Safety is paramount to your enjoyment of the forthcoming trip. You need to know exactly how the organization can provide you with the best safety possible. We all know that 100% safety can never be guaranteed, whether you're at home or abroad, but there should always be steps taken to mitigate any element of danger.
You need to be sure that the organization not only offers a certain degree of safety measures, but also delivers them. Are they aware of all the imminent dangers you may face? Do they have risk assessment forms that are constantly updated? All organizations should have completed risk assessments for every component of the trip, be it voluntary placements or an expedition. Make sure that your chosen one has taken all the appropriate measures to reduce risks to a minimum.
Where are you going to be based? Is it in a relatively 'safe' area? If you have chosen an individual placement living in a South African township, you might want to assess the level of risk you are putting yourself into. It may sound like an adventure, but what steps have the organization taken to make this safe for you? Can you justify putting yourself in that position? Can the organization?
Most hotels/hostels have a safe. Put both your passport and cash cards (and any extra money you might not need that day) into an envelope and close it with tape. Then sign across the tape. This will ensure that if anyone opens your envelope to steal the money, you will know.
While you're out during the day, keep a small amount of money in your pocket/wallet/bag and the rest in a money belt. Many young people are embarrassed to be seen using money belts and the like. This may not be the most fashionable, or comfortable item you possess, but if you use it wisely it could save you a lot of money and hassle. If you are unlucky enough to be mugged, most criminals will go for the easy option first - your pocket/wallet/bag. With more time they might demand your money belt. What they won't get is your lifeline - your cash cards and extra cash.
For some people, travelling abroad is a way to escape the modern age of being immediately available, whether by phone or email. Whether you're escaping work, family or friends it is still advisable to keep in touch. However, there are ways of doing this at all levels. If you're on a gap year and have told your parents you will be in touch every week, then get in touch every week. If you are going off the beaten track on an individual adventure, always leave information about your itinerary and when you'll be back with a family member and the local embassy. This may sound extreme, but if you get injured or lost and have no means of communication (mobile signal doesn't work everywhere) then at least they'll know where to look for you when someone sounds the alarm. Never underestimate the importance of communication when you're away. Regardless of how old or how well travelled you are, you should always ensure you are travelling as safely as possible.
You might not have limitless funds for your trip, but if you don't take out comprehensive insurance then you might just need them. Everyone should always take out insurance when you go abroad - but you need to ensure that it covers everything you are going to be doing. Does it cover adventurous activities such as bungy jumping or diving? Cheap insurance may be within your budget for now, but if anything unpredictable happens while you're away, it could end up costing you far more. Do your research: find out what you will be doing when you're abroad, research available insurance policies and choose the most appropriate one - not the cheapest.
Dealing with health issues, or even medical emergencies, in a foreign country can be scary. However, if you are travelling with an organisation that provides a in-country manager who is in easy contact this is far less daunting. They should be able to travel with you to the doctor/hospital and help translate the medical terms if necessary.
There are things you can do before you travel to help prepare yourself for the foreign country and their way of life. Are you going to be in a malarial area? Did you know that mosquitoes actually become resistant to anti-malarials? Talk to your doctor about this to ensure you get the correct strain for your chosen country. There may also be negative side effects - choose one you are likely to see through to the end of the course, otherwise they won't work at all. Most importantly - take precautions not to get bitten in the first place. A surprisingly high number of people also get severely dehydrated when they go abroad. Not realizing the strength of the sun they don't protect themselves from it or drink enough water. You don't want to end up in hospital for something as easily preventable as this.
It's also highly advisable to always carry a personal, basic first aid kit with you. You can buy them from any outdoors store, or pharmacy before you leave home. Amongst the usual suspects, ensure you have a good supply of rehydration sachets with you. Perfect for warding off serious dehydration, these are also indispensable for the inevitable, 'traveller's tummy'.
Taking drugs may be common among travelers in certain locations, but it certainly doesn't make it an intelligent thing to do. Drugs laws vary from country to country and in some you just have to be socializing with a known drug dealer to potentially be put in prison.
Scams involving drugs include local police (or people pretending to be police) trying to make a quick buck by getting someone to try and sell you some drugs, meanwhile they're nearby watching everything. If you buy some, they'll catch you and demand an extortionate amount of money in exchange for your freedom.
The most important thing - do you really think it's clever to alter your senses when you're in a foreign country? You immediately become an obvious target. Anything could happen.
In most cases being a female traveller won't make you an immediate target. The most common safety issue is hissing/catcalls etc. However, these are nothing to be scared of - the best thing to do is to ignore them and keep walking confidently. However, if you are dressed in a way the locals would consider provocative then you might be attracting more attention. Always consider what the local women are wearing and cover up to a similar degree.
An obvious point to make is not to go anywhere alone, or where a group of girls will be outnumbered by a group of men. You may think this should be common sense, but often men who wish to take advantage of female travellers are suave, confident, good looking and seem honest. Regardless of what you think of someone, think carefully before you put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. If you are unlucky and this happens anyway, do anything to make yourself a hindrance to your attacker - shout as loudly as you can, pretend to have an epileptic fit, make yourself vomit or urinate - anything you can think of to make him leave you alone.
Spiked drinks are incredibly common in party towns. It's impossible to tell if your drink has been spiked so our advice is to never accept drinks from anyone you don't know, never put your drink down, leave it out of sight and then go back and drink it and never drink so much that your senses are altered.
Taking a night bus may save time and money to travel at night, but is this the safest thing to do? Can your organization really condone this? Perhaps they have privately hired the vehicle and driver they trust. Unfortunately that doesn't discount other drivers on the road from bad driving. You will quickly see that local driving isn't necessarily the safest. Equally, crime is more likely at night. Anything happening to you is very unlikely, but how would you feel if it did?
THINGS TO CONSIDER...
People are robbed frequently when abroad. Here are just a few of the scams used.
If you have experienced a common scam not mentioned below, email us and we'll include it here.
The Foreign & Commonwealth website gives the latest information on safety while travelling around the world. You can search by country and find out about any current or potential troubles that may make travelling there dangerous
Safe Gap Year is a training and consultancy company specialising in Independent Travel Safety and Cultural Awareness. www.masta.org
MASTA will provide you with information about what vaccines you will need for the country/countries you are travelling to, as well as which anti-malarial tablets you should take. www.bsigroup.com
The British Standard (BS 8848) sets minimum requirements developed specially for UK organisations offering adventurous activities abroad. Has your organization passed the standard?