Safer adventure travel and volunteering overseas

Adventurous travel, gap years, volunteering and other experiences abroad are becoming ever more popular. Whether you or an organisation make the arrangements direct or through a company, safety must be an integral part of planning and managing any successful trip.

Balancing adventure and challenge with safety

No one can guarantee safety, especially in unfamiliar and unpredictable environments, but choosing travel organisations that take good preparation and planning seriously is a good start. The FCO and BSI have created a useful checklist to help guide you in this task.

Adventure travel abroad: play it safe

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If you then need further information, continue with this detailed guide.

Checking out safety standards

Here are some tips on choosing a suitable organisation:

  • if you choose an organisation that prepares properly you are more likely to stay safe on your trip

  • don’t just assume that safety is well managed: check with whoever makes the arrangements and find out what safety standard(s) the organisers adhere to (e.g. do they use BS 8848?)

  • ask for evidence of how they do comply with the standard(s), including the provider’s responsibility for making checks on sub-contractors providing accommodation, transport and activities

  • read the contract being offered and be clear about who is responsible for all parts of the venture, including any outsourced elements, how these are checked; and ask about roles (who precisely is responsible for what)

What is BS 8848?

BS 8848 provides a rigorous framework for adventure providers to properly manage risks on adventure trips abroad. As with all British Standards, BS 8848 is voluntary. However, for a company to claim they comply with it, and for it to be effective in minimising risks, adventure providers must fully implement all the measures in the Standard.

The information provided by BS 8848 is not only for adventure providers. Individuals can also refer to it to help satisfy themselves that their potential provider has planned well, and has good procedures in place to manage safety overseas. See BSI’s guide to Safer Adventures to help you with this.

Questions to ask

Before committing to a particular trip, ask:

  • what exactly is involved in the venture and are there any risky activities planned?
  • where/what is the sleeping accommodation?
  • who is responsible for individual parts or aspects of the trip?
  • who is the person or organisation (the venture provider) with overall responsibility for all parts of the venture, including those run by third parties?
  • has the venture leader - and the team members - got sufficient training and experience of similar ventures, activities and environments?
  • are there contact details to let you ask previous participants about their experiences?
  • what level of physical fitness, experience and skill level is needed to take part?
  • is any pre-trip training required and what equipment is needed?
  • are particular vaccinations or anti malaria precautions recommended?
  • is there any guidance on coping with environment-related illnesses, for example heatstroke, or altitude sickness?
  • what evidence do they have of using the safety standard properly?

What if things go wrong?

Despite careful planning, emergencies can and do arise, so make sure are fully aware of how emergencies will be dealt with. Make sure you have answers to the following questions:

  • what are the trip provider’s insurance arrangements, particularly in relation to medical care and repatriation to UK?
  • will the provider pay for any costs directly, or will you be expected to pay and be refunded later?
  • what aspects of the venture are not covered by the provider’s insurance, and what additional insurance as a participant do you need to obtain?
  • what would happen in the event of a serious incident or emergency and how would this be dealt with?
  • what are the evacuation procedures and arrangements for emergency travel back to the UK?
  • who should I contact in the event of illness, accident or emergency, both abroad and in the UK?
  • have you given details of your insurance, and next of kin/emergency contacts to your trip organiser?

Remember, if there is no trip organiser, it is even more important to check off all these points to make arrangements for yourself to cover all these eventualities.

Making your choice

Once you have completed all your research, you need to make a decision on whether to go on a particular trip.

If you don’t get satisfactory answers to your questions: ask again. If you balance the risks against what you want to get out of the trip, and then go ahead only if you decide this is the right trip for you and that it will be properly managed. If not, you should try another provider.

Published 8 June 2015