opt to carry a fake wallet containing a few banknotes and coins. If they were mugged they would hand this over, rather than their real one.
Most thefts are opportunistic, so avoid looking like a target. Avoid showing large wads of cash when you get your money out, and don’t walk around with your phone in your hand.
Keeping in touch with your family
No matter how well-prepared you are for your gap year, your parents and family will still worry about you. It’s important to keep them informed of where you are, even if you’re on the other side of the globe.
Remember to stay in touch, whether that’s by email, text or calling, and let them know when you move to a new area.
Look at roaming charges for your phone before you travel. For some destinations it may be cheaper to buy a pay-as-you-go phone abroad, especially if you plan to stay there for a while.
There’s a lot to think about before you set off on your gap year, but with some careful planning you can have a fun and safe trip. We love helping people plan their dream gap year, so you have any questions please get in touch.