Backpacking safety tips
Backpacking gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace, on a budget, and experience a range of different cultures. When you travel independently you don't have a holiday rep to turn to in emergencies, however – so it's vital that you're well-prepared and armed with tips for staying safe.
Always take out a good travel insurance policy covering you for the entire duration of your trip; all activities you plan to take part in; all destinations you plan to visit; and for medical costs that could prove costly without adequate insurance. If health facilities are poor at your destinations, you'll need insurance that includes medical evacuation by air ambulance to another country offering better medical facilities – for example, it costs £12-16,000 to return a British traveller to the UK by air ambulance from the Canary Islands, according to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Backpackers' insurance may be ideal for extended trips to several countries, but watch out for exclusions such as for existing medical conditions or activities like white water rafting. Read the small print and check the cover is adequate before committing to a policy.
Plan your trip carefully
For many travellers it's the flexibility of backpacking that's so appealing, but it's still worth researching destinations before you visit. You'll gain an insight not only into the top attractions, but also visa requirements; cultural expectations; common crimes you should be aware of; and health risks you could avoid. Check the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website for up-to-date information about each destination, including potential security issues. Leave your family with a copy of your planned itinerary, and let them know if you change your plans, as this could be useful if anything goes wrong.
Consider finding a travel buddy
Travelling alone can be liberating, but there is safety in numbers: consider finding a travel buddy to make you less vulnerable.
Secure your bag and valuables
Try to leave valuables at home, and keep any you do take out of sight as far as possible. Take photocopies of your passport, driving licence and other documents and keep these separate to the original documents – they will prove useful if you lose any of your documentation. Carry your cash and passport on your person, preferably in a money belt hidden under your clothes, and on transport always padlock your backpack's zips to deter thieves.
Try to wear appropriate clothing and 'fit in' to the local culture as best you can. Avoid being the 'hapless tourist': if you need to spend time looking at a map, do this at a café rather than in the middle of the pavement to make you less of a target for pickpockets.
Read up about well-known local scams before you visit each destination, learning from other travellers' mistakes. Be wary of any offers that seem too good to be true – your instincts may be spot on.
Don't forget to take out travel insurance. If you lose any of your belongings, or experience a medical emergency while you're on the road, you'll be glad you spent a few extra pounds on a decent travel insurance policy.