Taking a gap year and travelling around the world is generally very safe, but you can ensure your safety and reduce any potential risk if you have the right knowledge and take the right precautions.
Regardless of what you may hear in the mass media, the world is not as dangerous as people make it out to be, and I really do not want to add to the scaremongering that is already out there. Instead, I want to reassure you all that with reasonable common sense precautions – most of which no more than you would use at home or on a night out – then you will be absolutely fine. Honestly, you will.
Backpacking is generally very safe indeed, really. I know some tragic cases do occur and get reported in the media, often with great relish, but it is so important not to blow these incidents out of proportion. Terrible things do happen from time to time, no one can deny that, but these incidents are rare, and the majority of backpackers set off on gap years or short backpacking adventures every year and have no problems at all. It is important to keep that perspective. All of the worst case scenarios that may be running through your head as you plan your big trip are the absolute vast majority of the time completely avoidable with some good, sound common sense, a lot of local knowledge and research and some good, solid preparation.
That isn’t to say you still don’t have to be careful of course, but there is absolutely no need to let yourself become worried to the point of paranoia. Being sensible and using reasonable precautions to keep yourself safe whilst travelling is a good thing, but if you let that spill over into outright paranoia you will not only ruin your trip, but you will end up a quivering wreck! And no one wants that!
With these basic safety essentials, you can make sure you are prepared as much as possible before you go, and you will have significantly reduced your risk of anything happening to you, or at least prepared yourself for the worst if it does.
I know, I know. No one likes paying for travel insurance, but believe me it is absolutely essential! Odds are you won’t even need it, but if the worst does happen and you are stuck without it, you will regret it.
Back everything up.
Keep a copy of all your important documents and passport separate from the originals, so that you always have a copy if anything does get lost or stolen. The easiest way now is to scan them and email them to yourself or keep them on a cloud drive. That way they can be accessed at any time, anywhere.
Do your research.
Official government advice can be quite alarmist and should be taken with a relative pinch of salt and a good dose of common sense, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored entirely. The UK government’s Foreign Travel Advice website is an excellent place to start your research and it should give you a good idea of when and where you should do further research and look a bit more closely at the situations in different areas.
Know the basic scams.
A lot of common travel scams are pretty universal, with many just being local variations of a common theme. Some are more unique to one or two places. Either way, it is always a good idea to do your research before you go and just get clued up on a few of the more common ones, that way you can recognise them and avoid them if someone tries it on with you.
Let people know where you are.
Keep loved ones or family back home in the loop by giving them a rough copy of your itinerary, and keep them updated with a simple text or email once in a while when your plans inevitably change. US Citizens can even use the awesome Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to register your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Develop your situational awareness.
All this means is just staying alert and being aware of your surroundings, that’s it. Take out the earphones unless you are in transit or in your room, lift your head up from the screen of your pad of smartphone and pay attention! There is no need to take this to the point where you are paranoid about everything and everyone, just learn to pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you.
Don’t stand out.
Don’t advertise the fact that you are carrying expensive equipment or jewellery or a big wad of cash around with you. Don’t hang that £3000 camera with oversized lens around your neck for all to see. You may as well stick a big neon sign over your head declaring you a target for thieves.
Use your common sense.
This is essential here so I’ll repeat it again. Use your common sense! It really can be that simple. Don’t get so drunk you have no control over what happens to you, don’t go down a dark alley alone at night, don’t accept that lift off a bunch of complete strangers, be mindful of local scams when strangers approach you to talk and listen to those gut feelings. You use your common sense all the time at home, so why would it be any different when you are travelling?
Finally, just relax. Okay, I know this isn’t technically a safety tip, but I want to give you some reassurance too. I want you to be able to enjoy your backpacking adventure and not worry about anything happening to you.
It is good to be careful, excellent to be prepared, but bad to be paranoid.
If you are confident, relaxed and follow the basic common sense advice above, because that is essentially all it is, then you will have significantly reduced the risk of something bad happening to you already. If you want to increase your chances of surviving bad encounters or reducing the risk of anything bad happening even further there are plenty of more advanced and specific tips, tricks and advice that are discussed in other articles like those below. So do your research, don’t panic, and you will be absolutely fine. So go, enjoy your travels.
Have you read all the information but still need a little more specific advice? Is there a specific travel safety issue that you are worried about and need a little reassurance on? Maybe you are heading somewhere a little off the beaten track or with recent safety issues and need advice?
Well I am here to help.
As well as being an experienced backpacker with some of the worlds supposedly most dangerous places under my belt I also have a background in military and martial arts training, as well as experience in teaching self defence and safety courses to both professionals and civilians.
The Bemused Backpacker Gap Year Safety Consultation is an indispensable resource for you to gain reassurance and expert information and advice for any and all of your travel safety related questions. Click HERE for more information.