This post is written in collaboration with Fast Cover which provides fast and simple travel insurance policies to Australian backpackers of any age.
Southeast Asia continues to draw thousands of backpackers, tempting people of all ages with the low cost of living, breathtaking scenery, fantastic food and sites steeped in history. The sight of Halong Bay in Vietnam or eating pad thai from a few sheets of paper on a street in Lopuri, Thailand are memories that will stick with you forever.
Unfortunately Southeast Asia does come with a few health and safety risks BUT that shouldn’t put you off experiencing all that these countries have to offer; you can prepare and minimise the chances of running into trouble! Here’s some of the essential health and safety information you will need to know before your next trip.
Prepare for the worst
There’s nothing worse than getting sick or injured overseas, except of course when you haven’t got a first aid kit, you’re unsure of where the hospital is or you haven’t got any travel insurance in an emergency. Fast Cover travel insurance has found through an independent survey that one in five travellers become sick or injured while travelling overseas – I was one of them! Be prepared and you can minimise the damage of unexpected emergencies, you can pick up some decent travel friendly first aid kits packed with bandages, DEET based insect repellent and diarrhoea treatments that can help you stay healthy, or get better faster. Travel insurance can also provide advice at the times you need it most, arrange your medical care and cover unexpected expenses so it’s defintely worth getting!
Know the motorcycling laws
Hiring a motorcycle in Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand is incredibly easy – you can find one and ride it without any licence, helmet and the yellow bottles of petrol on side streets are very cheap! But you should weigh the risks of motorcycling before you go for it. Despite the ease with which you can get a motorcycle, in many countries you do legally require a licence. In Vietnam you’ll need a local licence for example and in Cambodia you’ll need an international licence, or you risk getting into trouble with the law. The busy, unkempt streets of these countries are also full of hazards and if your travel insurance does not provide you with cover for motorcycling, you could face some large medical bills if the worst happens so be smart with this one, be prepared, do your research and be safe – there’s plenty of horror stories!
Download a VPN app
A VPN app such as VPN Master can allow you to connect to WiFi and access your personal information more securely. That way you can be more sure your bank details aren’t seen by someone else – this is something worth considering, my bank card got cloned in Thailand which wasn’t fun!
Avoid mosquitos and wild animals
Dengue fever and malaria are still widespread through Southeast Asia so make sure you speak to your doctor before you travel and they will advise you on whether you should take malarial medications while travelling or if you’re in a high risk area. As much as we all wish we could avoid mozzies, they still somehow find their way into our clothes so prepare to fend them off with DEET-based insect repellent, light coloured clothing and mosquito nets at night if you’re in a higher-risk area.
You should also prepare to avoid bites from larger animals, including dogs and monkeys. They can be adorable yes, but the risk of rabies isn’t worth it!
Be cautious with food and water
Food poisoning is a common story across Southeast Asia – ask my buddy Kate! Never eat at a restaurant that isn’t already buzzing with people. The locals know the best places to eat! Street food can be amazing and it’s super cheap, but avoid foods that look like they’ve been sitting around in the heat all day. Across Southeast Asia, it’s safest to drink and brush your teeth with bottled water. Contaminants in local water can make you sick, so avoid ice cubes in your drinks or fruit and vegetables that have been washed in local water (unless you can peel them of course!)
Research transport companies
Unfortunately bags being stolen from the tops or undercarriage of busses isn’t unheard of and individuals offering taxi services at a higher price or selling fake tour tickets is also fairly well known. Only travel with reputable companies to reduce the risk of losing your belongings or losing money, keep your valuables with you in a small backpack at all times so that the loss of stowed luggage on a bus or train isn’t as upsetting as it could be.
Keep your money secure and separated
A money belt is still a great way to keep cash and your passport close and out of sight. Also be sure to stash some money in your luggage and your daily bag or backpack. If your cash is stolen, it can make a world of difference knowing you have some backup money. You can also investigate different travel money card options and take at least two cards with you, with one kept secure and hidden in case the other is lost or stolen.
Avoid getting drunk and taking drugs
Yes I know, having a drink overseas is all part of backpacking and having a laugh but drinking excessively can mean you are more easily targeted by opportunistic thieves or more likely to be assaulted or injure yourself. I’m not saying don’t drink, just be aware of your surroundings and stay street smart! You should also be aware of the laws surrounding drugs, as many Southeast Asian countries have harsh penalties for use and possession including lengthy prison sentences and in some cases, the death penalty. Read up before you travel and if you’re offered drugs, it’s safest to say no.
I can’t explain enough to travellers how important travel insurance is. I know it seems like an unwanted expense to fork out for because you (hopefully!) might not need it but I’ve needed mine PLENTY over the years when I’ve lost luggage, had things stolen, got sick many times and when I fractured my foot. It’s your life saver and I promise you it’ll give you peace of mind when you’re travelling so you can go and enjoy yourself with no worries!
Check out Fast Cover, they provide Australian travellers of any age with fast and simple travel insurance to give you a peace of mind when you’re travelling and their competitive with their prices too!
It includes automatic cover for 35 sports and activities including trekking, scuba diving and motorcycling – perfect for backpackers and adventurers like myself!
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