Top Tips How to Stay Safe on a Gap Year
Thinking about going traveling? Got your backpack ready? With the latest ABTA Travel Trends Report showing 3,599 international hospitalisation cases worldwide, 28,783 passports lost, stolen or invalid and arrests for Britons reaching over 1,500 in countries like Spain, our featured article writer - Elliott Nielson has put together some useful advice and 7 pointers so you can hopefully avoid that painful call home when away on your gap year...
1: Know at Least 5 Phrases in the Language of Destination
An Englishman walks into a bar... I won’t continue, but at this moment, using your last-minute-App just to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ will find in a different atmosphere than if you speak to Dr. Kananga behind the taps like Terry from the local. To ‘let live’ the idea here.
If the education system taught us anything it’s thinking on our feet to stay out of trouble. So for example; by learning a new language and knowing one word in Russian (sounding like ‘necht’), the more violent (English speaking) urchins on Amsterdam’s streets will leave you alone. Perfect your South African accent and you’re more likely to make it back to your hotel unscathed out there. We’re targets, red-faced, often ignorant targets and the more respect you show the better time you’ll have.
Learn words and phrases like ‘Hello’ ‘Please’ ‘Thank You’ ‘How much?’ ‘How are you?’ I, the Englishman walked into a bar in Amsterdam and spoke English the whole time. Having paid a penny for every millilitre of water handed to me, 250ml at €3, I stopped as I sipped. Next time I will act ‘local’. Saying minimal in the common lingo provides you with an expenses safety net untouched by those that are trained, to take advantage.
You could also book a language course abroad:
- Spanish language courses in Spain
- Spanish language courses in Latin America
- Learn German in Germany
- Learn French in France
- Learn Russian in Russia
- Learn Chinese in China
- Learn Portuguese in Brazil
2. Stick together
Personal ventures into fruit markets are how awe inspiring moments and stock photos are formed. That old faithful ‘last night out’ however should be spent with the mates you’ve made and travelled with. As a group, power to meet new people becomes easier, the drunken straggler won’t be left behind nor will all your dropped change and passport be forgotten. It may seem simple but when you’ve found your mate through means of catching him off a fist in a club you’ll wish you tightened those baby reins. The benefits of getting everyone to tag along are minimal compared to the problems of being alone. More than anything it will allow you to exercise my final tip in comfortable surroundings.
3. Double Check Your Bag. Twice!
Backpacking about or travelling slightly heavier to give yourself those “I might need them” comforts can make it easy to forget, not everything is allowed everywhere. It might be that bag of roasted crickets you’d snack on from Hong Kong to Australia, the absinthe you had the night before making your way to Qatar or the illegal-party-substances you thought no one would ever find out about.
In fact the overall number of arrests overseas decreased by 10% along with drug offences being the lowest since the Report began 5 years ago. Realistically we can’t discount drug use as far as holidays are concerned these days; but the strongest advice being don’t trust anyone selling them to holiday goers. If you choose to, experience them there and not at the Airport. You might not be attempting a smuggle operation but not checking your bag could lead you somewhere unwanted. Thai jails spring to mind as well as the majority of the Middle East nations with Islamic law, those causing an issue for those of us that enjoy a few drinks.
Regardless of the fact you may always say ‘No’, your bag may not always be handled by you alone. It’s no memorable experience being escorted from your mother and two sisters by police, M16’s over their shoulders questioning what you brought back from Amsterdam but kept in your bag til Luton Airport on your way to Spain. Poor SWIM.
4. Keep it all Separate
The pockets with the pounds are targets and this means really staying aware of all your stuff. Your Passport, bankcard and all your cash to hand should never be in the same pocket. To lose one can mean the end of a trip, all of it can be the end of, well...
Apart from checking-out, never leave your temporary dwelling with everything, whatever happens, whatever you have back there is safe. Socks make great hiding places for all kinds of things. Special inside-trouser-wallets are cheap as useful. This tip for those of you expecting a messy holiday as this should allow you to enjoy yourself in complete contempt. Yes the passport stays in the safe. Tonnes of articles write about the quickest way to save yourself once your passport is gone, but when the time comes your head might well be all over the place. In a no nonsense writer – reader relationship, never ever let it get to that stage; travel with a few copies of that straight-faced passport of yours or any other I.D if need be.
But my advice would be to find your Embassy. That’s all you get.
5. Be Absolutely Certain Your Well Isn’t Dry
Money comes and goes, earn for a few years and you’ll learn this. What you’d like to spend is very different to what gets spent, in some places more than others. I warn you that in the most popular of destinations they saw you coming before the plane hit the ground. Honk Kong shopping’s cities, Norway’s clubs and London’s transport circulate as often the most pocket-pinching destinations. Especially on international adventures the idea of financing can sometimes can lost, bewildered by cheap garments and such. Yet hidden booking costs you were never made aware of, coach or trains journeys you forgot about, even museum entries can all add up.
This tip from me is sent in the hope you’re not under a bridge a day away from your returning flight, the hostel having booted you because you spent their non-official hair-dryer rental on a bus back from a bus tour which left you 5 miles from where the tour started. Worse has happened.
6. Know What You’re Heading Into
Research all destinations before departing to see if the country is safe.
7. Keep People Updated
Let family and friends know where you are and where you are going.
8. Book a Structured Experience
There are so many stuctured gap year programs which thousands of people book every year. If you are heading off solo you might want to consider booking a group tour, internship, volunteering program or work abroad package where you will meet other people and get experience in-country staff to be there to help with any issues.
9. Be Confident
If one piece of advice for life as well as travelling needs to be noted then it is just this. Hold your head high, keep smiling, keep trudging along and fear very little. A lack of confidence is what will have you on the ropes against a squad of muggers, it’ll have your leg in a cast when you didn’t jump far enough of that ledge and most definitely isn’t going to lift you from a lost-in-Bangkok hangover.
I’m not preaching everyone replicate the Chelsea boys, fully funded on their world tour, Ray bans and low cut vests can be put aside. Confidence affects yourself more than anyone around you, it can have you smiling, alert and more attractive to that Islander you find so alluring. You will notice when your confidence drops, giving you the best pointers about who not to follow up a mountain at night or what that ‘nice guy’ actually wants. Particularly for the international travellers, confidence is what can drive you through to that moment all backpackers hopefully find, that place where you have never felt so lost but so comfortable.
With the line growing ever finer between outrageous holiday memories and unwanted extended holidays as rules get tighter, I give you these reminders as a light hearted fare well gift. Before it turns into the harshest of vocal patterns down the phone from the grandmother of what will have to be your foreign children.
10. Advice for Female Gappers
Even in the 21st century remember that some women and girls all around the world don't have it so easy as some people do in the Western world and to cause yourself the least hassle it is wise to adhere to the customs and conventions appropriate to the country you are travelling in. As a general rule in destinations like Asia and the Middle East it is respectable to keep your arms, legs and midriff covered at all times whilst in towns/cities and villages.
This might sound extreme but fairer haired folks might also consider dyeing their hair a darker color as blonde hair is some-what a novelty, and may attract unwanted male attention. Another trick of the trade is to wear a simple band on your wedding finger, signifying that you are already taken and not interested in any propositions. Bear in mind at the same time that not every man or boy you meet is after one thing, most people are just trying to be helpful and friendly and as you will come across as somewhat of a curiosity, enjoy your new status and remember to treat everyone with the respect that they deserve.
Generally you will find it easier if you travel with a friend - be it male or female, for moral support in confusing situations. Walking in groups late at night is a sensible precaution to keep you safe - just as you should at home but the safest way to travel is on an structure tour where you will have an experienced guide.
11. Simple Tips
- Don't flash your mobile phone / money / watches in developing countries, this might attract unwanted attention
- Ask other travellers what their advice is for accommodation and places to visit
- When on public transport try to keep your personal belongings close to you or in view
- Keep drinking water, its easy to dehydrate when travelling and that makes you irritable and tired and ill in extreme circumstances.
- Couch Surfing is a great way to travel cheaply or try to attending the weekly meetings which are in a lot of countries worldwide and a mix of locals and internationals
- Be careful what you eat. Make sure all food is freshly and thoroughly cooked. Drink bottled or purified water.
- Always respect local traditions and codes of behaviour, especially with regard to dress. This respect will always be returned and will make you trip more rewarding
By Elliott Nielson