Backpacking, volunteering and adventure tourism
Each year, large numbers of young Irish people set out on backpacking adventures. 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 could ruin the holiday.
If you have decided to spend time 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 some vaccinations may not be required by the countries you are visiting, you should follow your doctor’s advice.
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’ limits) 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 country-specific travel advice.
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 reputable tour agencies. This can ensure safety, especially 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, you may wish to apply for 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.
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.
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 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 budget means that cost-effective accommodation can be a popular choice. Hostels can be fun environments, but you should be aware that sharing your space with a group of strangers may entail some additional risks.
You should avoid carrying 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, particularly 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 of Foreign Affairs provides travel advice for over 200 countries and you should read the advice provided for your selected countries well in advance of travelling.
Avoid taking unnecessary risks, use only official and registered transport, remain in well-populated areas after dark and avoid areas known to be unsafe. Be aware of local scams and be wary of 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 poured from an original, sealed bottle.
You can register with us 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 risks as you might at home. You should not leave your drinks unattended and you should be mindful that drinking excessively may impair your decision making or leave you more vulnerable.
Be aware that alcohol consumption 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 is popular among young Irish people.
You should conduct thorough research into the volunteer organisation for which you intend to work. In particular you should be aware of whether the organisation operates for profit, and if it adheres to local and international environmental or child protection regulations.
We strongly recommend that you consult Forum's Global Volunteering Standard for information to guide your choice. It is also recommended to consult the Comhlámh Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Agencies.
When volunteering abroad, you should follow the same advice as any traveller. You may need a work visa, health vaccinations or minimum passport validity. Travel insurance is still considered 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.
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.