Taking a gap year is an amazing adventure and the majority of backpackers don’t have any problems at all on their big backpacking trip around the world, but there are times when things can get a bit out of hand, when problems arise or when you just find yourself in a situation you weren’t prepared for. Here are the top ways to make sure you steer clear of most types of trouble on your gap year.
Backpacking around the world should be an awesome adventure, it should be a lot of fun and most of all it should be completely safe, trouble and worry free. But every now and then it isn’t.
Every now and then you do something that seems like a good idea at the time, you get drunk and strip off on what turns out to be a sacred mountain, you enjoy the local beer a little too much and make stupid decisions.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets deported.
Sometimes the lure of the new found freedom and exuberance of having a grand adventure makes travellers lower their guards a little and do things that they wouldn’t do at home.
Look, it is all understandable. You are out on your gap year having the time of your life. You want to enjoy yourself, I get it. No one is saying you can’t or that you shouldn’t have a good time, but sometimes you just need to keep a few common sense precautions in mind too. The whole basis of travel safety is minimising risk and avoiding trouble before it becomes a problem, so here are the best and most simple ways to avoid trouble when you are on your gap year.
Stay away from drugs.
This should be common sense, but still a good number of backpackers get into trouble not just with their health but with the law because of drugs when they travel, and no one wants to end up close friends with a cellmate in a Thai jail or a Peruvian lock up.
I have absolutely no sympathy for anyone stupid enough to mess with drugs, and neither do the British consulate or the embassies of any country you happen to be from, so don’t expect any help with the authorities come down hard on you.
Be responsible with alcohol.
I’m genuinely not trying to be a buzzkill here. By all means enjoy a few drinks with some new found friends from your hostel, have a night out, enjoy yourself. Just be responsible. This is even more important if you are drinking local beers or spirits. You really don’t know how strong they are or what is in them if they are home brewed. Remember that you are in a whole new environment, you don’t really know anyone well enough to trust them completely and you don’t have anyone to look after you. You don’t want to end up in a situation where your judgement or ability to look after yourself has gone out of the window.
Remember to show respect.
Again this should really be common sense. Just show some basic understanding of the local laws and customs and respect them, that is it! No one will ever mind the odd genuine mistake here and there, but if you go around acting like an idiot tourist, you are seriously raising your risk factor of something bad happening. At best you might anger the locals who won’t necessarilly be shy about dishing out a beating, at worst you may even get into trouble with the law and may even be deported. Remember those idiots who stripped off on a mountain in Malaysia? Or those morons who thought it was funny to get naked at Angkor Wat and forced the authorities to clamp down with a strict code of conduct for tourists? Don’t be one of those obnoxious tourists, your behaviour will get you in trouble quicker than you think.
Swallow your pride.
This is a big one, especially for guys who are more likely to have an attempt to goad or antagonise them into a fight and statistically much more likely to become the victim of most types of violent crime than women are and much more likely to be killed as a result of it. Swallow your pride (I know how much your blood will rise and how much you want to act, don’t. Not unless you have no other choice). Just walk away.
Trust your gut.
Alot of this will come with time, confidence and experience but you should learn to listen to your gut. There is no defineable thing that you can put your finger on, but if you feel something isn’t right then get out of the situation as easily and as quickly as you can. Remember there is a big difference between pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and putting yourself at risk.
And embrace the word ‘No’.
Alongside the trusting your gut is the ability to say no. If you feel pressured into doing something you aren’t comfortable with, if someone approaches you that you don’t want to interact with, if you get asked for dinner in a locals home or there are just one to many touts or beggars, then don’t feel that you have to say yes because you are travelling and that is just what you do. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid of saying no, and then being forceful about it if it becomes necessary.
Remember your vaccinations.
Just like travel safety, travel health is all about preparation and avoiding risk factors before they happen, and one of the biggest things you can do to avoid trouble with your health is to make sure all your vaccinations are up to date. Speak to a travel health professional at least 2 – 3 months before you leave.
One of the largest risks to your health when travelling is insect borne diseases, from dengue to chikungunya, and zika to malaria, and the best way to stay safe from these is to try and make sure you don’t get bitten in the first place. Insect bite prevention includes using repellent spray, wearing repellent clothing, maybe even using nets or coils, there are a variety of different methods but they are all an important part of staying safe and avoiding health problems before you get them.
And the other type of protection.
Odds are that at some point on your gap year you will meet someone you want to sneak off somewhere private for some alone time with. There’s nothing wrong with that but I shouldn’t have to tell you all the unwanted trouble one night of sweaty passion can cause! Stay safe!
Watch your belongings, and your cash!
The last thing any backpacker wants is to be parted from their cash or belongings, so being smart about how you deal with your stuff is a sure fire way to avoid most problems with theft or petty crime. Blend in to the crowd, don’t advertise the fact you are a traveller or have a lot of expensive gear on you. Don’t put your expensive camera down on the table and then forget it is there as you flirt with the pretty waitress. Don’t take out huge wads of cash all at the same time, separate your cash and cards into a couple of different places, your pocket, a wallet, your bra, even – for women – this awesome money belt. Make sure you have a solid padlock for hostel bins or lockers and most of all keep your wits about you.
Develop your situational awareness.
I won’t get too technical about this here, but very basically this just involves training yourself to be aware of your surroundings and take notice of who is around you and what is happening. Do you know where the exits are if you need to run in a hurry? Does that guy walking toward you look a bit too agitated? Has that woman you thought was chatting you up slipped something into your drink? All extreme examples maybe, but being aware of your surroundings is one of the best ways you can avoid trouble before it even hits you.
Watch your hygiene.
It is so easy to forget basic things like washing your hands, using antibacterial hand gel and even getting the occasional shower (I’m looking at you dreadlock guy with the week old singlet on) when you are off having the adventure of a lifetime, but keeping an eye on the little things can save you a lot of trouble with travellers diarrhoea, Delhi belly, hepatitis A, cholera and many other unpleasant diseases, and will be the difference between you spending the day on the beach, or hugging the grotty toilet in your hostel.
This isn’t a comprehensive list by a long shot, but by following these very simple rules you can avoid a lot of unnecessary trouble on your gap year.
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