Here are some tips from CEGA to help keep young gap year travellers both safe and solvent:
Before you set off
Take out travel insurance
As soon as you’ve booked your trip, buy travel insurance that covers all the countries you want to visit for as long as you want to travel – and bear in mind that most standard policies will only cover you for 31 days, so you may need special gap year cover. Your policy should cover you for travel cancellation, medical treatment abroad, lost or stolen possessions and emergency repatriation back home.
Make sure you’re covered for risky sports
Sports like paragliding, mountain biking or climbing may not be covered by a standard travel insurance policy, because they expose insurers to extra risk. If you plan to do some risky sports, you’ll need to check that your policy includes them, or add them as an extra before you set off abroad.
Tell your insurer about any medical conditions
If you have a pre-existing medical condition you may have to pay an extra premium or shop around for an insurer that’s willing to cover you. You’ll also need to come clean about any close relatives who are ill, in case you need to come home early to see them in an emergency. You may not be covered in an emergency if you don’t.
Get an EHIC for Europe
If your gap year travels are within Europe, you’ll need both travel insurance and a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The EHIC entitles you to basic state medical treatment in Europe, but it won’t cover you for repatriation back to the UK, if you need it, nor for medical treatment at a private hospital (that’s where travel insurance comes in). Most travel insurers will waive their claims excess for medical costs if you have an EHIC.
Book your vaccinations
Find out about vaccinations and anti-malaria treatment at least 6 weeks before you travel and tell your doctor or travel clinic exactly which areas you’re visiting, even if you’re just passing through, as you’ll need to take different precautions for each.
Do your research
Find out as much as possible about the area/s in which you’re staying. Are there often muggings? Where are the no-go streets at night? How would you contact the local emergency services if something went wrong? And check the latest country-specific travel advice from the Foreign Office, at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
Limit your packing to things you really need, that are easy to replace. Include a first aid kit with essential medication (it’s worth taking extra, in case your trip is longer than you plan), insect repellent, sunscreen, antiseptic and plasters. And remember your phone charger.
Copy important documents
Take copies of your passport, driving licence, travel insurance policy and credit cards and e-mail them to yourself and a friend or relative at home. You’ll need these if the originals are lost or stolen.
When you're away
Keep your assistance helpline number close
This comes with your travel insurance policy and will enable you to reach help quickly if there’s an emergency.
Look after yourself and your belongings
Keep an eye on your possessions, or they may not be covered by your insurance if they are lost or stolen. Don’t carry around expensive tech or large amounts of cash and make sure bags are zipped up. If you’re in a risky area, use ATMS inside shopping centres or banks and avoid going out alone at night. If you’re mugged, don’t put up a fight - you could be badly injured.
Avoid mosquito bites
If there’s a risk of mosquito-borne diseases, avoid bites by wearing loose clothes that cover your arms, legs and feet and use a DEET-based insect repellent. If you can, screen your bedroom windows. And bear in mind that daytime bites can be as dangerous as their night-time counterparts.
Be wary of water, food and medicines
If you’re travelling in the developing world, it’s not just the tap water that may be unsafe, but also any salad or fruit that’s been washed in water - and even ice cream and ice cubes. They could leave you with diarrhea, typhoid or hepatitis. Drink bottled water and stick to cooked food that is piping hot. And always use recommended pharmacies for over-the-counter medication such as painkillers - so you’re sure you’ve got what you asked for.
Avoid heatstroke and sunburn by using sunscreen and wearing a hat, and drink plenty of bottled water to stop yourself getting dehydrated. Always make sure that bottle seals haven’t been broken.
Go easy on the alcohol
There’s no need to be teetotal on your gap travels, just to be sensible about how much alcohol you drink. Travel insurers don’t generally set specific limits on alcohol consumption, but if you have an accident that’s obviously been caused by excessive drinking, they may not pay up.
Watch out on the roads
Road traffic accidents cause more injuries than anything else in the developing world. Reduce the risks by using licensed taxis, wearing a seatbelt and being extra careful when you’re crossing the road – cars won’t necessarily stop for you. And don’t drive at night.
CEGA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Lynn Gordon says:
“Travel insurance isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential safety net. Your insurers won’t just cover your costs in an emergency, they will also manage your medical care and give you professional support when you may be thousands of miles from home. But it’s also important to take responsibility for your gap year travels by researching the risks and finding out how to avoid them, so that your trip leaves you with positive memories.”
Top 10 gap year destinations (Source: ABTA members specialising in gap years)
8. South Africa
5. New Zealand