5 Excellent Tips for Safer Gap Year Adventures
Embarking on a gap year and taking time out from education to travel could be an invaluable opportunity to experience gap adventures and an education that will stay with you for life. The odds are pretty good that you will have a great (and safe!) trip.
However, every year there are young people for whom a gap year turns into a bit of a nightmare, from having their passports lost or stolen all the way up the scale to serious personal injury or even ending up in a foreign jail.
Whilst it’s possible to become a victim of a crime, violence or accident at any stage of life and anywhere in the world, there are a few top tips to follow if you want to maximise your safety and avoid disaster. Let’s face it, there’s no point in having the most awesome gap adventure ever if you’re then not around to brag to your friends and family about it for the next 10 years!
Leave Valuables at Home
Tempting as it may be to head off on your gap adventures with the latest gadgets, expensive or desirable technology can attract the wrong sort of attention whilst you’re traveling – making you a beacon for thieves.
Just got a fancy iPad or DSL camera for your birthday? Remember it will only be minimally covered by insurance so if it will seriously pain you to lose it. My advice: just leave it behind! Most of the destinations you visit on your gap adventures will have access to internet in major towns and cheap cell phone handsets with local SIM cards can be bought on arrival.
Polish Up your Cultural Awareness
One of the great joys of gap year adventures is leaving your comfort zone behind and immersing yourself in a culture different from home. However ignorance of local customs can result in causing offence and in extreme cases can lead to resentment – which could make you more likely to become the victim of violence or crime.
Before you travel, study up and on the sensitivities and beliefs of communities in your chosen destination. Learn about local faith and make sure you’re dressed appropriately, particularly when visiting sites of religious cultural importance. This knowledge will not only make you safer but also open doors to experiences and understanding you would otherwise miss.
Consult your Consular Contacts!
The great guys (and gals) in the US government employed to protect American citizens overseas and assist if you run into trouble are the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
You can register for their free Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP) which will then automatically update you on the latest travel updates and information and advice for your destination. This will also make it easier for them to contact you in the case of an emergency.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs have a comprehensive website which covers safety advice on every aspect of your trip from start to finish to ensure you have a safe journey and return from your gap year adventure intact. You can even get advice about your specific destination, which is handy.
It’s a huge weight off the mind to know that should you incur unexpected costs on your gap year adventure – from emergency medical treatment to coming home early due to the death of a close relative – you have financial aid in place ready to take charge and cover the bills. Welcome to the wonderful world of travel insurance, probably the least exciting but most important aspect of planning any trip!
Before you travel, find out if your health insurance policy covers you for treatment abroad. Do not assume that this is the case – neither Medicare nor Medicaid provide cover for treatment outside the United States. Even if your policy does pay for medical care abroad, standard policies usually won’t reimburse you for medical evacuation destinations with poor medical facilities or very remote areas. The best bet is to buy a travel insurance policy which gives comprehensive medical, theft and cancellation cover and is specifically designed for people on gap adventures. A good place to start is World Nomads.
Get Expert Support and Back Up
It can be tempting to cut costs and go it alone on your gap adventures, but by far the safest way to travel is to use the services of a recommended, reputable gap year organisation. Joining a quality gap programme will give you (and your family!) peace of mind, knowing that your destination and activities will be well researched, expertly led and conducted in accordance with the highest safety standards. A good organisation will also ensure you are thoroughly briefed before travel and support you and your families throughout, offering assistance should anything go wrong.
Wheretovolunteer.org founders and gap year travel company The Leap are a great example of this, having had years of experience in gap adventures. Volunteers travel as a team, with a full time, first aid qualified project leader on hand throughout. All projects are risk assessed in accordance with British safety standards and give parents the reassurance of the level of care.
Pick your gap year organisation carefully, always select a company which has a proven track record and ask to speak to past participants for recommendations. Check whether they have accreditation or are members of the Year Out Group (YOG) or American Gap Association (AGA).
Over to You
Experienced traveller yourself? Tell us your best safety tips in the comments below. Or alternatively, feel free to just ask a question. It’s what we’re here for!