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Each year, large numbers of young Irish people set out on backpacking adventures; exploring famous tourist sites around the world and sometimes going “off the beaten track”. While most Irish citizens will have a great experience, there are risks to be aware of, and good preparation can help avoid an experience which will ruin the holiday.
If you have decided to spend your summer or gap year exploring tropical regions, you should visit your local Tropical Medical Bureau or GP. Plan your visit to the doctor early, as some vaccinations may require follow-up four to six weeks after the initial consultation. Yellow Fever vaccination is required by some countries for immigration clearance.
While vaccinations may not be required by the countries you are visiting, you should follow the advice of the doctor. South America and South-East Asia are two of the most popular destinations for Irish back-packers and it is generally recommended for these destinations that you get protection against Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus, Diphtheria and Polio.
If you intend hiking or trekking, you are also advised to consider additional cover against Hepatitis B and Rabies.
If travelling to an area where Malaria is endemic, ask your doctor about suitable anti-malarial medication. After arrival, take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes by using bed nets and repellents, and wearing closed shoes, long sleeves and trousers.
While the risk of sexually transmitted infections should be kept in mind generally, particular caution should be taken in countries with high HIV and AIDS infection rates. You should take appropriate precautions to limit the risk of transmission through blood or sexual contact.
If you require medication, bring an adequate supply (subject to customs) and separate between your bags to mitigate the potential problems caused by loss or theft.
Further advice for specific countries can be found in the travel advice section.
Plan your trip in advance
Before you travel, or before your next destination, you should do some research and check out the reviews, tips and advice offered by other travellers - there are many trusted guidebooks and websites available for backpackers. In particular, you should ensure that tours, travels and activities are bought through respected tour agencies. This can ensure that you receive value for your money and ensure your safety if booking adventure sports activities.
Check the visa requirements for each of the countries that you intend to visit. Make sure that you have the correct visas in advance of your travel - details can be found in our country specific travel advice.
If you are planning on travelling around Europe, get a passport card. The card is valid for travel across the EU/EEA and Switzerland. It is a useful form of ID and will help protect your passport from getting lost by being kept on your person.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with friends or family at home. You should also leave a photocopy of your passport and other documents (travel insurance policy, tickets) with someone at home or a scanned copy in your email in case of an emergency.
Plan your expenses in advance and arrange for access to funds. Different countries and regions can vary greatly in the associated cost per day to travel around as a backpacker. Research the average cost per day you will need to have, allow extra for activities you wish to include (whether it is a mountain trek, a guided safari or a bungee jump) as these will push up the amount of money you need for your trip.
In many locations, it is possible to take money from the ATM using your debit card. This reduces the amount of cash that you will carry on your person and can reduce the problems if stolen. Of course, it will not be possible to find a bank machine in all places and you should carry some funds in cash or similar. You should keep your debit cards, credit cards and cash in separate locations to reduce the risk of having all stolen together.
If you run out of money, have your bank card or cash stolen, or encounter other financial difficulties, you should have arrangements in place to access additional emergency funds. Your parents, or other appropriate persons, should have your bank details to make an emergency deposit, or you should ensure that funds are available to make a transfer through a cash transfer (wire) service, such as Western Union.
Get Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is an essential for all types of travellers. As a backpacker, you might be exposed to greater risk of theft - through shared accommodations or constant travelling between destinations - and you may also be at a higher risk of illness or injury due to the choice of destinations, hikes and other adventure activities.
The price and cover offered by insurance companies can differ greatly, but a good travel insurance should cover; a) medical expenses, b) medical evacuation, c) cancellation insurance for flights or accommodation, and d) property insurance.
If you are planning to do some extreme sports – such as white water rafting, skiing, bungee jumping – make sure your policy also covers this.
Travelling on a shoe string budget means that costs are cut at every opportunity, cheap accommodation tends to be one of the main strategies used by backpackers to stretch the available funds. Hostels can be fun environments full of new and friendly faces, but you should be aware that sharing your space with a group of strangers can entail some additional risks.
You won’t want to carry all your personal items or cash with you when out for the day. Check out the hostel’s luggage facilities and keep your own lock and key for use where lockers are provided. Remember, it is important to have travel insurance in case something does get stolen.
Unless locked in a safe, avoid keeping all your valuables in the one location and ensure you keep copies of your passport.
New forms of accommodation through house rentals or shares are increasingly popular. These can leave you especially vulnerable, especially if travelling alone.
Book ahead! When you decide to leave for your next destination, take a moment to look for accommodation at your next stop. This will guarantee that you have somewhere to stay on arrival and will prevent you needing to walk around the streets (especially if arriving at night) and looking for a hostel.
Get the address and contact information of your accommodation written down in the local language.
While backpacking promotes a spirit of adventure, you should be aware of the particular risks associated with country or city that you are visiting. The Department provides travel advice for over 200 countries, you should read the advice provided for your selected countries before travelling.
Avoid taking unnecessary risks, use only official and registered transport, remain in well-populated areas after dark and avoid slums and similar areas in large cities. Be aware of local scams and be wary about unsolicited advances by strangers offering services.
Don’t stand out by wearing expensive jewellery, watches, cameras and other accessories, drawing attention to yourself and highlighting your value as a potential victim may increase the risk of being targeted. In particular, if you are carrying a reasonably large amount of cash, be careful about displaying this when paying for items in public.
Dress appropriately. In particular in some countries, certain forms of clothes may be considered offensive or unacceptable to locals. Be aware of and respect the cultural norms and adhere to local requirements.
Methanol poisoning is an issue in some countries. In Asia, and particularly in Indonesia, methanol poisoning among visitors has led to permanent blindness and death. Avoid drinking Arak in Indonesia, and anywhere you travel try to ensure that your drinks are being poured from an original, sealed bottle.
You can also register online through the Citizens Registration facility for each leg of your trip. By registering, you will allow us to easily contact you, and provide assistance - if necessary and possible - if there is an unforeseen crisis such as a natural disaster or civil unrest, or if you have a family emergency while you are overseas.
When going out as a backpacker, you will encounter similar problems as you might at home. You should not leave your drinks unintended and you should be careful not to drink excessively which may impair your decision making or leave you more vulnerable.
Be aware that drinking is not permitted in some countries and the punishment can be severe. In such countries you should avoid arriving under the influence of alcohol, or from carrying or consuming alcohol while in the country.
Some countries also have very harsh drug laws which may result in long-term imprisonment or even the death penalty.
Social standards may be different in some countries and inadvertent gestures may be interpreted as a sexual advance. Inform yourself about local norms before travelling and behave in an appropriate manner.
Working as a volunteer in a developing country context has become a popular activity for young Irish people. It combines a sense of adventure with a perceived safe structure and the opportunity to develop new skills and give back to society.
Some volunteering programs have negative effects on the regions where they are based, undercutting local jobs and failing to provide needed services in a coherent and sustainable manner. Due to the large sums involved, there is an industry built around volunteering. For these reasons, you should conduct thorough research into the volunteer organization you intend to work for. In particular you should be aware of whether the organization operates for profit, and if it adheres to local and international environmental or child protection regulations. Check out the International Volunteer Programs Association for information to guide your choice.
In addition to the quality of the volunteering, you should make sure that you will be provided with safe and reasonably comfortable living conditions. Talk to friends or family that have previously volunteered abroad, ask them about their experiences and recommendations.
When volunteering abroad, you should follow the same advice as any traveller. You may need a work visa, health vaccinations or minimum passport validity. Also, travel insurance is still considered an essential. Even though you may stay in a single location, you should ensure that your family or friends at home have a copy of your itinerary and your travel documents, you should also attempt to maintain contact with relative frequency. Don’t forget to register your travel plans with the Department which can be done online through the Citizens Registration facility or easily through the TravelWise app. To download TravelWise visit the App Store or Google Play.
Finally, as many volunteering experiences may involve spending time in rural areas, consider some basic language training and familiarise yourself with local customs in advance. This may help you to find useful information and improve your immersion experience.
Get contact details for Irish Embassies and Consulates.
Read our Know Before You Go advice on respecting local customs and laws.