Backpackers Health And Safety Guide | Fast Cover

Backpackers Health And Safety Guide

When you go backpacking overseas, you leave behind the support systems, emergency services and medical facilities of Australia. This is the ultimate guide to healthy and safe travel on a backpacker budget.

Backpacking is all about experiencing somewhere different with nothing but a few possessions strapped to your back. But travelling light does not mean putting your health and safety at greater risk than you would at home. Travelling low-budget to third world countries or off the beaten path comes with various risks backpackers can prepare for.

There are numerous ways both first-time and seasoned backpackers can reduce the risk of experiencing an emergency while travelling overseas, as well as steps you can take before travelling to better prepare for dealing with an emergency situation.

This guide is your one-stop, comprehensive reference point to healthy and safe backpacking. We address the various aspects of health and safety you should know before you pack your bag and get on that plane.

Table of Contents

  1. Researching your backpacking trip
  2. Preparing for your backpacking trip
  3. Diseases and infections
  4. Preventing insect-borne diseases
  5. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s)
  6. Dating Safely Overseas
  7. Sexual Assault Overseas
  8. Drinking and Partying
  9. Drug Use
  10. LGBTI Backpackers Risks
  11. Transport Safety
  12. Riding Motorcycles Overseas
  13. Keeping your money safe
  14.  Eating Safely Overseas
  15. Choosing accommodation
  16. Risks in popular backpacking destinations
  17. Backpackers Travel Insurance

Researching your backpacking trip

Researching your destination is one of the most time-consuming tasks in preparing for your backpacking holiday, but it’s also one of the most important.

Research will mean you’re properly prepared to travel to your destination and can reduce your risk of accidently experiencing an emergency such as becoming sick or injured or getting in trouble with the law.

 

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Local Customs and Laws

Research the local customs and laws to ensure that you don’t cause offence and potentially get into trouble with the locals. This should include religious customs, dress codes, drinking age, policy on littering and driving laws.

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Money

Research how you'll be able to access funds while travelling. You may need to take more cash if ATMs are not widely available in the areas you'll be travelling through.

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Scams

Know how to recognise the most prevalent scams which could lead to you losing money or unknowingly putting yourself in physical danger.

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Travel Advice

Research the Australian Government’s travel advice found on Smartraveller.gov.au. You can also read travel forums like TripAdvisor to get advice from experienced travellers and expats.

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Location

Research the location and surrounding areas where you're intending to stay to find out if it is recognised as being safe or not and if there's any neighbourhoods or venues you should avoid.

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Transport

Research reputable transport companies, including public transport options, local tour companies, taxi services and bus lines you should use or avoid.

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Health Risks

Research the main health risks you should be aware of at your travel destination including food and drink safety, common diseases, illnesses and the availability of emergency medical care.

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Activities

What activities will you do there? Check whether companies are accredited and meet safety standards. Make sure you can find a travel insurance policy that provides cover for the activities you want to do.

Preparing for your backpacking trip

Part of the fun of travelling is being spontaneous, meeting other backpackers and enjoying a drink. But the risk of getting seriously ill, injured, or becoming the target of a crime is something that every backpacker should be aware of and take steps to avoid.

Get the right visa

Many backpackers will know they may have to get a visa for some of the countries they plan on visiting.

Luckily for Australians, we’re able to get a visa on arrival, or enter a country for a limited period of time without a visa in numerous countries throughout Europe and Thailand for example.

Other countries however have specific requirements for visas that you need to arrange before you leave for your holiday. Make sure you check the visa requirements well before you depart as you may need to send your passport away.

Also, a number of countries will not allow you to enter if you have less than 6 months validity on your passport. Examples include

  • Malaysia
  • Dubai
  • Indonesia
  • The Philippines
  • Thailand
  • Singapore
  • Vanuatu

Check the entry requirements of the countries you plan to go backpacking in well before you start travelling. You can contact the foreign diplomatic and consular representatives of your destination in Australia.

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Scan your travel documents

Should your passport be lost or stolen, it can be expensive and stressful to replace it, especially if you have no photocopy to show the Australian consulate. Scan your passport along with your driver’s licence, travel insurance information and plane tickets so that you have multiple back-ups to refer to. If you’re backpacking with friends, give them a copy of your details.

Email copies of your itinerary or print out hard copies for your next of kin, family, close friends, housemates and the people you’re travelling with.

In an emergency, this will mean:

  • Your family knows where to contact you if they need you to return home due to a family member being hospitalised or passing away.
  • Your family can share your itinerary with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) so they’re able to pinpoint your location if there’s a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
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Register your travel plans

Backpackers can sometimes forget this important step – register your holiday on the government’s Smartraveller website so that if there is an emergency such as a natural disaster, terrorism event or an emergency at home, the Australian Government will know your location.

To keep up to date with important changes that could affect your trip, you should also

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Visit your doctor and dentist

Before you head off overseas, a medical check-up is certainly advisable.

If you’re young and heading away for 6 months, a year or longer, it’s a good idea to get a general all-over health check and bring to the attention of your doctor any little thing that may be of concern to you. Having a check-up before you leave means you don’t need to be concerned about your health or having to find a doctor or pay for one while you’re away, unless it’s for something unexpected like an accident.

If you’re on medication there are a number of steps you should take:

  • Check the medication is legal at your destination
  • Carry a letter from your doctor explaining what the medication is if necessary
  • Keep medication in its original packaging
  • Stock up on medication you regularly take. Travel insurance doesn’t generally provide cover for the costs of medical check-ups or for buying regular prescription medication while overseas
  • Stock up on contraceptives as they may not be readily accessible at your destination

If you haven’t had a skin cancer check in the past or your next one is scheduled in the next 12 months when you may be away, you should have one before you depart. This way you won’t have to worry about getting a check while you’re away, particularly in a country that doesn’t have the serious skin cancer problem that Australia does and therefore the same availability of testing we do.

A doctor will also be able to identify anything that needs to treated, require further investigation and the spots to keep an eye on while you’re away.

It’s also a good idea to get a dental check-up and clean as you never know where you’ll be in the next 6 or 12 months. Having to get a filling is something you don’t want to have to worry about when you’re in the middle of Africa or trekking to Machu Picchu.

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Stay in touch

Keeping in contact with family and friends lets them know that you’re okay and enjoying your trip and provides a safety net should you need assistance. Give a few people your itinerary so they know what you plan to do on your travels and organise points during your trip to send word home.

There are numerous ways backpackers can keep in regular contact with family or friends such as email, social media and phone.

Tips for staying in touch:

  • Purchase a global sim before you depart
  • Purchase a local prepaid SIM card when you arrive
  • Use calling cards
  • Organise Global Roaming on your phone. This can be expensive but good in an emergency, so check the rates you can expect with your mobile provider.
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Traveller’s Diarrhoea

Regions Affected: All regions but travellers most often experience Traveller’s Diarrhoea while travelling in the Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, the Caribbean as well as Nepal and the Middle East.

Transmission: It may be called Delhi belly, Bangkok belly or Bali belly when you’re travelling but each condition is basically the same: diarrhoea caused by bacteria in local food or water. The bacteria may not be harmful to the locals who grew up with it, but backpacker’s stomachs may not fare as well.

Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea.

Treatment: Stay hydrated. Rehydration salts or solutions can be used to replace electrolytes and fluids. Eat plain food such as toast or bananas. Get plenty of rest and relax until symptoms have passed. If symptoms persist or are getting worse, you can see a doctor to get antibiotics.

Cholera

Regions Affected: Africa, South America, the Caribbean as well as Nepal and the Philippines.

Transmission: Cholera is spread through people drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium.

Symptoms: Watery diarrhoea, vomiting, leg cramps, excessive loss of fluids can lead to severe dehydration and shock.

Treatment: Cholera is easily treated with oral rehydration salts. Severely affected patients may require intravenous fluids. Antibiotics can also be used to reduce the duration of symptoms, though widespread administration of antibiotics is not recommended due to the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Vaccination: There is a cholera vaccine though it’s not recommended for all travellers as there is a low risk of getting cholera in most areas. Humanitarian workers in affected countries may be given the vaccine.

Hepatitis A

Regions Affected: There are sporadic incidents of Hepatitis A worldwide.

Transmission: Through contact with infected faeces, food and water.

Symptoms: Fever, tiredness, lack of appetite, vomiting, dark urine, jaundice (yellow colouring of the eyes and skin).

Treatment: There is no specific treatment for Hepatitis A. People who are affected are recommended to rest, to continue eating small meals and to avoid alcohol and medications which can impact on the liver. Illness usually lasts between one and three weeks.

Vaccination: Immunisation against Hepatitis A is achieved through a single vaccine.

Hepatitis B

Regions Affected: Hepatitis B is prevalent worldwide, though its particularly prevalent in south-east Asia, the Pacific Basin (excluding Japan, Australia and New Zealand), sub-Saharan Africa, the Amazon Basin, the Middle East, the central Asian Republics and some European countries.

Transmission: Through bodily fluids including blood, semen and vaginal secretions of an infected person. This means it can be spread through the sharing of needles, razors, toothbrushes or sex.

Symptoms: Fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, muscle and joint pain, skin rashes, dark urine, jaundice (yellow colouring of eyes and skin).

Vaccination: The Hepatitis B vaccine is part of the National Immunisation Program Schedule for Australians. Your doctor will be able to check your status regarding the Hepatitis B vaccine through a blood test.

Hepatitis C

Regions Affected: Africa, Central and East Asia.

Transmission: The disease is usually spread through contact with infected blood. It can be transmitted through sexual contact, although this is rare.

Symptoms: Fever, tiredness, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal and joint pain, dark urine, jaundice (yellow colouring of eyes and skin).

Vaccination: There is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C. Travellers can protect themselves from the disease by using condoms, and not injecting drugs or sharing needles (including for tattoos, piercings and acupuncture).

Tuberculosis (TB)

Regions Affected: South America, Africa and tropical Asia-Pacific regions including the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia.

Transmission: Through the air when a person with the disease coughs, sneezes or speaks, releasing germs in the air.

Symptoms: Fever, weight loss, night sweats, tiredness, persistent cough, blood stained sputum (a combination of saliva and mucus coughed up from the respiratory tract).

Treatment: TB infection (where the TB germs are present but inactive in the body) is treated through a course of tablets. TB disease (where the germs have become active in the body) is treated through antibiotics over around six months.

Vaccination: The vaccination for TB is not routinely recommended to Australians except under certain circumstances, such as when you’re travelling to a country with a high incidence of TB repeatedly for longer than 3 months at a time.

Typhoid

Regions Affected: Asia (particularly south Asia), Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Latin America.

Transmission: Through the consumption of contaminated food and water.

Symptoms: Fever, weakness and fatigue, muscle aches, headache, sweating, dry cough, loss of appetite and weight loss, abdominal pain, diarrhoea or constipation, rash, swollen abdomen.

Treatment: There are antibiotics that can be used to treat typhoid.

Vaccination: Travellers can receive a vaccination for typhoid before travelling to high-risk areas.

Rabies

Regions Affected: Asia, Africa, Latin America, Indonesia, Central and South America.

Transmission: People can become infected with rabies from being bitten or scratched from an infected animal. Bats and dogs are the primary sources of rabies in humans, however foxes, raccoons, skunks, jackals, mongooses and other wild carnivores can carry the disease.

Symptoms: Fever, muscle weakness, tingling around the bite or scratch. This can later develop into ‘Furious Rabies’, with symptoms including: hyperactivity, insomnia, anxiety, confusion, agitation, fear of water, hallucinations, excess salivation and problems swallowing. Or, it can develop into ‘Paralytic Rabies’ leading to paralysis and coma.

Vaccination: There is a rabies vaccine available for people travelling to high-risk areas. The vaccination may be provided to people who have suspected rabies-infected bites and scratches. There are no other treatments for the disease.

Yellow Fever

Regions Affected: Africa, South and Central America and the Caribbean.

Transmission: Mosquitoes.

Symptoms: Fever, headache, muscle aches, particularly in your back and knees, sensitivity to light, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, dizziness, red eyes, face or tongue.

Vaccination: You can get a vaccine before travelling. If you’ve visited countries where there is Yellow Fever, you’ll have to present a valid Yellow Fever vaccination certificate when you return to Australia.

Zika virus

Regions Affected: South and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific.

Transmission: Mosquitoes.

Symptoms: Fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, headache.

Vaccination: There are no vaccines for Zika virus, so travellers are recommended to prevent mosquito bites by using repellent with 25-50% DEET, wearing light coloured clothes that cover most of the body and by using a mosquito net at night.

Malaria

Regions Affected: High risk areas include Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and throughout Southeast Asia. Other destinations in Asia and Latin America may have a low-risk of malaria.

Transmission: Mosquitoes.

Symptoms: Fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, anaemia, muscle pain, convulsions, bloody stools, coma.

Advice: You can take medication to prevent malaria and this is recommended for some high-risk destinations. Your doctor will tell you whether medication is required or if there is a low-risk. You should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites by using a 25-50% DEET repellent, wearing light coloured clothes that cover as much of the body as possible and use a mosquito net over your bed at night.

Dengue Fever

Regions Affected: Africa, Asia and South America.

Transmission: Mosquitoes.

Symptoms: Fever, headaches, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, hemorrhagic fever, dengue shock syndrome.

Treatment: There is no treatment or vaccine for dengue fever, so it is important to be prepared with 25-50% DEET repellent, light coloured clothing and a mosquito net for your accommodation.

Chikungunya

Regions Affected: Chikungunya is found worldwide, particularly in Africa, Asia and India. There have been a few incidents of transmission to Europe.

Transmission: Mosquitoes.

Symptoms: Fever, severe joint pain, headaches, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, ash.

Advice: There is no cure for the disease. Take precautions to prevent mosquito bites, including using 25-50% DEET repellent, light coloured clothing and a mosquito net for your accommodation.

Japanese Encephalitis

Regions Affected: Rural Asia and Indonesia and areas of China, Japan, Korea and Eastern Russia.

Transmission: Mosquitoes.

Symptoms: Fever, headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, brain inflammation, seizures, coma, paralysis.

Vaccination: Talk to your doctor about vaccinations for Japanese Encephalitis.

What to pack to prevent insect-borne diseases

1) Mosquito Repellent with 25-50% DEET

You will find insect repellents with different levels of DEET. The levels relate to the period of time the repellent is effective for.

  • 100% DEET will be effective for 9.5 hours
  • 30% DEET for 6.5 hours
  • 15% DEET for 5 hours
  • 10% DEET for 3 hours
  • 5% DEET for 2 hours

There are some products available that have controlled release and contain 20-35% DEET and may be effective for 8-12 hours.

It’s important to know that higher temperatures, humidity, sweating and getting your skin wet may reduce the duration of effectiveness of DEET, in which case you should reapply.

2) A Mosquito Net

On occasions these will be provided but it’s always a good idea to pack your own. They’re generally light weight and don’t take up too much space.

3) Appropriate Clothing

Lightweight clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants that you can wear in warmer climates. You don’t want to be trying to wear jumpers and jeans in hot and humid climates. Clothing should also be in light colours such as white, cream, yellow etc. as mosquitos are attracted to darker colours.

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Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s)

Sexually transmitted infections may be more prevalent in different regions of the world.

The best way to prevent getting a sexually transmitted infection is by not having sex. You may not normally consider contraception as an option, but in certain places around the world or if you find yourself in a situation that doesn’t feel right, the risks could be much greater than at home and it may be the best option.

But we understand you’ll be travelling around the world and meeting all sorts of people, so the next best prevention option is engaging in safe sex every time. That means using condoms even if you’re using other forms of contraception (such as the pill).

Avoiding HIV

HIV can be spread through bodily fluids. For this reason, avoid:

  • Having unprotected sex
  • Getting tattooed in unsanitary environments
  • Sharing needles
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Dating Safely Overseas

Dating someone you meet while travelling can make exploring your destination more exciting and fun. To be safe, keep in mind:

  • Meet in public places when you’re first getting to know someone.
  • Let a friend or someone at the hostel know where you’re going, with who and when they can expect you back.
  • Don’t trust people too quickly and ask them to take care of your bags, wallet, phone or expensive cameras.
  • Don’t accept illicit drugs from a romantic interest.
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Sexual Assault Overseas

Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that could happen to backpackers of any age, gender or sexual orientation. While you shouldn’t have to, it’s still within your interests to avoid drawing attention to yourself and removing opportunities for perpetrators.

6 tips to reduce the chance of being sexually assaulted overseas:

  • Don’t drink excessively or take drugs that would disorient you especially if you don’t have a friend to look out for you.
  • Be mindful of your drinks. If there was an opportunity for your drink to be spiked by someone you don’t know well, don’t risk drinking it.
  • If you’re going back to someone’s place, try and go with a group of friends.
  • If the situation doesn’t feel right, leave as soon as you can.
  • Research your destinations thoroughly to understand what neighbourhoods should be avoided as they may be recognised as being more dangerous than others.
  • Research local customs. For example in some conservative countries women may be more likely to be targeted if they dress “inappropriately”. Your behaviour may also be interpreted differently; for example a woman touching a man’s arm while talking to him can be interpreted as flirtatious.
  • Don’t enter your accommodation if it has been broken into. Immediately call the police or go to the front desk.
  • If you’re attacked or think you may be attacked scream and draw attention to yourself.

Following these tips can simply reduce the number of incidences where you could be noticed and targeted by a sexual perpetrator. If you ever feel threatened, let your accommodation, the police and anyone else know. If you experience an assault, you should:

  • Call the Australian Embassy immediately. They can assist with contacting authorities and getting you to an appropriate health clinic.
  • Contact your travel insurance emergency assistance and let them know what happened.
  • File a report with the police as soon as possible (within 24 hours is best). However, before you travel research local laws surrounding sexual assault. In Middle Eastern countries women have been jailed for ‘extramarital sex’ after reporting being raped. The Australian Embassy can assist you.
  • Contact your family and friends for support and to let them know where you are and that you’re safe.
  • Contact the Smartraveller Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 and they will transfer you to a Lifeline telephone counselling service.
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Know the drinking age

If you’re under 21 years of age, you may want to consider the legal drinking age of the countries you’re thinking of visiting, as it may not be 18 as it is in Australia. The USA and Solomon Islands for example have a drinking age of 21 and Paraguay has a drinking age of 20 years old.

Find out if drinking in public is illegal

In various countries it’s illegal to drink or even be drunk in public such as United Arab Emirates.

Be aware of methanol poisoning

Alcoholic drinks can be mixed with methanol, a harmful substance which can cause illness, blindness, brain injury or death. If you think you or someone else has been poisoned by methanol:

  1. Call for help immediately. Go to a doctor or hospital.
  2. Report the incident to the police.
  3. Call your travel insurance emergency assistance (or have someone call for you) to update them on the situation.

DRINK WISELY

Some simple tips to drink safely:

  • Know your limits and be aware that drinks can be stronger than in Australia.
  • Don’t accept drinks from strangers.
  • Don’t leave drinks unattended.
  • Never accept a drink you don’t think is safe. It’s not worth the risk.
  • Look out for your friends and ensure everyone gets home safely at the end of a night out.
  • Have a plan on how to get back to your accommodation so you don’t get lost.
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Drug Use

The laws around using and selling drugs overseas can appear harsh by Australian standards. In some countries, the standard punishment can be life imprisonment or the death penalty.

The death penalty for drug possession, use and selling

Some popular destinations for Australians impose the death penalty, including: Indonesia, Thailand, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, The United Arab Emirates.

To completely understand the laws surrounding drug use in the countries you’re travelling to, research the subject online before you travel. You may find some important information such as:

  • Even a minimal amount of illegal drugs detected in blood or urine tests is considered possession in the United Arab Emirates.
  • Some parts of the United States impose severe, mandatory prison sentences for marijuana use.
  • Possession or trafficking of any narcotics including psychoactive mushrooms is illegal in the Netherlands. Foreigners are not legally able to buy cannabis even in designated premises.
  • Drug offences in Mexico lead to long prison sentences in local jails.
  • Small quantities of drugs in Thailand and Indonesia will, at best, lead to heavy fines, jail sentences or deportation.

The best means of avoiding becoming involved in a legal case is to not take, purchase or sell drugs. Possession of even small quantities of drugs such as marijuana can attract a lengthy prison sentence or the death penalty.You will not be treated differently from locals if you break the law.

Remember that the Australian government is limited in what it can do to help you if you break the law in another country.

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LGBTI Backpackers Risks

While all backpackers face risks while travelling, attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex and gender fluid individuals can pose added risks.

Before you travel, research laws such as age of consent, customs and attitudes: your research will help you find out how LGBTI and gender fluid individuals are viewed at your destination. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association contains some useful information on the laws affecting travellers around the world.

Even if you don’t agree with the laws of a country, while you’re backpacking through it you’ll be expected to obey those laws.

Local laws can sometimes be inconsistent. Be aware that:

  • Same sex relationships might be legal in certain regions and illegal in others
  • Some countries may not have laws against same-sex partnerships but they are still considered socially unacceptable
  • Some countries may prohibit male same-sex relationship but not acknowledge female same-sex relationships
  • Laws regarding same sex relationships may be applied to transsexual, transgender or intersex individuals

You’ll find numerous forums and resources online to help you understand local laws and customs. Wikivoyage can get you started. You can then look into local laws for your destination.

Passports

Sex and gender diverse passport holders should be aware that they may experience difficulties when crossing international borders, particularly those with an Australian passport where the gender is registered as ‘X’. You can contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for further information.

Free Speech

Some countries have restrictions on free speech and political expression. Research your destination before backpacking and carefully consider any restrictions that could affect your ability to advocate on social or political issues.

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Transport Safety

As a backpacker you’ll often find the cheapest way to get around is by using public transport or by getting a taxi (in some countries, your taxi might be a tuk tuk). To better ensure your safety, remember:

  • It’s better to have arranged transfers from the airport when you first arrive or to be aware of which taxis are legally operating (there are often illegal operators that will offer to drive you).
  • As soon as possible, find out when public transport operates including the last busses, trains or ferries at night and the first ones in the morning.
  • Only use reputable transport companies.
  • When alone in a taxi, sit in the back seat and mention that you’re meeting someone at your destination.
  • Sit with your belongings close by you, as backpacks can be easily stolen from luggage compartments, including those on a bus.
  • Don’t hitchhike overseas.
  • The chance to save some money, meet a friendly stranger and maybe have an adventure are alluring but equally come with great risk. Australia was deemed a reasonably safe country and many backpackers hitchhiked until Ivan Milat was sentenced to life imprisonment for killing seven backpackers and burying them in the Belanglo State Forest.
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Riding Motorcycles Overseas

Thousands of Australians motorcycle in Bali, Thailand and Vietnam each year. If you asked them whether they’d motorcycle without a licence or after drinking in Australia they’d probably say no, yet it’s become common for backpackers to do this while travelling overseas. Before you travel:

1) Research what license you will need for motorcycling overseas:

Someone may allow you to hire a motorcycle without a licence, but this doesn’t mean it’s legal for you to ride it. If you’re riding a motorcycle illegally you could get in trouble with the police. If you’re injured riding illegally, your travel insurance will likely not provide you with cover.

2) Find travel insurance that will cover motorcycling:

Some insurers will automatically cover motorcycling in their policies for backpackers and others will not. Check if your travel insurance policy will provide you with cover if you’re injured while riding a motorcycle. Remember, if you’re breaking the law with regards to licensing, or you’re riding a motorcycle while under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs, your travel insurance is unlikely to provide you with cover.

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Keeping your money safe

There are a number of ways you can keep your money secure and better ensure you won’t be caught out should you become a victim of theft.

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Have two bank accounts and two different credit or debit cards

This will ensure that if someone steals the details of one card, you’re still able to withdraw money from a separate account. Keep one card on you (or in your carry on) and the other back at the hotel (or in your checked luggage) minimising the chance of losing both cards at the same time.

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Keep a spare stash of cash

Hide some money away in a sock in the bottom of your bag or in a secret compartment. If your wallet is stolen or lost, $200 cash will be very useful for you to contact home or your bank and survive for a few days until you can get some money sent to you.

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Separate your cash

As well as some back-up money hidden away, separate your cash between your wallet, a money belt, day pack and your larger backpack so that you have multiple resources.

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Carry only small amounts of cash

If you’re robbed, you don’t want to lose all the money you had for your backpacking trip. Take out cash from ATMs incrementally.

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Download a VPN app

A VPN app allows for secure access over free WiFi to your online personal information, like your banking details.

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Have a financial support network in place

Before you leave, either set up access to your savings, arrange a credit card or speak to your parents about being able to provide you funds in the case of an emergency.

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Eating Safely Overseas

As a backpacker you’re sure to be attracted to tasting the local street food on offer. It’s cheap and often delicious! Going to busy, local restaurants is also an essential part to getting to know a new place. Having to stay in your hostel or hotel because you’ve got food poisoning however, is an experience you should miss. To lessen the risk, keep in mind:

  • If a restaurant is empty, it may be for a reason. Go to busy and reputable establishments.
  • Use common sense when eating street food. Does it look undercooked? Has it been sitting around all day? Does the preparation station look filthy? Has anything been washed in local water? If the answer is yes or most likely, it’s best to avoid eating that food.

Special Dietary Requirements

Vegetarians, vegans, coeliacs and people with other dietary requirements should recognise that not every country readily caters to their needs. Research and have a prepared list of restaurants you could go to or where you can buy ingredients.

It’s also a good idea to get a translation card with you dietary requirements explained. It’ll save time and effort when you’re hangry!

Finding Safe Water

In countries such as Vietnam, Bali and China you should not drink local water. The safest options in countries where local water can make you sick are:

  • Buying bottled water
  • Boiling local water for 5 minutes before drinking or using it.
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Choosing Accommodation

For backpackers, the answer is often the cheapest option available. However it’s worthwhile taking the time to find reasonably priced accommodation that also provides you with security.

Try to book your accommodation before you arrive in a new town. This will minimise the time you walk around with all your belongings, looking lost. Also research neighbourhoods beforehand so that you know where it’s safe to stay (and avoid ending up in an isolated area away from everything you want to see).

There are a few more tips you can use to find the right accommodation:

  • Specify with your hostel whether you’ll be in a single-sex or mixed room
  • Find out if you’ll have a safe at the hostel or other accommodation you’re staying at
  • Avoid taking a room on the ground floor of a hostel or hotel, as that’s the floor more prone to robbery
  • Take note of emergency exits just in case you do need to evacuate
  • Carry your accommodation’s information or ask the staff to write the name and address in a local language so you can get a taxi home when lost

Remember that the offer of free accommodation from a stranger may be too good to be true. Avoid staying with strangers if you are alone.

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Be aware of the risks in popular backpacking destinations

Countries around the world vary in the risks they pose to backpackers and the severity of these risks.

The table below highlights some general risks you can come across while backpacking in different regions. Where these risks may be considered as higher, or more frequently come across by backpackers than they would be in Australia, we have indicated this with a X.

You can then research further into your particular destinations to learn where you might come across these risks and how to manage them.

Risk
Pacific
Asia
Japan
Europe
Middle East
North America
South America
Africa
High cost for medical treatment
 
 
X
 X
 
 X
 
 
Lower quality medical facilities
 X
 X
 
 
X
 
X
X
Pick pocketing
 X
 X
 
X
X
 
X
X
Major crime
 
 
 
 
X
 
X
X
Travel scams
X
 
X
X
 
 X
 X
Terrorism threat
X
 
X
X
X
 
X
Unsafe drinking water
X
X
 
 
X
 
X
X
Risk of food poisoning
X
X
 
 
X
 
X
X
Requires vaccinations
X
X
X
 
X
 
X
X
Higher risk of natural disasters
X
X
X
 
 
 
 
 
Higher risk to solo female travellers
 
X
 
 
X
 
 
X
High risk to LGBTQI travellers
X
 
 
 
X
 
 
X
Sexual Assault
X
 
 
X
X
 
X
X
STI’s
X
X
 
 
X
 
X
X
Punishment for alcohol consumption
 
X
 
 
X
 
 
 
Strict drug laws
X
X
X
 
X
 
 
 
Road safety
X
X
 
 
 
 
X
 
Corruption
X
X
 
 
 
 
X
 
War zones
 
 
 
 
X
 
 
X

 

Backpackers Travel Insurance

Backpackers travel insurance won’t prevent you from experiencing an emergency, but it can provide professional assistance and cover the unexpected costs of an emergency.

Emergency situations that can be covered by travel insurance include:

  • Becoming sick after getting food poisoning, whether it’s from a restaurant or a suspect kebab at 3am.
  • Becoming injured, for example if you fall down the stairs. One Fast Cover traveller did this and broke her foot. Her $50 travel insurance policy provided cover for over $23,000 in medical and hospital expenses.^
  • Injuring yourself doing an activity such as snowboarding or skiing. A young traveller with Fast Cover fell off his snowboard in 2015 and required over $40,000 worth of medical care due to internal bleeding.^
  • Requiring medical repatriation home.
  • Having luggage or your belongings lost, stolen or damaged.
  • Having to unexpectedly cancel your backpacking trip due to becoming sick or injured, or a relative becoming sick or injured.
  • Your pre-booked transport being delayed because of a natural disaster like a volcanic ash cloud or earthquake, forcing you to spend extra money on accommodation or food.
  • Natural disasters such as a tsunami or cyclone and you’ll require assistance returning home.

Situations you can contact travel insurance for advice include:

  • If your bag along with your passport and money is stolen.
  • If you need medical assistance in a non-English speaking country and can’t figure out how to explain you’ve had diarrhoea for a week.
  • If your friend has become incredibly sick or is injured by a tuk tuk and you have no idea where the best hospital is located.

You never know what will happen when you go backpacking.

Always remember to read your insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement to check what you are covered for before purchasing a policy.

For a more comprehensive look at travel insurance for backpackers, including what you need in a policy, read the Backpacker Travel Insurance Guide.

^Claims examples are from Fast Cover travel insurance customers from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2016.

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Backpackers Health And Safety Guide Articles

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