The travel editor replies to a reader concerned about the safety of his 19-year-old daughter on her gap year.
Ask the Expert: How to stay safe while travelling
Q: My 19-year-old daughter is going on a solo round-the-world trip next month before starting university. While I am happy for her to travel and am proud of her for doing so, I am secretly worried about her safety. Is there any practical advice you can offer which won't make it sound like I am preaching to her?
A. Yes. Although the dangers of travel are often overstated, and the benefits usually far outweigh the risks, it is important to make sure that your daughter is made aware of all the potential dangers she may face travelling alone, and knows how to minimise the chances of her getting into situations which make her more vulnerable than necessary. The good news is that the best advice is for her to use common sense and to trust her instincts. Most problems occur when people go away feeling invulnerable, and take risks in other countries which they would not take in their home countries (even the UAE).
Preparation is key. While your daughter will probably not want to have all her accommodation or even her routes finalised beforehand, it's important to make sure that she factors in enough time to get to all of her destinations and find somewhere safe to stay. Guidebooks and websites can help by giving a list of reputable hostels and guesthouses, so before arriving anywhere, your daughter should have at least a rough idea of where she is going and where the various hostels are located. For this reason it's important to choose guidebooks with good maps also showing where bus and train stations are situated. Ideally, she will have researched and made a reservation some days before; if not, your daughter should have several options lined up in case her first or second choices are not available. She should always aim to arrive in a destination during daylight hours and should either walk to her accommodation or use shared transport to get there. Getting into unlicensed cars is a risk not worth taking anywhere in the world, however tired you are.
In some parts of Asia transport is restricted to tuk-tuks and sometimes even motorbikes - while the former are usually safe, it's a good idea to know where you are going or to at least look like you do. Even if she isn't feeling confident, when she is on her own your daughter should always give the impression that she is familiar with her surroundings.
Your daughter can also lessen the risks by meeting and sharing information with other travellers, whom she may then be able to travel on with. There is strength in numbers, but this still doesn't mean that she should let her guard down. Your daughter should always carry a map and keep the number of night trips to a minimum. Spending a few days in each place not only allows you more time to experience a destination but it gives you time to do so safely and to plan the next stage of your adventure. If in doubt, your daughter should ask local people or police for help.
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