'Gap Year' Perils Can Be Reduced Advises Leading Travel Lawyer

Student Travel Risks

18.04.2008


The dangers of travel in what are known as 'gap years' have been highlighted following the Ecuador bus crash in which five young Britons were killed, four of whom were on a year out from University.

An estimated 230,000 young Britons travel abroad during gap years and whilst the advantages of this form of travel normally far outweigh the dangers, leading travel lawyer Clive Garner from law firm Irwin Mitchell says that tour operators need to do more to reduce these risks, and that travellers, and their parents, can do more by way of precaution.

Clive Garner says today, "For thousands of students, their 'gap year' will provide fun and essential lessons in life, broadening their outlook and enabling them to experience new and different cultures.

"Every year, however, we are instructed by students who have been injured, sometimes very seriously, while travelling abroad during their gap year. It is always a tragedy but we are also often asked to help the families of students who have died abroad.

"Even when using reputable providers of gap year travel, things can go wrong, particularly when travel or other services are subcontracted to local agents. In turn, sometimes the agents employ staff without the necessary skills or experience and this is often when things go wrong.

"Unsurprisingly, the most exciting activities will often carry the highest risk of injury, but simple steps can reduce the risk of things going badly wrong without spoiling the experience itself."

The travel law team at Irwin Mitchell have provided the following tips for people, and their parents, planning a gap year:

Research your destination well and research any providers of tour or other services. Use the internet to read reviews from others (sites such as www.gapyear.com and www.gapyearreview.co.uk) provide lots of helpful information and the Foreign Office website (www.fco.gov.uk) provides insight into areas known to present a high risk to safety.

Ensure you take out adequate travel insurance. Medical expenses can quickly mount up and in some countries medical treatment will not be provided unless you have the means to pay for it.
 
If you are planning on undertaking 'hazardous activities' such as bungee jumping, sky diving, etc, ensure that your travel insurance policy covers you for relevant activities. If it doesn't, get top up cover to ensure you are protected.

If your insurance does not cover you for such activities, check to ensure that you are covered under the insurance policy of the company organising the activity. If you are, check its terms. If there is no such cover, or the cover is inadequate, seek additional insurance protection before you undertake the activity.

If a company asks you to sign a form waiving any claim you may have against them in the event of an accident, the activity is likely to have risks attached to it. Ask questions about the nature, and extent of the risk to ensure you are properly informed. In many countries these waivers are unenforceable but not in all so signing such a disclaimer may leave you without a remedy if something does go wrong. So think very carefully before you sign!

Keep your passport in a separate place from the rest of your belongings. It may be wise to leave a copy with your family or a friend so that a copy can be emailed to you if you lose it.

Leave some money with your family or a friend so that if you run out of money part way through your trip, you can arrange for more money to be sent to you.

Take a list of emergency phone numbers with you and keep it handy. You may want to keep the number of the nearest British Embassy/Consulate Office, the numbers of local hospitals and the numbers of your insurers on this list as well as contact details for your next of kin.

Be aware of the cultural heritage of the country you are travelling to and the attitudes that this may lead to taking time to learn a little of the culture so that you don't unwittingly offend local people.

If you are the victim of crime, contact the police immediately.

If something does go wrong do try and gather evidence which may be of help to you later in establishing a claim. Obtain photos or video evidence, names and contact details of any potential witnesses, report the accident to the local police and obtain the names of the investigating officers.

If an accident does happen while you are abroad, contact solicitors with specialist experience as early as possible after the incident to get advice as to any claims you may be able to make to recover compensation for your injuries and/or to recover any financial loss.
 
If an accident does happen while you are abroad, as soon as you return home seek advice from solicitors with specialist experience in handling accident claims arising abroad. Claims arising abroad are often complex, but specialist solicitors should be able to help you to recover fair compensation for your injuries and any financial losses.