Traveling safely is no joke. In all honesty, half of our lists here have been learned the hard way – so please take our word from it that if the fire is hot, there’s no need to burn yourself to be sure.
International & Domestic
Check the medical situation
Does the region you’re visiting recommend certain vaccinations or medical supplies be on hand before you arrive? Do you have any personal medical concerns that need to be addressed before you travel? Keep in mind some medications (like malaria pills) will need to be taken weeks and sometimes months in advance.
Know where you’ll be staying
Especially for the first few nights. Youth Hosteling Association (YHA), or Hosteling International (HI) are great resources to find yourself in safe living situations. They have high standards and safety is paramount for their good name.
If you’re traveling alone, get a cell phone and know your emergency phone numbers. As well, check for relevant apps such as the State Department one that lists embassy phone numbers and addresses. Have regular check-in times with family. Partially so that they can live vicariously through you and your experiences, but also as a safety measure to make sure in case something happens they’ll know ASAP.
Take care of yourself
If you’re sick, don’t waste time wondering how bad it is. For many Gap Year students health takes on a secondary-import because they’re used to having a parent there to tell them when something is bad and when it’s just healing normally. If you’re not sure, call home or go to a doctor!
If you’re going to drive, make sure you have proper insurance and know the rules of the road. Stay off of motorcycles. We know it’s tempting, but in the Peace Corps they’ll send you home even if they suspect you rode one… they’re that dangerous! Also, in EVERY case, the time you’re most at risk is in a motor vehicle. Make sure you at least have a short conversation with every driver to make sure they’re awake and sober: and wear a seat belt (if there is one).
Keep up with your street smarts
Before you go out, ask the locals what areas are safe and which aren’t. Even in New York city, there’s areas you just don’t go at night alone!
Look before you leap
If there’s a crowd of people, don’t let curiosity get the best of you . . . stay away until you REALLY understand what’s going on.
Let it go
Nothing in life is certain, but, if you’re mugged, the best thing to do is usually just give up what you have. Whether it’s drugs they’re after, cash, or your passport, all are easily enough replaced and in every case will be cheaper than a hospital bill if you resist. But, the one thing that we can assure you of is that an ounce of prevention is worth a ton in gratitude: pay attention; if you feel uncomfortable, go somewhere safe; and reserve a little skepticism about everyone and their intentions.
Prepare for everything
It never hurts to get certified in wilderness medicine through WMI, WMA, or SOLO. These are some of the most reliable ways to make sure that you can take care of yourself in an emergency.
Alcohol and drugs are dangerous
In cases of rape while traveling, there’s almost a 90% correlation with alcohol. Even marijuana, in some countries can carry a death sentence. The bottom line is that if your goal in your Gap Year is to party, then you’re not taking a “Gap Year.”
1. Know your Embassy’s phone numbers.
2. Visit the State Department website for any travel warnings, and WATCH THE NEWS.
3. Visit the State Department website to see what areas you need a visa for and which ones you can get ‘on arrival.’ Every country you travel to will have an immigration department, and without adequate preparation you may not even be able to enter the country!
4. Register with the State Department’s Smart Travelers Enrollment Program.
5. In questionable situations, if you can’t boil it, cook it, or peel it, don’t eat it.
6. Scan your passport and email a copy to yourself. This is just in case yours gets lost, stolen, or a tiger eats it… in this way you have a digital copy so that you can more easily prove you are who you say you are to the embassy when you’re trying to get a new one.
7. If you lose your passport, contact the embassy immediately – delaying this call will only mean a delay in getting a new one as they now have to check to see if your passport has been used illegally and thus taking more time for them… oh yeah, and more time for you!
Let us know if you have any other essential travel safety tips to know before you go!