Safety and support
When you pay for the services of an organisation, you can be sure that whatever happens, there will be somebody nearby to help you out. This means that you can travel to places that you might not otherwise consider.
Finding a suitable project where you can assist takes time and is often impossible to do from home. This can be frustrating, especially if you only have several weeks or months in the country. Volunteer travel organisations have a constant relationship with projects, so they can ensure you hit the ground running and make full use of your time abroad.
Quality and safety of your project
Gap year organisations are there to ensure that the work done at projects is genuinely worthwhile and does make a positive difference. They also invest time to check that the project is legitimate and provides a safe working environment for you.
Gap year organisations will generally find you suitable accommodation as part and parcel of your trip. This is usually run by local people - which means a portion of your fee will go direct into the local economy.
Your travel provider's involvement with distant communities also means that in many countries you can stay in the home of a local family, rather than a hotel or guesthouse. This has innumerable benefits for those who want to integrate into the local culture. It is the best way to understand first-hand the way of life in that country and make genuine friends.
Insurance and medical information
Safety and insurance
One important thing to remember whilst on a gap-year is that you're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Whilst it may sound exciting making an excursion to Basra, do think about the practicalities.
- Are you physically fit enough to cope with what the project is asking? I.e. it may involve a lot of long distance trekking which could be a problem if you suffer from a condition such as asthma.
- Are you emotionally secure enough to cope? You may be travelling to a nation which has extreme levels of poverty which can affect you. This is by no means a reason not to go, rather something you should be prepared for.
- Is the nation you intent to visit at war? The reason for not visiting a nation at war is obvious.
- How safe is the nation politically? Some nations are run by harsh regimes, and your actions, innocent to you, may end you up with a prison sentence. There have been many horror stories of foreign nationals acting inappropriately in countries and suffering because of it (handing out anti-Communist literature in China may be a mistake, for example).
- The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a good site for a nation by nation breakdown of its safety and general state of affairs. Check this first. This is only really applicable if you are planning your own expedition, as company organised projects and tours will be run with your safety in mind.
Also check that insurance is covered by the policy you agree to when you arrange your project. The following web-links are a few examples of various insurance websites:
You're going to want as comprehensive insurance as possible. What it should cover are really things such as hospital bills which can escalate in nations where you're unused to 'pay-per-stitch systems'. Additionally, the insurance should cover every type of activity that you could possibly take part in, and should always include air-lift, in the unlikely event of your being seriously ill or injured. Make sure that it extends beyond when you expect to return, as it's common to want to stay longer in the country that you are volunteering, and even if you don't expect to at this stage, circumstances can change.
We live in an age of advanced and global communication: it's hard to find a place of earth which has not been penetrated by telephone masts and Starbucks – so make the most of it. If you are travelling alone ensure somebody knows where you are. E-mail family, phone friends – but tell them where you are without ambiguity – (i.e. not "America somewhere" but "West side youth hostel, NY"). It may seem annoying and unnecessary, but you'll regret it if you fall down a crevasse and nobody knows where you are.
If you want a broad but thorough introduction to gapper safety, check out schemes such as Ultimate Gapper. There are loads more similar courses, and if you feel you're too seasoned at least watch some survival TV. Now, I know that statistics are unwieldy at best, but one which set which I saw suggested that 25% of gappers will experience SOME FORM OF DRAMA whilst on their gap year. And yes, it may just be a South American dress rehearsal for Macbeth, but it may also be a mugging or injury. Check out the following links.
Do you know how British consulates can help you in an emergency? This is a vital question to your gap year safety. For some answers check out this link
Your behaviour and conduct abroad could determine your level of safety whilst on a gap year. Valuing and respecting local customs is something which barely even needs to be mentioned because it should be a natural reaction to a new environment. Some things which seem trivial can in fact be very serious, so do your research beforehand to ensure a better experience. Also, make sure you are not carrying contraband items across borders, as this may carry a large penalty (fruit and vegetables, meat and seeds, for example).
There is no plan for every dangerous situation that you could land in. But it should be obvious when your safety is threatened, and therefore, if at all possible, stay away.
Safeguarding your property
Losing your passport in a rainforest in Cambodia is not an ideal situation. Make sure your important documents are kept safe and secure (that includes dry). Keep them in a safe compartment of a bag for example where the bag is either with you at all times or in a safe place (a safe at your hostel, for example).
Are you properly equipped for where you are travelling? For example, whilst shorts may seem sensible in a desert during the day, temperatures can plummet at night. Gloves are important in the cold, mosquito spray in the heat. This includes making sure you are properly vaccinated; contact your GP before you travel anywhere. Also, bring enough medicine to last you, as who knows where the nearest chemist will be (TravelDoctor.co.uk is a good website). Also, the following list should contain the basics that you might need.
- Personal Hygiene Items
- Antibiotic Ointment
- Insect Repellent
- Sunscreen / Lip Balm
- Malaria Pills
- First Aid Kit
- Cold / Sinus Medicine
- Contact Lens Supplies / Eye Drops
- Laxative / Diarrhoea Medicine
- Antiseptic Wipes
- Motion Sickness Patches / Pills
- Personal Medication
List of Items Before You Leave
- Air tickets
- Traveller's cheques, cash, credit and bank card
- Travel insurance policy and EHIC
- Batch of passport-sized photos
- International driver's licence
- International Student Identity Card/Youth Card
- Vaccination certificates
- Guidebooks and reading matter
- Address book
- Book for writing your daily diary
- Wordwide adaptor plug
- Penknife (don't carry in hand luggage on planes)
- Walkman/Discman/IPod/Minidisk player/MP3 player etc
- Camera, photographic accessories and film
- Basic sewing repair kit
- First Aid Kit
- Water purification tablets/water bottle
- Small towel
- Small hairbrush or comb
- Sun protection cream, including lip protection
- Sink plug
- Sun hat
- Alarm clock
- Small calculator
- Small torch
- Strong money belt
- Flat pack of toilet paper
- Padlocks and chain for securing luggage
- Light clothes line
- Sleeping bag/sheet (a single duvet cover is good)
- Mosquito net/spray