Would you know what to do if something went horribly wrong on your gap year? If something terrible happens while you are travelling and you need to bail quickly, it is essential that you have an exit strategy that will get you out of that situation and to a place of safety as quickly as possible. Here are the top expert tips to keep you from getting stuck in a situation you don’t want to be in.
Backpacking around the world is an amazing adventure, and as long as they apply basic and reasonable safety precautions it is one that the absolute vast majority of people enjoy safely, soundly and with no problems at all. But no one knows what the future will hold and unfortunately there is always a risk of something going really wrong really quickly. Being caught up in a major terrorist attack, facing a natural disaster, finding yourself in an awesome zombie outbreak, it doesn’t matter. There is always a chance the proverbial can hit the fan. And if it does happen, it is essential to be prepared for it.
Here are the top six tips that should help you prepare that quick exit strategy.
Have an emergency fund.
This is just common sense on an extended trip. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, just enough to cover a flight home and a night or two in a hotel, plus other little things like food and transport for a couple of days. Keep a specific account just for this reason and don’t touch it unless you are in that emergency ‘need to return home quickly’ situation.
Have a Bug Out Bag.
The American terminology may not be the most eloquent but the idea is absolutely sound and I am still grateful to the American soldier who gave me this advice many years ago. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, always have a small bag prepared that you can grab at a moments notice and get the hell out of dodge. Imagine a fire alarm goes off in your hostel in the middle of the night, imagine you get caught up in a natural disaster and need to get to a place of safety, you aren’t going to want to waste precious time getting all your gear together and grabbing your main pack, you want to grab your essentials quickly and get out of there.
For most backpackers their small carry on backpack should suffice for this and you should keep it prepared as such when you are travelling from destination to destination. It is a small pack, wont be cumbersome in any way when you are trying to move quickly and it should include all your essentials, some money and your emergency card, your passport and other important documents, your phone and charger and a change of clothes. Basically anything and everything you will need to get to safety and survive for a day or two.
Create a mental map.
This is done in two stages, the first is general, and the second is more local. Whenever you travel to a new country, city, town or whatever, just take a few minutes to memorise where the nearest essential landmarks are in case of an emergency; hospitals, the police station, your (or even a friendly) embassy, the airport, and think of how you can get there quickly and efficiently if you need to. The second stage is think about where the exits are in whatever hostel, guesthouse or hotel you are staying at, and how you can get out quickly.
This is something that will take a little getting used to, and I freely admit that it isn’t a way of thinking that comes naturally to a lot of people, but it is definitely worth taking just a few minutes to think about. When the proverbial hits, you’ll be glad you did.
Keep up to date with government warnings.
There are a whole variety of reasons why you should take government travel safety warnings with a pinch of salt, but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore them completely. Situations can often change quickly and if a safety advisory changes then that may be a good indicator to start increasing your awareness of your situation and surroundings. The UK government’s Foreign Travel Advice page is a good place to start.
Keep in touch.
It should go without saying really but it is always a good idea to let loved ones back home have a rough copy of your itinerary before you leave, and keep them up to date from time to time as your travel plans inevitably change. Travellers from the US also have the truly awesome Smart Traveller Enrollment Programme which allows them to let their embassies know where they are and when. In the event of a real emergency where you cannot get in touch with anyone for whatever reason, at least someone will know where you were last and where to start looking. When and if you can get in touch via whatever means, at least it will offer everyone (including you) some piece of mind and you may even get vital advice from the embassy if you need help.
Back up your back ups.
This is a very old piece of travel advice, but one that still holds true. Keep copies of every piece of essential documents (such as your passport, visa and insurance details for example) and important telephone numbers just in case you need them, and store them separately and safe in your bug out bag. But you can also email all of these copies to yourself so you can access them at any time from any computer if for any reason you lose your phone or other copies.
This seems pedantically obvious I know, but it is important and worth mentioning. Whatever happens, whatever everyone else around you is doing, stay calm. Switch off to whatever is going on around you and fall back on everything you had prepared. Grab your bug out bag, remember where the exits are, remember where the embassy or airport is and remember the best ways to get there, and just start doing it. Don’t think, just do.
If the worst does happen when you are on your gap year, I hope you remember these tips and use them to get yourself first to a place of safety and then home as quickly as possible.
Remember, these expert tips are there not to scare you or create a false and unnecessary sense of fear. Odds are you will never need them and your travels around the world will be safe, awesome and full of adventure. These tips are there to help prepare you and keep you safe just in case, because staying safe when things go wrong is all about knowledge, training and being prepared so that you can reduce any potential risk to yourself as much as possible.
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