Gap years - health and safety

Gap year health and safety advice from ABTA - The Travel Association.

Compass, boots and a map Many gappers will be visiting parts of the planet very different from the UK, without the safety nets of home, family and the state. While the vast majority have a trouble-free trip, problems can and do occur; at ABTA with 60 years’ experience in helping travellers, we know that there are some basic, essential steps you should take to make your experience memorable for all the right reasons.

Protecting your travel arrangements

It’s advisable to book as much of your travel arrangements as you can before you go. Travel companies can and do go out of business so it’s important to make sure your hard-earned money is safe. One of the easiest ways to do this is to book a package with one of the many gap year specialists. Packages must legally be financially protected and this is usually done in the UK through ABTA or ATOL.

If you are making separate travel arrangements ask if there is protection in place, once more ABTA will often cover it, if not use a credit card or VISA debit card and you will be covered under the Consumer Credit Act and/or VISA’s policy.

Booking in advance also allows you to ensure you are booking with a credible company; all ABTA members are financially vetted and follow our code of conduct which ensures high standards are met.

Travel insurance

Never go abroad without it. If you have an accident overseas and you are uninsured not only will you or your family be faced with a potentially massive bill, it could also cost you your life. Some foreign hospitals will not treat you if you are uninsured.

Additionally, insurance will cover you for loss of valuables whilst you’re way. Get an annual policy; it gives you that extra flexibility, and always check that it covers all the activities you are planning to do, such as water sports or trekking.

Check your passport is up to date. Most countries will insist you have at least six months validity on it, if not they could refuse you entry. When you renew your passport they will add on up to six months unused validity on a new passport so you don’t have to wait for it to run out and you won’t lose out. Do this in plenty of time, it normally takes two weeks but the passport agency is very busy in the summer and processing times can be much longer.

Health

If you are going to be travelling outside of Western Europe, North America or Australasia there are some pretty nasty diseases you may be exposed to, most of which you can protect yourself against. Go and see a health professional preferably no less than eight weeks before you head off to see what vaccinations you may need.

Check out the Foreign Office travel advice on their website. Not only can you find out about any travel restrictions for the destination you are travelling to, it offers information about local laws and customs, which can differ in many surprising ways from our own and help make sure you don’t inadvertently break the law. It will also tell you whether you need a visa and if so how and where to get one. Once again do this in plenty of time.

Cash

If you are relying on plastic it’s a good idea to take a couple of cards in case one gets lost or stolen. Let your bank know you are going away - most have very sophisticated fraud detection programmes which can be set off by foreign payments. Change some local currency as well, as ATMs are not always around.

Personal safety

If you are going out late at night avoid poorly lit areas and never walk home alone. In busy bars and clubs take time to check for exits and always watch your drinks. If you are taking taxis make sure you use a licensed firm and try and share the cab with a friend. Keep phones and other valuables hidden where possible. For female travellers, it’s advisable to follow local dress customs to avoid any unwanted attention. If you do feel threatened stay calm, try to be firm and direct and don’t be afraid to draw attention to yourself.