In the UK they call it the ‘gap year’ and it’s the year that kids take between secondary school and starting university classes. In the U.S., most students head straight to university, but some try to fit a gap-style experience into the summer break before heading off to college. It’s called the ‘snap year’ and it’s a misnomer because it’s not a year at all.
These days, due to the poor economy and job losses, people of all ages are hitting the road with a backpack to save money while they travel.
What follows assumes that you’ve taken the time to research your destination. You understand what local customs you may need to adhere to (a headscarf for women in Muslim countries, for example), what vaccinations you need, whether you need a visa or not, and what kind of medical facilities are available. You can research your destination in a number of ways but starting with the U.S. State Department website is always a good overview.
What follows also assumes you’ve taken the time to choose the right backpack. There are loads of websites that will help you, but the best way to be certain is to take a practice trip with your backpack. Only then will you know what you really need to pack and what can be left behind. Remember, you can do laundry at almost any hostel and you can buy laundry detergent almost anywhere you go.
If you’re taking a backpacking trip anytime soon, or know someone who is, review these backpacker travel safety tips before you go.
1. Take a Defense Class Before You Go
You can find self-defense classes everywhere. You’ll learn some safety strategies and how to defend yourself against attackers should you need it. You won’t be able to take on a well-trained and experienced criminal, but you’ll have more confidence if you find yourself facing a common mugger.
2. Sew Hidden Pockets into Your Pants
In lieu of a money belt, sew hidden pockets into your pants and carry those valuable items (cash, credit cards, passport, etc.) in those pockets. If a mugger searches under your clothes for a money belt, they won’t find one. Pockets can be easily hidden in the pant legs with a little seamstress skill. Don’t have the sewing skills? No problem. Call a tailor (your local dry cleaning establishment usually knows one) or post an ad to Craigslist to find someone who can alter your travel pants with pockets.
See Safe Travelers Love Money Belts for more useful hints.
3. Update your Travel Medical Kit
Depending on where you are going, you’ll want to update your travel medical kit. If you’re backpacking in Africa, for example, you are encouraged to bring mefloquine, atovaquone-proguanil, or doxycycline with them from home and not rely on locally acquired drugs.
Do a little research on the health conditions for your destination and update your travel medical kit accordingly. Pack small amounts of things like sunscreen and hand sanitizer that you can pick up at stores when you arrive instead of carrying as much as you’ll need for the entire trip.
See What’s in your Travel Medical Kit for a list of recommended items.
4. Pack a Doorstop and a Cable Lock
A doorstop is an inexpensive safety device. Stick it under the door when you’re locked safely into your room at night and you have one of the simplest way to prevent someone from breaking in. Room keys can be stolen, locks can be jiggered, but a doorstop keeps the door in place.
A cable lock helps you lock your valuables to an immovable object – like the toilet plumbing – if you want to drop some of your load and explore sans the backpack.
See 5 Techniques to Keep Valuables Safe while Traveling for more tips.
5. Divide your Cash
The majority of your cash should be divided into multiple hiding places. Some in your hidden pockets (so you can step into a restroom and access it if necessary) and some hidden in your backpack (tuck it in a plastic bag in the bottom of your pack or in the hidden pocket of your spare set of pants).
By dividing up your cash, you ensure you don’t lose it all if you are robbed. Keep only the amount you need today in an old, beat-up wallet shoved way down into the front pocket of your pants.
See Preventing Serious Cash Losses with a Fake Travel Wallet for more tips.
6. Resurrect an old Cell Phone
A backpacking trip is not the best time to take your expensive electronics. You’ll find Internet cafes everywhere so you can catch up on email. If you dig out an old cell phone, you can stick a local SIM card in it to keep in touch and not worry about losing it. Plus, your travel insurance plan has limits on how much it will pay out for electronics.
Don’t forget to store the emergency number – the equivalent of 911 for the country you are visiting – in your phone before you go.
7. Pack your Resume
Yep, you read that right. If you get robbed or run out of money and need to get a job to earn money, you’ll be glad you had this document handy. You can email it to yourself, store it in a cloud, or have it on a flash drive, but it’s a good idea just in case.
See the 4 Best Backup Methods for your Travel Documents for details.
8. Buy Travel Medical Insurance
It’s inexpensive and if you are injured or get sick, you’ll be happy knowing that the insurance company will cover your medical care no matter where you are traveling. Plus, it has a number of other benefits, including helping you get home quick if there’s an emergency and emergency medical evacuation coverage if you are facing a medical emergency and there are no local medical facilities.
Don’t forget to brush up on your foreign bathroom safety tips too!