The ultimate guide to safe gap year travel

5 minute read
closescircle_backpacker_travelling

With a CloseCircle subscription you get access to worldwide travel advice and intelligence that can help keep you safe while travelling. Find out more about the benefits of membership here.

Before you travel: Preparing to stay safe ahead of your trip

Make a copy of important documents

Before you travel anywhere, make colour copies of your flight tickets, credit/debit cards and other valuable documents. You can then leave copies at home with your loved ones and carry another set with you, keeping them separate from the originals. That way you have a spare set if needed.

It’s also worth making digital copies, especially of your passport, and emailing them to yourself. You can then print them off quickly and easily if you need them via WiFi and a printer in any good internet cafe.

Prepare an itinerary

Researching your destination and picking out potential places to visit, restaurants to eat in and hostels to stay in isn’t just an excellent way of getting yourself excited for your trip.

Plotting out an itinerary is a useful way of identifying and preparing for the hazards you’ll face while travelling.

Sort out your finances

It’s definitely worthwhile planning your finances in advance so you don’t get caught short during your travels. We recommend getting a prepaid cash card that lets you top up ahead of time and provides the same protection to your money as a credit card does.

Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you unless absolutely necessary because if you get robbed or misplace your wallet or purse then that’s the money for your whole trip gone!

Similarly, don’t make the naive mistake that I did and think you’ll stay on budget by withdrawing £20 from the ATM each day. As it turns out, overseas ATMs charge an absolute premium to withdraw money. It took me two weeks to realise I’d been paying £5 every time I was withdrawing £20 in local currency – ouch!

closecircle_traveller_market

Set a daily budget to manage your finances – especially if you want to book day-trips and experiences when abroad.

Get your vaccinations

Depending on the destination you may need to get certain vaccinations ahead of your trip. Do your research and make sure you get the necessary vaccinations because if you don’t you won’t be fully protected against the potentially life threatening diseases that exist in other areas of the world.

For short trips you’ll usually need vaccinations for Polio, Tetanus and Diphtheria (typically a booster jab), Hepatitis A, Cholera and Typhoid.

For trips to SE Asia consider vaccinations for Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever and Japanese Encephalitis.

For trips to Africa consider vaccinations for Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever, Meningitis and Rabies.

For trips to South America you will need a vaccination for Yellow Fever. You could also consider shots for Hepatitis B and Meningitis.

As for malaria, it’s worth speaking to your doctor about which course of anti-malarial medication is best for your trip. Try to avoid buying off-the-shelf replacements when abroad as you may not be able to vouch for the quality, origins or legitimacy of the medicine.

Stock up on medication

Aside from getting the necessary vaccinations for your trip, it’s advisable to stock up on any health supplies you need before you head overseas.

Buy a small travel first-aid kit or buy the individual supplies and make your own. Your first aid kit should include things like waterproof plasters, bandages, a whistle, tweezers, etc.

If you have a condition that requires medication then talk to your doctor and stock up on those essential supplies, e.g. if you’re an asthmatic, it’s worth getting a few inhalers as a safeguard for your trip.

Depending on your destination, you may want to include items such as sunscreen and insect repellant. You can either stock up on this at home or in duty free at the airport (as liquids over 500ml need to be disposed of). You can also stock up on these items, as well as antimalarial tablets, etc. at your destination too – it might even work out cheaper!

Get travel insurance

It’s unlikely that healthcare is going to anywhere near as affordable or available as you are used to when travelling around the globe. This makes travel insurance a necessity. Having a policy will enable you to access care facilities like hospitals if you need to and help you to recoup some of the costs when you get home, so you’re not left out of pocket.

Just remember to keep any and all documentation you’re provided with during your hospital trip. For example, after visiting a Vietnamese hospital due to an injury, from Vietnam onward I had to carry around two x-rays, multiple pages of doctor’s notes, a discharge form and a crutch for the rest of my trip…not ideal but necessary in order to reclaim the expensive costs incurred by my hospital trip.

You could ask for electronic versions of x-rays and doctors notes to be emailed to you – which makes it easier to forward them onto your insurance – but this isn’t too widely available.

An alternative – if you have the budget – is to courier the medical documents and any other relevant items (e.g. crutch) home to avoid carrying them around.

Subscribe to CloseCircle

CloseCircle acts as your virtual bodyguard as you travel the globe. An annual subscription will grant you access to in-depth global travel advice and intelligence, real-time alerts for nearby hazards wherever you are in the world and a direct SOS line to our 24/7 global operations.

You can also check-in to your location quickly and easily vis the CloseCircle app, which lets our team know where you are and whether you’re safe. It’s also a helpful way of letting loved ones back home keep up with your travels too!

CloseCircle’s key benefits include:

  • SOS panic button with free 24/7 emergency response
  • Free evacuation from extreme weather and security risks
  • Real-time tracking and instant security alerts wherever you are in the world
  • Unlimited expert travel security advice

When you’re abroad: General advice for staying safe

Keep your belongings and money safe

When walking in the street keep bags – especially single strap tote and handbags – away from passing traffic. This makes it much harder for someone to drive past and steal your bag right off your shoulder.

To keep valuables extra safe you could also purchase a bumbag or money belt and wear it under your clothes, keeping your valuables both close and secure. Alternatively, get yourself a lightweight backpack that you can wear on your front and keep your valuables in it.

When paying for goods try to use small denominations of currency where possible and don’t flash big wads of money as you’ll most likely draw unwelcome attention.

Regardless of how you plan on paying for goods and service while travelling, our CloseCircle experts suggest carrying cash in more than one place and keeping a small amount separate to give to criminals. A dummy wallet – with a small amount of local currency, an expired credit card and some useless receipts – usually satisfies a mugger.

closecircle_currency_sml

Don’t carry large sums of money on you when travelling – carry small denominations only.

Familiarise yourself with your surroundings

After planning your journey, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the basic geography of your destination. Are there any areas that foreigners are advised to avoid? What facilities are there locally? CloseCircle’s global travel advice and intelligence can help you out here and make it much easier to identify and avoid high-crime areas.

If you get lost, be discreet when checking a map – or ask for directions from someone in a public, client-facing role, such as a shop assistant or police officer.

Emergency phone numbers

Always carry a communications device with you, such as a mobile phone, and make sure it is programmed with useful emergency numbers, e.g. parents home and mobile numbers, police, embassy, CloseCircle global operations centre.

You never know when this will come in handy and it’s better to have a preprogrammed mobile and not use it than need it and not have one. Keep this phone nearby but make sure it’s securely stored in your backpack, bumbag or money-belt. It’s also essential that you take a charger and plug adaptor with you so you can keep the battery charged at all times.

Dealing with strangers

When walking around town or exploring a new area, it’s best to avoid making eye contact with strangers and to ignore any verbal ‘bait’. This will prevent you from getting stuck in an argument that could escalate into violence. Similarly, for female travellers it’s best to ignore catcalls and the like as responding may be seen as a potential willingness to engage in further talk.

If you suspect someone is following you, enter any busy public place and call for help if you need it.

Observe and respect local culture and tradition

An important part of travelling the world is discovering and embracing new cultures. You’ll find that traditions around the world differ greatly and in order to minimize the risk of conflict and potentially insulting someone, it’s best to abide by local customs. This may mean dressing modestly (which doubles as a useful way of avoiding unwanted attention) and being careful about what you photograph.

It’s also worthwhile learning a few local phrases, which will go over well with locals and mark you out as a savvier traveller, potentially deterring opportunist criminals.

Take care of yourself in the sun

The climate can vary wildly when travelling and in warmer regions this can result in blistering temperatures. Make sure you have high SPF suntan lotion if heading to a sunny country and remember to stay hydrated to avoid sunstroke, dizziness and other side-effects of overexposure.

If it all gets too much for you, find some shade and sit out the hottest parts of the day.

closecircle_hot_climate

In extreme climates, such as the Sahara desert (above), make sure to wear sunscreen and keep yourself covered to avoid overexposure, sunburn and sunstroke.

During an incident: What to do if you find yourself in an emergency or security situation

Get out of there

If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, don’t stick around to film or take photos! Try to get away from the incident or disturbance quickly and calmly, and find whatever safety you can. If possible, try to head to a major international hotel, a diplomatic mission, a hospital or a known office location.

But what if the situation arises so quickly you don’t have time to react? If you don’t have time to escape, then it’s best to stay put and lie low. For example, while it’s best to outrun a flood and escape it if you can, if you can’t then you should stay put on any high or dry ground. Relocating could put you at further risk because floodwaters can be home to surprisingly strong currents!

Stick together

In the immediate aftermath of an incident, try to make sure the other members of your party are ok and accounted for. If you’re in a group, stay together, and – as you’re travelling abroad – try to identify any other foreigners who speak your language then stick together and pool resources. There’s safety in numbers.

Communication is key

Where possible, make every effort to communicate out and let someone know you’re in trouble. If you have a cheap travel phone then use it immediately because phone networks can get overloaded as traffic increases after an incident. Use SMS, email or social media as alternatives if you have access to data.

What if you can’t communicate…

If you have your phone stolen or taken from you during an incident then you need to be able to let people know that this has happened. If you are travelling to a high risk region it can be a worthwhile practice organising periodic check-in calls so that if and when you can’t answer, it will be clear that you’ve lost access to your phone and action can be taken.

You can call the CloseCircle operations team from any phone, so keep a non-digital copy of important phone numbers about your person, e.g. a contact card with emergency numbers on it. This way, if your phone is taken, you can still phone people for help and our operations team can advise you on the next steps and alert your loved ones that you’re safe.

Stay calm

Some situations call for calmness, particularly violent crime. If you do find yourself on the end of an armed robbery, stay calm and follow orders – even if you have to hand over your wallet or valuables. Don’t make any sudden movements and don’t resist or fight back as you never know if the assailant has other weapons or partners waiting nearby. If you do have to make a movement, always explain what you’re doing to prevent misinterpretations of intent.

Alert the CloseCircle team

If you’re a CloseCircle member and find yourself in any of the above situations, simply swipe the SOS button in your app to immediately notify our 24/7 global operations team. One of our crisis response experts will then quickly contact you to provide on-the-spot advice and assistance.

After an incident: What to do in the aftermath of an emergency or security situation

Tell the authorities

If you’ve been the victim of a crime then it’s always best to report it in person to the local police where possible. The chances of apprehending the criminals and recovering your belongings fall the longer you wait to report the crime, so your odds are better if you report it sooner rather than later.

Reporting a crime also ensures there is a record that it occurred if you need to claim back costs via insurance later on.

Block your phone

If your smartphone has been stolen then try and find a nearby internet cafe and remotely block it, which makes it much harder for thieves to resell. You should also contact your network operator and alert them to the theft – they’ll be able to prevent the thieves racking up huge costs at your expense.

Tell your embassy

If you can access your country’s embassy (typically only located in major cities), then you should contact them in the aftermath of an incident. The embassy will be able to provide advice and support, as well as any local contact numbers you may need, such as the police if you haven’t contacted them already.

Contact CloseCircle for advice

Our team have worked around the world and are well experienced in mitigating and managing travel risks. In the immediate aftermath of any security incident, we recommend reaching out to our team for practical advice and support. CloseCircle members can call our 24/7 operations team at any time of day or night for travel advice and support.

Contact your family/friends/loved ones

Once you’ve reached out to the authorities and the CloseCircle team for support, get in touch with your family and loved ones to let them know what’s happened and your well-being. You don’t know how comforting a reassuring voice from back home can be after an incident until you’ve experienced it!

Note: CloseCircle members can simply press the ‘Check-in’ button in the app to let family know where they are and that they are safe.

closecircle_dangerous_travel_overseas_sml

The CloseCircle team have years of experience providing support and advice to travellers and keeping them safe.

Conclusion

When you’re travelling the world it’s important to prepare for any risks you may encounter in order to get the most out of your trip. It’s certainly not going to be an enjoyable few months of travelling if you get scammed, fall sick or have your belongings stolen.

Effectively preparing for your trip is essential before jetting off to travel the world – even if it’s the everyday admin like getting the right medication or researching a hostel you found online. Ask any experienced traveller about the importance of preparation and they’ll tell you how important it is.

There will be hazards wherever you go and while risk can never be eliminated 100%, CloseCircle can help to keep you safe. It’s quick and easy to subscribe and you’ll gain instant access to global travel advice, real time alerts for nearby danger and a direct SOS line to our ex-military global operations team.

Keep yourself safe and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time travelling the globe.

For more information about the benefits of becoming a CloseCircle member here.

Protect your family

Choose your membership plan and sign up to CloseCircle in just 3 steps.