Each year, more Aussie school leavers are heading overseas to celebrate the end of their studies. If you're one of them, this may be your first trip overseas, or your first with just your friends, so there are a few things you should know and do before you go.
Remember that when you leave Australia you leave behind the support systems, emergency services and medical facilities we all take for granted at home. If you plan well and make smart choices, your Schoolies/Leavers trip can be the experience of a lifetime. Our tips below will help you prepare.
Research your destination and read the travel advice
Check out the Smartraveller travel advice for the country you are planning on visiting. It will give you information about the safety and security situation in the country, local laws and customs, and more. Subscribe to the advice to receive free email updates if anything changes before you go or while you're away.
Travel advice for popular Schoolies and Leavers destinations are below, and are on our travel advice page.
Get travel insurance
Expect the unexpected – nobody is immune from an accident and you should be aware that costs for medical assistance overseas can be as high as $100,000. If something goes wrong and you don't have appropriate travel insurance, you, your friends or your family back home will be personally responsible for your costs.
Appropriate travel insurance should cover your medical treatment for illness or injury while overseas, as well as lost valuables or theft.
Remember to get covered for any activities you might take up, such as hiring a jetski, scooter, quadbike or car. Keep in mind that no license, no helmet and using drugs or alcohol (or other reckless or illegal behaviour) can all mean no insurance payout.
Don't know where to start? Check out our travel insurance buying guide to help you work out the fine print.
Register your travel plans
Once you have locked in your travel plans, register your destination and contact details with Smartraveller- it's quick and free. You can even register your group of friends together – phone us on 1300 555 135 (option 3) and ask for a group registration form.
Check your passport
Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. If you still have a child's passport, remember it is only valid for five years, not ten. If you need a new passport, organise it well in advance of your holiday. See the Australian Passport Office website for more information.
See a doctor before you go
You might need new vaccinations or boosters for your destination, so it's a good idea to see a doctor in the weeks before you leave. The World Health Organization (WHO) and our health page provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy. If you're on medication, make sure it's legal in the country you're visiting. At a minimum, carry a letter from your doctor explaining what the medication is, how much you'll be taking with you and that it's for your own personal use, and leave the medication in its original packaging. Also check with your doctor about drinking alcohol while you're on your medication – mixing alcohol and certain medications, such as anti-depressants, can have serious effects on your health and mental wellbeing.
Keep in touch
Always leave a copy of your itinerary stuck to the fridge at home, but once the celebrations start, don't forget to still keep in regular contact with your family. Call, text, email, update Facebook – do whatever is best to let them know where and how you are. Write down your essential phone numbers for emergencies and carry them with your passport, just in case your phone is lost, stolen or falls in the pool.
Subscribe online to our travel advice for the country you're visiting to get automatic updates straight to your inbox. You can like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and we'll let you know about any new safety or security issues.
You can also have the latest information and advice on the go with our mobile website and iPhone app. Download it free from the app store.
Look after your mates
Often when young Aussies get into difficulty overseas it's after becoming separated from their friends. 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 a place to meet in case you get separated or lose phone reception. Make sure everyone in your group knows the name, address and phone number of your hotel.
Don't let a friend go home alone, or with someone they just met.
If you think a friend needs medical attention, don't delay – your hotel should be able to help you contact a doctor.
Don't break the law
The laws and penalties of the country you are visiting will apply to you, even if they seem harsh by Australian standards. There are strict limits on what the Australian government can do to help you if you find yourself in trouble with the law in another country.
Remember, being charged with a criminal offence can have long term consequences, including limiting your career or future travel options.
Don't carry or consume drugs overseas. Ever.
Many countries in our region have tough penalties for people arrested with drugs, including life imprisonment or death. Possession of even small quantities of 'soft drugs' such as marijuana can attract lengthy jail sentences. Don't expect to be treated differently from the locals just because you're Australian. Even if you're under 18, you may be treated as an adult and held in an adult prison.
A number of Australians have been injured, fallen sick or have been arrested after using magic mushrooms overseas. Magic mushrooms can cause major health problems such as severe hallucinations, erratic behaviour, anxiety and even psychosis. We strongly recommend you avoid them.
Watch your drinks
Find out the legal drinking age in the location you are visiting – it may not be 18 and may vary depending on the type of drink. Know your limits, and be aware drinks may be much stronger than in Australia.
Being drunk increases your risk of being injured, robbed or assaulted. And if any of these things happen because you've been drinking, your insurance may not cover you.
Protect yourself from drink spiking. Don't accept drinks from strangers and never leave drinks unattended. If you're not 100% sure that your drink is safe, leave it – it's not worth the risk.
Alcoholic drinks can be mixed with harmful substances, particularly methanol, which can cause serious illness, blindness, brain injury or death. 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, may have been affected by methanol or other poisoning, you need to act quickly to get 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.
Drinking too much can increase the likelihood of being involved in violence. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to start a fight with you, avoid retaliating and walk away.
The laws and penalties for fights, even between friends, can be much harsher than in Australia. You can end up spending days or weeks in adult prison, even while investigations are taking place.
Party venues overseas, such as clubs, bars and festival sites, might not have the same strict safety standards as at home. Use your judgement – if you are concerned that a venue is becoming too crowded, it's probably time to get out and move on. Nightclub fires, balcony collapses and crowd crushes do occur overseas. Simple steps like checking the nearest exit and thinking of an alternate way out are a smart move. And if you see something suspicious, report it to the staff.
Take care around water
Rough seas and strong currents have led to numerous drownings in coastal resort areas, including in Bali and Phuket. Even if you're a strong swimmer, you should always obey the warnings and consult local information sources about potential water hazards. Local beach rescue services may not be of the same standard as in Australia. Like at home, don't swim if you've been drinking.
Choose safe transport options
Sadly, it is not unusual for Australians to be seriously injured or killed in motorcycle accidents in popular tourist areas overseas. If you're not an experienced motorcycle rider back home, Schoolies is not the time to try it. Even if you do hold a license back home, check with your travel insurer about whether you'll be covered by your policy (the same goes for scooters, quadbikes, jetskis and adventure sports). Always wear a helmet, respect local road rules and don't drink and ride.
Operators may ask to hold your passport as a deposit or guarantee before hiring vehicles. Passports are valuable documents that should be protected, so we recommend that you offer a photocopy or another form of ID instead. If they insist on holding your passport, change operators. Be aware of common overseas scams, including when hiring jetskis, motorcycles and cars.
Transport safety standards are different overseas, so you should never use taxis, buses, trains or boats that are overcrowded or look unsafe. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if the locals don't. Avoid having to travel in ferries and speedboats after dark. If you're heading out for the night, plan a few different options for getting home - finding out what time the last public transport service runs (or what time it starts again in the morning) is a good start.
Avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault
Sexual assault is a traumatic experience for anyone, particularly when travelling overseas and away from home. Assaults can happen to both men and women. Our Sexual Assault Overseas page provides advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault, and to provide advice to victims of sexual assault and their families if it does happen while overseas.
If you're planning on taking an Alternative Schoolies/Leavers trip to volunteer overseas, take a look at our Volunteering overseas page. Make sure you also check the travel advice for your destination and obtain an appropriate visa – many countries will not allow you to undertake any form of work, including unpaid, on a tourist visa.
Ask for help if you need it
If something serious happens and you don't know how to handle it, don't feel bad about asking for help. Local authorities, such as tourist police, should be your first point of contact, together with friends and family. Remember that travel insurance companies will often require a police report for crimes.
If you need Australian government assistance, you can contact the consular section of the Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate-General at your destination. Contact details are in the country travel advice. You can also contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305.
The Australian Government will do what it can to help, however, there are legal and practical limits to what consular officers can do for Australians overseas. More information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help if you get into trouble overseas is available in the Consular Services Charter.