Guide to Staying Safe Abroad

Published on Sunday 11 September 2016

Guide to Staying Safe Abroad

Whether you’re booking a holiday abroad, the travelling adventure of a lifetime or embarking on a medical volunteer placement in a less developed area, the next thought often isn’t about how to stay safe abroad. You’re more likely thinking of the fun you’ll have and the memories you are set to make.

But safety should be your number one priority no matter where you are travelling or your reasons for going. There’s certainly a lot to consider both before and whilst you’re abroad, so take a look at our guide and make safety the top of your agenda.

Do Your Research

Once you have decided where to go, the next thing to do is to check the safety and security locally. You can find out the essential information on government websites. The UK Foreign Office, US State Department, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and most government foreign services will provide you with travel briefings. They will tell you if you should avoid travelling to a country and about the current political stability and safety issues.

Do be aware that they are obliged to tell the story warts and all. Be reassured by phrases like ‘Most visits are trouble free…” and take heed of some warnings like “We advise against all but essential travel”!

Don’t Show and Tell

When you’re exploring it’s more than likely that you’ll want to use the map app on your smartphone or snapping away on your fancy camera. But try you absolute hardest to keep this to a minimum as you’re effectively making yourself a walking advert for a gadget shop.

Keep valuable items in a secure backpack or bag and where possible try to wear it so that the opening faces inwards to you rather than outwards, thus making it harder for anyone to get into it.

Hide your money

If you’re going to a much less privileged country or neighbourhood then don’t flash the cash. It’s likely you’ll stand out from the crowd as it is, but try to blend in as much as possible to avoid becoming the target.

Don’t change all your money at once and keep cards and excess cash secure. If you do have large amounts of cash on you, divide it up and keep it in various pockets so you are not bringing out a massive wad of cash when paying for a bus ticket or bottle of water!

Money belts are useful but in hot and sweaty countries are uncomfortable to wear everyday.

Scan Important Documents

You’re going to need a fair few important documents whilst you’re abroad – especially if you’re volunteering – and whilst you may try to keep them as safe as possible, sometimes things sadly get misplaced or lost forevermore.

Some countries require you to carry identification documents at all times. Scan copies of important documents such as your passport and visa, and email yourself essential paperwork you need throughout your stay. It’s always a good idea to have a backup, as even the safest of hands can still lose items. And remember to keep your accommodation details on you too if you’re prone to a bout of forgetfulness.

Be Wary of Using Personal Details

You won’t always be able to find wifi so you’ll often need to use internet cafés. You may have made friends with the owner and trust them, but if you don’t have to then avoid typing in your personal or bank details in online. Always look for the ‘Secure Visa’ mark if you do have to. Most browsers have an incognito or private option which prevents passwords typed into banking or facebook apps being stored on the computer.

Be cautious about handing over your passport number or personal details when you’re in a face to face environment too. That’s not to say that everyone is out to get you. Far from it. But you don’t want critical personal information to fall into the wrong hands, especially abroad when you aren’t used to the rules and regulations.


Whatever you do, don’t travel without making sure you have a fully compressive insurance package in place for your trip. You can do all the forward planning in the world and things can still go wrong, so make sure you have the right protection in place.

A good insurance policy will protect you when luggage goes missing, cancellations, delays, emergency assistance and medical cover. Plus, it’s so simple to sort out and isn’t a costly expense at all when compared to the costs you could face if you fail to invest.

Find a Trusted Friend

You may be tempted to want to explore on your own and feel the freedom that exploring a new country on your own brings but don’t put your safety at risk. Try to travel with a trusted friend, and always travel in a group or at the very least in pairs.

Always let someone know in the group or back at home where you are going. If you do go out on your own, then try to walk near another group of people to avoid standing out as a single person.

The Roads and Public Transport

Vehicle maintenance, road conditions and the standard of driving overseas are very different to home. Therefore, the biggest risk to your personal safety is travelling on the roads.

When using public transport, choose the safest looking bus or taxi. The vehicle is unlikely to be as well maintained as home but if it looks fundamentally unsafe avoid it – there will be plenty of opportunity to use another vehicle. The same goes for the driver. If he looks drunk, exhausted or just untrustworthy, move on.

Avoid using buses at night. If travelling home after a night out on the town, use a taxi.

Crossing the road can be an adventure in itself. If crossings exist it’s unlikely that drivers will pay any attention to it. Take extra caution when crossing the roads and look both ways. The traffic is probably coming from a different direction to what you’re used to!

Get a Health Check Up

Your health is your wealth so don’t put it at risk by forgoing a health check-up before you depart on your travels. If you’re travelling to far flung destinations then it’s more than likely you’ll need vaccinations for your trip. You should allow around 3 months before your travel date in order to make sure you have enough time to receive the course of injections.

However, you should still keep in mind regular hygiene routines are vaccinations are never 100% effective. Keep a hand sanitiser on you at all times and don’t drink the local water either if you don’t have too.

Get your teeth checked out too. The last thing you need is a dental issue miles away from good dental care!

What to Pack for your Volunteer Adventure

Published on Wednesday 7 September 2016

What to Pack for your Volunteer Adventure

You’ve booked your placement, your travel dates have been set, and you’re all ready to go – apart from packing your case. But what do you take on your volunteering adventure? Volunteering abroad is no holiday – far from it – so you’ll need a whole different set of clothes and equipment compared to what you’d usually pack for a holiday abroad.

You are unlikely to have volunteered abroad before and whilst you can of course find out from others what to pack and get their advice, everyone is different and what you take compared to the next person will vary.

To help you decide what to pack for your travel odyssey we’ve put together a handy guide of all the essentials you don’t want to forget.

The Case

It can be tempting to want to pack everything but the kitchen sink in your biggest suitcase, but volunteering is not a luxury holiday where your bags are ferried around for you and you’ll probably be surprised at how little you can actually get by with.

A travelling rucksack is the most portable option to pack your volunteering wares in. It’s best to invest in one of the big name brands to make sure you’ve got something of a high quality to go away with. Packing squares are also great to separate out your clothing items by type and allow you to quickly find what you’re looking for rather than rummaging through a stuffed backpack.

Surprisingly, we don’t discourage you from taking a case either. If you have a permanent base such as a host family or volunteer accommodation, a lockable hard case can be a good place to store the clothing and work items you don’t need to carry when heading off exploring at weekends.

A day sack is also an essential item to take in combination with a large rucksack or case. You won’t need to take everything you’ve brought with you for weekend trips so a day sack can come in handy for transporting just the clothes you need for the beach or bazaar and all the must have souvenirs!


We will give you a comprehensive list of what you’ll need for the placement and much of what you need will both depend on the length of your placement and location. However, some items are common to all placements and these are some of the must-haves.

  • Sturdy and comfortable footwear – something with a good grip and cushioning
  • Rainproof or lightweight jacket – a foldaway mac will work best if you’re short on space
  • Jumper or hoodie
  • Lightweight tops which you can layer up – the weather is often unreliable so pack items which you can add or remove as necessary
  • Shorts, skirts or trousers depending on the weather
  • Underwear and socks
  • Something relatively formal just in case
  • Swimwear

Remember that some clothing that’s acceptable at home may not be in the culture in your host country so make sure you pack items that respect other customs and religions.


Things can get pretty weighty when it comes to all the toiletries you need for your trip, so make sure you keep an eye on your weight allowance before you buy heavy duty bottles of shower gels and shampoos. It’s also worth remembering that you can buy most toiletries in shops locally so bring small travel bottles and stock up on what you need when you arrive.

However, it’s worth noting that the brands and ingredients will be very different to what you’re used to. If you have sensitive skin or hair you might want to bring enough to last the whole trip. Feminine hygiene products in particular are often very different overseas so we’d recommend bringing enough to see you through.

  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Dry shampoo
  • Brush/comb
  • Shower gel/soap
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Sun cream
  • Razor
  • Moisturiser
  • Wipes
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Tweezers
  • Nail Clippers


Taking a mini first aid kit on any type of holiday is always advisable, and even more so when volunteering abroad. Try to pack this lightly as you’ll usually be able to buy extra medical supplies if you need too. Most first aid packs have slings, bandages and trauma items you are unlikely to ever need. Here are the essentials you’ll definitely need:

  • Plasters
  • Antiseptic wipes and cream
  • Paracetamol and Ibuprofen
  • Eyewash
  • Dressings
  • Diarrhoea tablets
  • Rehydration sachets
  • Any extra medication you regularly take e.g. inhalers
  • Anti-repellent sprays
  • Bite cream


There’s always going to be a few random items you’ll need to include in your rucksack that you don’t want to be without. Here’s a few other things you may need to include:

  • Adaptors
  • Phone charger
  • Camera (and plenty of memory)
  • Torch
  • Book / e reader / tablet
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Travel towel – a microfibre one will dry quickly
  • Plastic bag to keep dirty clothes separate
  • Ear plugs and eye mask – you never know what sleeping conditions will be like
  • Money belt


There are a few essential documents you need to take with you and keep safe. It’s worth picking up a small plastic envelope wallet to keep these safe in, that way you know exactly where everything is rather than stuffed in random pockets or your rucksack.

  • Passport
  • A photocopy of your passport photo page and visa
  • Emergency contact and accommodation details
  • Health and travel insurance documents
  • Pen (essential for filling in essential arrivals immigration paperwork)
  • Money – remember to check the local currency and take a debit or travel money card as back up
  • Student ID

What NOT to Take

Tempting as it may be to take them, there are a few things you simply don’t need to take with you abroad. Try to keep your rucksack as light as possible and avoid over packing it with these items.

  • Brand new clothing or shoes – you may end up ruining items and you don’t want blisters either
  • Too many toiletries – you don’t need to volunteer in a full face of make-up or over pack on beauty items
  • Valuables – if you don’t want something to get damaged or lost then don’t bring them

Leaving for an adventure is an exciting time, but you don’t want to get too caught up that you end up missing out the essentials. Keep in mind our checklist and make a list before you begin to pack of everything you need.