Large numbers of Australians get into trouble overseas as a direct result of partying too hard and forgetting about simple safety precautions. Parties and festivals like Full Moon Parties in Koh Phangan, Thailand and Oktoberfest in Germany can be fun experiences but drinking too much or taking drugs can put you in difficult and often dangerous situations far from home. Check out our top ten tips and make sure your trip is memorable for all the right reasons.
Decide where and when you are going and what your transport options are, especially if you don't know the city backwards yet. If you are catching public transport home, ask what time the last service runs. Never use taxis, buses, trains or boats that are overcrowded or look unsafe and try to avoid having to travel in ferries and speedboats after dark.
Know your alcohol limits
When you are drunk your judgment is affected, and you are more likely to take risks and make poor decisions. At best, your hangover will mean you waste a valuable day of your holiday inside with the lights out. At worst, you could be injured, robbed, sexually assaulted or arrested. Insurance policies may not provide cover for injuries or losses sustained under the influence. Like at home, never drive or swim if you have been drinking.
Beware of drink spiking
Never accept drinks from strangers or leave your drink unattended. If you're unsure if a drink is safe, leave it – it's not worth the risk. If you feel dizzy or sick, tell your friends and ask someone you trust and know well to take you to a safe place. Remember to keep an eye on your friends at all times. If a friend collapses, seek medical care immediately and don't leave them alone.
Alcoholic drinks can be mixed with harmful substances, particularly methanol, which can cause serious illness, blindness, brain injury or death. If you suspect that you or a companion may have been poisoned, you need to act quickly and get urgent medical attention. Symptoms of methanol poisoning can include fatigue, headaches and nausea, similar to the effects as excessive drinking, but with pronounced vision problems that may include blurred or snowfield vision, flashes of light, tunnel vision, changes in colour perception, dilated pupils, difficulty looking at bright lights, or blindness. If you suspect that you, or anyone you are travelling with, have been affected by methanol or other poisoning, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention, which could be vital in avoiding permanent disability or death. All suspected cases of methanol poisoning should be reported to local police.
Don't use drugs
Importing, buying, carrying or taking drugs incurs serious penalties in most countries, including the death penalty, which apply equally to foreigners. Each year many Aussie travellers are arrested overseas on drug charges, and our government is limited in what we can do to help. Don't become another Aussie wasting years of their life in a foreign prison because of one bad decision.
Even if you don't get caught, taking drugs will reduce your ability to make considered decisions and will make you more likely to become a victim of violence, robbery or sexual assault. For more information, see our Drugs page.
Take care of your mates
Australians frequently get into difficulty at Full Moon and other parties and festivals overseas after becoming separated from their friends. Don't leave your mates alone - keep in regular contact and be aware of where people in your group are. Make sure you have your friends' mobile numbers and organise a time and place to meet in case you get separated. This will also be handy if your phone battery runs out or there is no coverage where you are. Make sure everyone in your group knows the hotel name, phone number and address.
Remember, it could be dangerous to go home alone or with someone you have just met, particularly if you are unfamiliar with your surroundings.
Be aware that party venues overseas might not have the same safety standards you are accustomed to. If you are concerned that a venue is becoming too crowded, it would be wise to move on. Nightclub fires, balcony collapses and crowd crushes can occur. Taking simple steps such as checking the nearest exit or thinking of an alternate way out can be a smart move.
Look after your gear
Avoid carrying your passport, large amounts of cash, multiple credit cards or other valuables to parties and clubs. Ensure these valuables are safely secured at your hotel before going out for the night. There's nothing worse than filling in police reports and organising a new passport while your mates are still out having a ball.
Mobile phones are incredibly useful, but they're no good if they're lost, stolen, or fall in the pool. It makes sense to write down some key numbers for friends and family and keep them with your passport.
Don't get ripped off
Before entering or ordering in a bar, restaurant or other establishment, check the price list. If you don't, you may find yourself with an unexpectedly large bill which you might be forced to pay under duress before you can leave. Be aware that in some bars there is strong coercion to buy drinks for others, such as bar girls, and these drinks are usually very expensive. A good practice in unfamiliar establishments is to pay for your drinks upfront.
The only Aussies fighting overseas should be boxers wearing the green and gold. For everyone else, it just isn’t on. If someone tries to start a fight with you, avoid retaliating and walk away. Overseas, the laws and penalties for physical altercations, even between friends, can be much harsher than in Australia.
Stay in touch
Call, text or email family and friends at home regularly and let them know where you are. Facebook and other social media updates are a good way to stay in touch. Remember, friends and family will worry if they haven’t heard from you, so drop them a line to let them know what a great time you’re having. Staying in regular contact also means that it will be easier to find you in an emergency.
Before heading overseas
- Organise comprehensive travel insurance to cover hospital treatment, medical evacuation and any activities you plan to participate in. Check the circumstances and activities that are not covered by your policy. Medical care can be very expensive and the Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.
- Register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency.
- Subscribe to the travel advice for your destination so you can be notified by email of any updates.
Getting help overseas
The Australian Government will do what it can to help Australians in difficulty overseas. However, you need to remember that when you go abroad you leave behind Australia's support systems, emergency service capabilities and emergency facilities. There are legal and practical limits to what consular officers can do for travellers overseas. More information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available in the Consular Services Charter.
The 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) in Canberra can also be contacted for assistance from anywhere in the world on +61 2 6261 3305.
Australians overseas who need counselling services can contact our Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 to be transferred to a Lifeline telephone counsellor.