safety tips while travelling on your gap year

pencil

Manuel Delgado

calendar

Aug 2017

girls follow safety tips while travelling

These safety tips while travelling on your gap year will be one of the most important things that you read in preparation for your big adventure.

Safety Tips While Travelling On Your Gap Year

One of the biggest steps in convincing yourself – and, let’s face it, your parents – that you should go on a gap year is making sure that you know how to keep yourself safe wherever you go.

This is as much something you can study before you depart, as something you will learn as you go along. Whether travelling with a group or going solo, you should inform yourself on best practices to stay safe.

In order to fend off your parent's trying questions every time they read terrifying articles about people kidnapped in South America and the latest traveller scams, have a look at our top safety tips while travelling, its all about keeping yourself alive and well on your gap year. 

My 6 Gap Year Travel Safety Tips Before Departure

Before you start packing your bags for your gap year, you can prepare yourself by reading and learning about your destination.

Tip # 1 - Do your Research

That means checking government advice for that location as well as the travel guides. Get up to date on any safety tips while travelling you should be aware of. Also research the vaccinations you might require for that destination.

Spend time learning about the local customs, their history and main religion, ask yourself how conservative is it?

Find out when are their main cultural and religious festivities, as these can transform a sleepy town in a crowded place.

Armed with this information you can then make the right decision when is the best time to visit, if at all.

Tip # 2 -Plan your routes

Learn about the different neighbourhoods and be knowledgeable about points of interest and landmarks in the area which can help orient yourself, just so you are always in control of your route.

Make sure you book your transit from airport to accommodation ahead of time, to avoid the nightmare scenario of having to walk with all your bags on the side of the motorway.

Tip # 3 -Pre-book accommodation

Before you book your accommodation, read reviews to make sure there are no safety issues. It’s worth finding out if the booking can be refundable or even be paid on the spot, in case you get bad vibes from it upon arrival and want to scramble somewhere else. read about why you should book accommodation in advance .

Tip # 4 - Inform people where you are going

Always make sure you leave a basic itinerary of your travels with at least one member of your family or a friend at home.

Equally important is informing them of any changes so they have accurate information of where you are or what you planning to do.

Tip # 5 - Copy your Documents

Before you set off, make copies of your most important documents (passport, driving licence, boarding passes, etc), even better if you can get those on your phone and email/cloud for versatile access.

Tip # 6 - Get Travel Insurance

Last but not least, get travel insurance. Even if you’re travelling for a month, you literally can’t afford the risk of travelling without it.

Make sure that it covers you for any activity that you planning to do, and remember that if you have an accident while drunk, it most probably will be void!

Traveller Top Tips

1. Get to know your destination, what vaccinations are required, also any travel safety tips to be aware off.

2. Get to know the neighbourhoods and landmarks

3. Book your transit from the airport

4. Research accommodation before booking, check the reviews and local area

5. Leave an itinerary with your parents

6. Make copies of your documents

7Get travel insurance

Be safe when travelling

The booming tourist industry, particularly in developing countries, has given fresh opportunities for scammers and con artists to take advantage of.

While getting robbed is possible anywhere in the world, when you are travelling you are more vulnerable in many ways, without knowing the place, the local language, nor who to run to in an emergency.

Always be aware of your surroundings. Before you explore new neighbourhoods, plan your trip there and back using safe transportation.

Wherever you are, notice escape routes and exits, and the people around you. The most common way for a con artist to trick you is to distract you or lure you into a false sense of security.

Take this example which actually happened to me:

Beware of Scams and be READE

When I was 18, I embarked on one of my first solo travels to La Paz to do some sightseeing, trekking, and mountain biking. Whilst walking in the centre of town, a man approached me and asked me if I wanted to take part in a raffle that was hosted by a well-known bus company; he had the company t-shirt, a cap, and even an identity card with the logo of the company.

He told me that it was 1 Boliviano to enter, which is about 1p, and took me to where his friend was with a little table on the pavement.

I thought they were genuine. I decided to play so I took my money out and paid for a ticket. Sure enough I won 10 Bolivianos! I thought I had gotten lucky, they gave me my winnings and they asked me if I wanted to “double or nothing.” I said no and walked away.

All of a sudden I was picked up from behind and pinned against a wall while I felt a hand going through my pocket and take my wallet. I was then smashed against the wall, and the attackers ran off.

Everything happened so quickly, in the middle of the day and on a busy street. By the time I got to my feet the raffle people were long gone.

I guess I can be forgiven for falling for this, as the raffle men were wearing genuine-looking bus-company clothes as well as carrying badges with the company logo. But this situation taught me two things: first, never to interact with hawkers, street sellers, or beggars. This may sound harsh, but it is the truth of the matter. A lot of scams and robberies start in this way.

Secondly, it taught me the importance of being aware when someone is trying to lure me somewhere, especially if it’s a business activity, and it reminded me to use something I had heard about years before: the READE code. 

The READE code

The READE code is an action plan used in military training to react to situations of danger. It works in five stages, symbolised by each letter of the acronym:

RECOGNISE: this is the first stage of prevention; it’s about understanding what is going to happen, or identifying what is really happening. Above all, it’s about using common sense and sensing danger when it arises.

EVALUATE: the second stage of prevention. If a strange situation is developing then you need to ask yourself if this can lead to you being vulnerable, or being in a position of risk. Have you taken any measures and are you prepared? Trust your instincts, and if doesn’t feel right, it most probably is not.

AVOID: if the first two stages have raised concerns just don’t get involved, don’t follow through, abort the plan, don’t do it!!

DEFUSE: whatever the situation you may find yourself in it is best not to be confrontational. Pacify the situation effectively to make sure it doesn’t escalate further.

EXTRACT: walk away with the minimum of fuss, or with a lot of fuss if there are people around, put distance between you and them, and get away unharmed.

These five steps ensure maximum awareness combined with the calm and collected approach which will get you away unharmed.

My top 8 safety tips while travelling

star-o

Travel Safety Tip # 1

Be prepared, know where you going, how you going to get there even before you leave your hostel, walking around looking lost is perfect for attracting unwanted attention as is walking on the wrong side of town.

star-o

Travel Safety Tip # 2

How do I get this information? Even better than the guidebooks, Ask fellow travellers for this info or hostel staff. They are always willing to help and are full of useful information.

star-o

Travel Safety Tip  # 3

If you are leaving bags behind, always lock your backpack in a hostel locker and store any valuables inside your locked bag. If you are staying in a private room, consider buying a travel door alarm, which usually works when placed on the handle of the door, to scare off any intruders.

star-o

Travel Safety Tip # 4

Fold money individually in your pockets so when you get the money out you take just one note at a time and not big wads of cash, always keep the bulk of your money in your money belt and be especially aware at cash machines.

star-o

Travel Safety Tip # 5

Leave expensive mobile phones at home and buy a cheap one, the same applies to watches.

star-o

Travel Safety Tip # 6

Never walk home at night after a night out, even if accompanied. Always take a taxi even if your hostel is two blocks away, thieves tend to watch places where foreigners go!

star-o

Travel Safety Tip # 7

If you didn't follow the above safety tips and find yourself been robbed, at least remember this one. NEVER EVER TRY TO BE A HERO, NEVER FIGHT BACK! hand over whatever is that they asking for, you can replace any material possessions but you only have one life! 

star-o

Travel Safety Tip # 8

Finally, remember not to do things that you wouldn’t do in your home country, don’t be another statistic. Just because you are travelling it doesn’t mean that you have to leave your brain at home!

Be a smart traveller

Don't want to stand out from the crowd? Avoid loitering, wandering around with your map open and your camera on your neck, that kind of thing, as that would be another giveaway. Try to blend in as much as possible: this means no white socks and sandals as nothing will quite scream TOURIST quite like that combo.

Let's be frank, you're always going to be the 'foreigner', it's never going to be like 'Where's Wally', but you should definitely avoid looking like a lost tourist. Walk around like you know what you are doing and where you are going.

Conversely, and this may sound weird, but don’t be shy, talk to people, look confident; if you need to ask for directions it is better to ask in shops or with street vendors than random people in the street.

Traveller Top Tips

1. Keep belongings on you, hidden in zippered pockets

2. ​​Do not carry much cash or valuables

3. Carry a dummy wallet to hand over in a mugging

4. ​Blend in

5. Don’t trust strangers with your valuables and don’t flash your money

6. Always trust your gut, ALWAYS

The two main rules are to be organised and tidy and don’t flash belongings of value. Oh, and one more rule: Never put anything of value under the mattress, it doesn’t work anymore!!

Take your time to understand the security proceedings for each hostel that you stay in, as they will be different every time. What time do they lock the doors? Is a code needed to re-enter, a key, or is there an all-night guard?

Always have a torch handy in the middle of the night. Not only for safety and security but for a number of reasons; fire, natural disasters, finding the way to the toilet or preparing for that 5 am bus without disturbing other roommates.

This way you avoid the ‘I will take you there’ scenario, where they walk you to a more secluded part of town and then rob you.

Remember that not only the locals, but also other travellers are strangers: do not trust people right away and do not leave valuables with them, unless you want your bank account and your faith in humanity shattered in one fell swoop.

One of the oldest tricks is for con artists to befriend tourists and travellers, work at gaining your trust and then steal from you. Leaving you both skint and heartbroken.

For the same reason, do not flash your money or any valuables around, when in the street or entering your accommodation, as this will attract the attention of thieves and make you a future target.

You will find lots of stuff online for staying safe when you are a female traveller. This is really useful, however in my opinion all travel safety tips apply to you whether you are female or male.

In all circumstances, always trust your gut – if you have a bad feeling, leave the situation.

Safety tips while travelling - accommodation

Girls talking about safety tips while travelling

As always, safety must be a priority here. We may be sticklers for safety, but it is so important when travelling. Just a few key checks can give you peace of mind. It is always important to remember that many developing countries do not have the same standards and rules as we do at home.

Make sure that the dorm locks so that only people staying in the dorm can access it, but don’t forget that these people are complete strangers. Even if they are friendly and easy to get along with it is important to always use common sense and be vigilant.

If you are a woman and are heading to a hostel you can ask for girls-only dorms – this may make you feel safer when returning to your accommodation later at night and in general during your stay.

Traveller Top Tips

1. Use the lockers

2. Buy a travel alarm

3. Females: get a girls-only dorm bed

4. ​Know the fire escape routes

5. Carry a business card/map/address and contact number for your hostel

The two main rules are to be organised and tidy and don’t flash belongings of value. Oh, and one more rule: Never put anything of value under the mattress, it doesn’t work anymore!!

Take your time to understand the security proceedings for each hostel that you stay in, as they will be different every time. What time do they lock the doors? Is a code needed to re-enter, a key, or is there an all-night guard?

Always have a torch handy in the middle of the night. Not only for safety and security but for a number of reasons; fire, natural disasters, finding the way to the toilet or preparing for that 5 am bus without disturbing other roommates.

Travellers’ hostels tend to have a fairly similar vibe, however, they are all a little different; some are great, some not so much. You should never stay in a place that doesn’t feel right, you shouldn’t talk yourselves into something that you are not sure about. You can always find another place to stay, you should trust your instincts, always!!

Safety tips while travelling - hostel fires

In the developing world fire regulations are something that are known about but nobody enforces it, which creates the perfect conditions for a disaster. To make matters worse, due to the nature of the society they live in they are more worried about intruders and thieves than of fire hazards, so putting bars on the windows is not uncommon.

Don’t be surprised if smoke alarms are not operative or nonexistent, fire escapes are blocked and not signed, and fire extinguishers are not to be seen anywhere in the building. This could easily be a real life situation that you find yourself in.

In Queensland, Australia, a deliberate fire was started in a backpackers hostel on 23rd June, 2000. 15 young people were killed, and the arsonist is currently serving life in prison.

An inquest into the fire in 2006 found that the hostel was overcrowded, a faulty fire alarm had been turned off, windows were either barred, nailed or painted shut and fire exits were blocked making the chance of escape very slim.

Fire regulations are much stricter in Australia since this horrific incident, but you can’t assume that all hostels in the world adhere to any.

Unfortunately many hostels don’t, consequently it is essential that you put measures in place so you minimise the level of risk of being trapped in a fire. Over 1000 people a year are affected by hostel/hotel fires and between 50 and 100 needlessly die.

Essentially it will be up to you to be responsible for your own safety. You will have to ask the right questions, do they necessary checks and make the final decision on whether the hostel is a safe place to stay, and if it is work out your escape plan. It sounds ominous but being careful could be a matter of life and death.

Hostel fire - what to do

Don’t panic! Take two seconds to think. You’re going to be scared, but you need to stay calm to get out alive. Feel the wall / door with the back of your hand. If very hot don’t go out! There is a fire behind it.

Consider lowering yourself out of the window:

You should survive a 2 floor jump onto tar/concrete. Anything higher is questionable. Ideally throw a mattress out first to land on. Don’t launch yourself out of the window, but hang down by your arms before dropping to the ground to minimise your fall. Bend your knees when you land.

Do not break the window until you’re about to jump as you can’t stop smoke coming in afterwards.

If a window jump is impossible:

Fill the bath/basin with water and use dampened bed sheets, towels or clothes wedged in door cracks to stop smoke entering. Wet the walls and doors. No water? Pee on them! Then signal to rescuers from the window using a torch or a white sheet.

If you CAN leave the room:

Take the room key with you if it’s to hand. You may need it to rush back in. Smoke rises and so will be high, filling down to the floor. Keep low or better still crawl where the oxygen is. Stay close to the walls to avoid panicking guests and to count doors to the fire exit.

Do not use lift/elevator - that’s an oven you don’t want to be trapped in! Do not re-enter under any circumstances until told it is safe by the fire brigade. (Better to lose a backpack than your life).

Is the exit corridor filled with smoke?:

DON’T try and cover your mouth and run through it unless you can guarantee a maximum five second clear run to the outside (if you have walked the route when you checked in you will know if you can make it or not).

If the smoke gets in your eyes they will shut and not open again. If you get trapped the smoke will then kill you, so don’t try and beat it. Head back to your room.

Safety tips while travelling - party safe

We all know that your travels are just as much about exploring new cultures, learning new skills, as it is about having fun. But it is important that you know your limit and never cross the line where your awareness is dimmed.

Do not try to drink as much as the locals, especially if the drinks are cheaper than at home, which is often the case – don’t get tempted to drink the bar dry just because it only costs $10 to do so.

This is a recipe for disaster when you are surrounded by strangers in a place you likely don’t know. Drink water in between drinks and eat before you party.

Get your drink directly from the bartender and never leave your drink unattended. Watch out for any funny taste in your drink – it may have been spiked. If you are worried that your drink may be spiked while travelling you can get strips from Check Your Drink before you go.

If you feel strange while drinking get help immediately - ask the bar staff, ask a female or someone you trust to take you to the hospital.

Plan the route home before you get to the party, and do not go to strangers’ houses. Don’t walk home, even if accompanied, and take a taxi instead: thieves tend to watch where tourists go, so try to leave as few tracks as possible.

These safety tips while travelling should always apply, but it’s even more important to be aware of them while you are on holiday - while you are letting your hair down, you should not be letting your guard down, too.

Safety tips while travelling - drugs

There is no point tiptoeing around it: do not get involved with drugs. Not only is it unsafe and potentially harmful to you, drugs are the surest way to get you into trouble.

They are of course illegal in most countries and punishments around the world range from fines to the death penalty. Local police do not look kindly upon travellers caught in possession of drugs, and most certainly will not turn a blind eye.

Unfortunately it has also been known for corrupt police officers to work with drug dealers in setting travellers up, allowing the dealer to sell you drugs, and then extorting money from you by threatening you with prison. The police and the dealer get your money and you are left shaken.

If you find yourself caught and arrested for possession of illegal drugs then there is very little the Foreign Office or your parents can do, as you are subject to the laws of the country you are in.

Foreign jails are highly dangerous and it is the last place that you want to find yourself.

As well as the personal health and safety reasons for staying away from drugs, drugs also have a hugely detrimental effect on society, the environment and the individuals involved in processing them.

By buying drugs like cocaine, people are passively participating in the destruction of rain-forests, communities and traditional ways of life.

Safety tips while travelling - ritual drugs

shaman safety tip while travelling

With travel becoming more and more accessible, the fascination with Eastern and South American cultures constantly on the rise in the West, many people seek out the ‘authentic’ local spiritual experience while being quite seriously uninformed about that culture and that spirituality.

People are often intrigued enough to take part in ritualistic ceremonies with a “shaman” or “medicine man”, actively seeking out the opportunity during their travels. Although fascinating, in the last few years there have been various stories in the news about ritualistic drug experiences by travellers that have ended in death.

Unfortunately, there are con artists everywhere who try to sell you a chance to spend some time with a ‘real’ shaman taking some ‘real’ ritualistic drugs.

These con-artists have seen that there is a demand for this and are making the most of it; they don’t care about your safety, or the quality of the experience, let alone the quality of the drugs that you will be taken.

All that con artists care about is the money they are making. In the worst case scenarios, these experiences have ended in death, but another possibility is that the group of young people who have paid to do it are lured into a remote location and are then robbed.

The experiences being sold may sound great, but they’re not. At best they are a very poor re-enactments of the real thing and at worst they can be life threatening. The best thing you can do is stay away.

Safety tips while travelling - beggars and street kids

safety tips while travelling

You should never give money to child beggars. Not even the disabled ones. Not even the ones who want money for school.

Don't give them money, or candy, or pens. It's not generous. In fact, it's one of the most harmful and selfish things a well-meaning traveller can do. You will only perpetuate a cycle of poverty and give children a strong incentive to stay out of school.

Simply put, as gap year traveller, you just don’t have the knowledge, experience, or long-term investment in the communities you visit to understand whether your generosity might do more harm than good.

The impulse to share our blessings with people we meet around the world is a wonderful and compassionate thing. But there are better ways to give. Just because we don't give our money or gifts to the children does not mean we cannot help.

Donate or volunteer with responsible NGOs, or organisations that work with street kids and look for creative new ways to be kind to children. I always carry some stickers while travelling and hand them out to the children. Just try to have a laugh with them, you have to remember that they are just kids and that they should be at school and not roaming the streets.

DON’T GIVE MONEY, DON’T BE MEAN, BREAK A SMILE!

Safety Tips While Travelling - robberies and scams 

I will try to expose the latest scams and ways of robbing gappers while travelling on different destinations, so you can be in the know. This is a compilation of scams/robberies that I have experienced while travelling , or it has happen to people I knew while away.

I am also in contact with people that worked in the industry and they keep me updated on the latest safety tips while travelling on different destinations.

Just remember that most robbers don’t work alone is usually a group of people working together, and don’t ever profiled, by this I mean they are not just young males with scars on their faces, they can be women, old ladies and also kids.

Common scams

The “let me help you” technique

Scam

This is a very common way to part you with your belongings. Used mainly in South America.

They start by creating a distraction, they will get you dirty with some disgusting fluid or spit on your face, then mainly two individuals (they can be grannies) they will offer their help with a very opportunistic handkerchief or tissues.

What they are really doing is putting their hands in your pockets, or opening your rucksack….and they are so fast that when you realised what happened they will be gone.

Where this Happens

They usually use this technique in crowded places, like markets, bus stations, and around tourist areas, like plazas, hostels, or places of interest.

What to Do?

When you get wet with a disgusting fluid, keep walking don’t stop, when the people approach to help, (remember that they are the robbers), you say NO to their help, be assertive and keep walking, go to the nearest shop, or establishment, if they don’t go away and keep insisting to help start shouting and call attention to yourself by shouting ‘police’, they will get the message and go away.

How to Avoid it

There is not much you can do to avoid it, but you definitely can stop them from taking anything from you by just following the steps above

A Taxi Taking You Somewhere Else

Robbery

When you boarding a taxi you are in a very vulnerable position, you may not know the city, so if taking you somewhere else it might be too late before you notice, and the next thing you know you are surrounded by a couple of crooks …

This is a very scary situation but you need to keep your wits about you and remember the mantra evaluate, cooperate, and extract.

Where this Happens

You have to worried about this mainly in big capital cities and major towns, in small places is uncommon. They are mainly two modalities, but they start with you taking a taxi on the street, they drive you to a part of town were their accomplices are waiting and they drop you there, while the accomplices take all your belongings, the taxi drives away, or It can happen in the taxi while they drive you around.

The worst case scenario they will express kidnap you and take you to a cash machine for you to withdraw as much money as possible.

You don’t have to be by yourself for this to happen, so don’t think just because you are with a group of people from your hostel you will be safe, but you definitely will be safer.

What to Do?

Remember to stay calm and cooperate fully, slow, careful, cautious body language tells a robber that you are cooperating and that you're not resisting.

You need to realize that most people who cooperate with a robber are not hurt, keep this thought in mind

NEVER NEVER NEVER TRY TO BE A HERO, NEVER FIGHT BACK.

How to Avoid it

Wherever I arrived in a big city or major town one of the first things I do is get a local sim card and a taxi’s driver number, generally from the people at the hostel and used the same guy as long as I am in that city or town.

Or you can use a reputable taxi company that you can call and booked, take in consideration that this option is not always available in the developing world.

Try to avoid taking taxis on the street, mainly at night. If you have to, make sure that they are marked and that they see you writing down the number plate, but is better to plan in advanced.

Robbing while in the taxi

Robbery

The taxi driver is not in cooperation with the robbers, and happened when the taxi is stopped in traffic or on a red light.

They will smashed the window with a blunt object, dive into the taxi and go away with your backpack, handbag, or whatever they can get their hands on, if is hot and you have your windows down they will just dive in.

Where this Happens

It usually happened when coming and going to the airport or bus station and you have visible bags with you.

What to Do?

Never try to grab the robber, he can have a conceal weapon.

Do not ever leave the taxi and give chase, you can be risking your life!

Stay calm and go to a police station and fill a police report for insurance purposes.

How to Avoid it

Put all your bags in the boot.

Even If it’s hot refrain from open your window fully, avoid using your mobile phone, or hang the arm out showcasing your watch.

The "Switch"

Scam

Somebody will approach you trying to sell you a very expensive item for a very cheap price, like an iPhone or an iPad (they usually stolen) telling you a sad story why they are selling the item.

they will also try to put a sense of urgency, so you think that you will lose out if you don’t get it, when you get your money out and pay, they will switch the bag and you will get a piece of soap or an empty box but never the item that you pay for.

Where this Happens

They usually use this technique in crowded places, like markets, bus stations, and around tourist areas, like plazas, hostels, or places of interest.

What to Do?

Don't engage in conversation, if its to good to be true, generally is!

They will be insistent... believe me!  just keep walking, keep saying NO and they will get the message.

How to Avoid it

They are quite a lot of people selling different items in the street, traffic lights, bus stops, etc, this people have their merchandise with them, crooks doing "the switch" will generally just have one expensive item and a soapy story.

My “little brother/sister needs food” 

Scam

This will usually involve a kid or a group of them with a baby asking you to buy them some milk or food, and they show you where you can buy it..

They want a very specific type of formula or food that it’s very expensive and only comes in big packets, sometimes they tell you they will need a big sack because is for the orphanage.

Once you buy it, the formula is returned and the money is split between the shop owner or cashier and the mafia type organisation the child is exploited by.

A study by an NGO in Brazil found out that they were using this scam on travellers and tourists then changing the milk powder for crack cocaine.

Where this Happens

They usually use this technique in crowded places, like markets, bus stations, and around tourist areas, like plazas, hostels, or places of interest.

What to Do?

Never ever give them money or buy them anything as this can put yourself in a vulnerable position and perpetuate exploitation.

How to Avoid it

You can't really avoided, as sad as it is, in the developing world, kids living in the streets are quite common.

Read below so you have a better understanding of the problem, and can make an informed decision.

On this page...