Gap Years and Security
In 2015, 29,000 UK students deferred their placements at university to take a year out before entering academia and then (hopefully) the world of work. The rite of passage of 18-year-olds tending bars and manning café’s, slowly putting together the money for flights and hostels is familiar to many families across the UK. No numbers exist for how many Gap year travellers in the UK set off in 2016 and 2017, but given the rising popularity of the Gap Year, it is likely to be many more than 29,000.
It’s easy to mock the Gap Year student. The image of the unaware public school teen, ready to drink their body weight in cheap spirits at a full moon party in Thailand is a tempting stereotype to indulge. But I wholeheartedly disagree with this sentiment, for many young people their Gap Year is the first time they will be exposed to budgeting, planning and living with the consequences of the decisions they make. Many go to support charities across the globe helping on projects ranging from education and literacy to environmental work and medical aid. This exposure to the world, the people they meet and the work they do will often inform and shape the views and opinions of young travellers as they grow into adults.
From a security and safety perspective, Gap Year travellers are uniquely vulnerable to a range of threats. This is because they are young and tend stick out from a crowd and they are also more likely to take risks, not out of stupidity but because they have never had to face them before.
Media searches show comparatively few instances of accidents happening on Gap Years, though the worst can occur. In September 2017, 18-year-old Kit Mallinson died in Cambodia from pneumonia exacerbated by sleeping pills taken for a long bus journey. In 2015, an American teen on a Gap Year to Israel was killed in a terror attack in the West Bank. Both deaths were tragic and even worse, completely avoidable.
But how does one prepare young travellers for their trips without robbing them of independence? Blackstone Consultancy have two solutions, which if used in tandem can greatly reduce the risks that Gap Year Students will face when out in the world.
- Training and being prepared
Gap Year students are most at risk of becoming victims of petty crime, assault, accident and misadventure. But, even a small amount of training can dramatically reduce the potential risks they might face and key part of this is teaching them how to ‘assess’ risk. A key aspect of training prior to setting off should be that it encourages independence, rather than stifles it. This sentiment is echoed by Honor Wilson Fletcher MBE, (CEO of the British Exploring Society) who feels that teaching young people how to make responsible decisions and manage risk can help them in later life as well as keep them safe:
“Our Young Explorers are asked to make decisions, take on responsibility, develop appropriate risk taking – all to help them look after themselves better in any environment and to improve their skills for life and work. Our participants come from every background; we can help them do up shoe laces, get into a sleeping bag, navigate, use a satellite phone, carry a stretcher, work out how to cache water and rations and look after their team members. In order to make these learning experiences possible, we encourage degrees of autonomy and adventure that most young people haven’t encountered before”.
There are many companies (including Blackstone Consultancy) that offer travel training geared at young people and can offer a bespoke range of training solutions. These can take the form of Webinars with security professionals, face-to-face chats with experts and even full residential courses. Each course is different however many of the lessons they teach are universal, such as:
Learning Conflict management techniques, to help travellers smooth over potential misunderstandings with others whilst maintaining a cool-head and to manage potentially hostile situations, allowing everyone to stay safe.
How a traveller can manage their personal profile and footprint, so that Gap travellers stick out less and blend into a crowd more easily, preventing them from being targeted by criminals.
Managing social media accounts to ensure that data related to you, your location, your travel plans and your property does not put you at risk.
Teaching Situational Awareness allowing young people to understand the ‘atmospherics’ of their environment. If a Gap Year traveller can ‘sense’ that something is wrong and simply move away then they might have saved themselves a huge amount of difficulty further down the road. Learning when to trust your instincts to either walk away or persuade others to stop is key in helping lower risk.
Staying safe abroad, especially when travelling is more often than not an issue of awareness. Those that have that awareness taught prior to leaving will be in a far better position than those who have to learn along the way.
- Travel Tracking
Most teenagers are loath to tell their parents what they are doing, especially when travelling away for the first time. Any GPS tracking system forced upon a Gap Year traveller will likely be turned off and ignored. Despite this however, there is no doubt that a tracking solution of some type would make travel a great deal safer. However, there is a happy medium to the tracking dilemma, which is a ‘check-in’ system where users can hit a button and broadcast their GPS location.
We supply our clients and close protection officers with GardaWorld’s Crisis24 Platform (C24) on their phones. The programme also fits the Gap Year market as it is cheap, effective and easy to use. Crisis24 does not constantly track its users, so there is no feeling for Gap Year travellers that a parent or guardian is watching their every move. Instead it allows the travellers to ‘check in’ at the push of a button, giving an accurate GPS location sent via SMS therefore removing the need for expansive data roaming packages and allowing those funds to be put to much more entertaining effect. This allows travellers to track themselves only when they want (for example when travelling to a new location or when feeling nervous).
Importantly Crisis24 also provides a response panic button that a Gap Year traveller can push should the need arise. The button links with one of eight crisis-monitoring centres around the world each containing a cadre of experienced professionals. Crisis24 will of course try to get in touch with the person who hit the emergency button but if not will mobilise a full crisis response. This can include security professionals, former diplomats and even kidnap experts ready to resolve any issue that may have arisen. The app also provides global threat reports and updates as you travel, making users aware of incidents relevant to your location such as protests, elections or strikes, all of which can be invaluable if you want to stay out of trouble. There is also a hotline that users can dial that gives advice on issues ranging from immigration, transport disruptions to medical trouble.
Having a basic awareness of where their children are can help ease the anxieties of parents and the emergency button adds an additional layer of reassurance that something will be done should the worst occur.
Speaking from experience, my own Gap Year as an 18-old boy (hardly a man) in Russia, Vietnam and the USA was without a doubt one of the most well remembered periods of my life. There were also moments where my friends and I would find ourselves in trouble. Two periods in particular stand out, the first was when we tried to leave Russia on expired Visas (the authorities took a dim view and hauled us off the train to sit in a border post for the next 5-days). This was a moment when having an app like Crisis24 (such a thing did not exist at the time) would have been extremely helpful, allowing us to navigate our way out of difficulty far faster and with much less stress via it’s helpline. The other incident was a classic ‘night-out gone wrong’ in Vietnam that nearly led to my arrest and incarceration. If I had been taught even basic situational awareness, I doubt I would have followed the group of people who subsequently skipped on a hefty bar-bill, leaving me to the mercy of the authorities.
To the delight of my parents, I came home with only good stories, but there are others who have not been so lucky. With technology offering new solutions and training so readily available, there is no excuse for Gap Year students to set off unprepared into the blue. This is especially true when products exist that can keep travellers safe without losing that sense of freedom that for so many 18-20 year olds, makes the Gap Year experience so memorable.