Adventure travel is now a popular way to explore new and more remote destinations while at the same time testing your physical abilities, and it may be that the people who choose to undertake this type of travel are seeking to achieve a rush from stepping outside their comfort zone. Tour operators have come to the party, making it all possible by offering activities such as mountaineering, trekking, bungee jumping, mountain biking, rafting, zip-lining, paragliding and rock climbing. There are even some obscure forms of adventure travel which include disaster and ghetto tourism.
For a more intense experience, just add challenging terrain, extreme weather, isolated locations and lengthy durations. What this does mean though, is travelling to very remote areas or even further ‘off the beaten track’ in order to be adventurous requires more consideration, preparation and an ability for self-management.
UNDERSTAND THE RISKS
Adventure activities will inherently pose some risk of injury and the remote locations can present additional pitfalls that need to be measured and planned for. Even a minor injury or illness in a remote setting, along with language barriers and limited transport options can be disastrous. Consideration should be given to the following:
- Possibility of limited or no access to good medical care
- Unreliable communication which may delay emergency response
- Extreme weather conditions, sometimes suddenly and unexpected – cold or heat
- Increased physical exertion needing careful management to ensure peak performance – food, water, sleep, rest
- Unexpected weather changes making safety more challenging and rescue efforts more difficult
- Altitude illness – condition must be well understood and well managed as it can be fatal
QUESTIONS FOR YOURSELF:
- Am I healthy and fit enough for the type of trip I am planning?
- Do I know all the risks involved?
- Am I prepared and have the ability to manage the risks?
QUESTIONS FOR THE TOUR COMPANY:
About your guides –
- Do they speak English?
- What training have they undergone and are they experienced in the travel planned?
- Can you access references from previous tour groups/ travellers?
About emergencies –
- If something happens, who will manage the situation?
- What systems are in place?
- Is emergency equipment carried by the guides? What types?
- Travel Health Provider - Make an appointment with a travel health provider 6-8 weeks before you leave and discuss your itinerary and planned adventure activities to ensure you have the relevant vaccinations, medications and knowledge.
- Fitness - Train for your trip, gradually building up your stamina. Many adventure tours and activities can be physically demanding (i.e. mountain climbing), so it’s vital to be in peak shape for your trip.
- Insurance - Make sure you have health insurance that will cover you for specific sports or activities and cover you in case of emergency and/or evacuation. Many policies don’t insure adventurous activities by default so look for the option to pay extra for specific activities. Ensure you declare all relevant details of your plans and read the product disclosure statement (PDS) carefully.
- Contact – Worst case scenario and you are injured or your documents are stolen, leaving copies of your itinerary, contact information, credit cards and passport with a responsible person at home (or scan them into the cloud or your email account) will make follow-up easier. Also make sure someone at home knows how to reach you in an emergency, and carry your emergency contacts with you at all times.
- Medical – Pack a decent first aid kit and one for gastro-intestinal infections, plus any prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines (enough to last your whole trip, plus a little extra, just in case), insect repellent, sunscreen and hand sanitiser. Additional items will depend on the remote nature of your travel: spare batteries and power pack, headlamp, maps, duct tape, safety pins, multi- tool, thermometer, cable ties, toilet paper, matches etc.
- Licensing - Ensure your provider is properly licensed for your activity; always confirm they're a legal operation.
- Terrorism - Know the current terrorist threat or political unrest at your destination.
- Smartraveller – DFAT no longer offers a registration service for overseas travel. Now, in the event of a ‘situation’ overseas which could impact Australians, a crisis page will be activated requesting our nationals to contact the department.
DURING TRAVEL – Minimise your risks
- Protective gear - Wear protective gear (such as a helmet or life jacket) when participating in adventure activities, and follow the guides’ safety instructions.
- Equipment quality – Inspect to make sure the gear the tour company is supplying is in good condition and in proper working order.
- Temperature exposure - When travelling to extremely hot or cold climates, there are ways of minimising temperature-related illnesses and injuries: Avoiding activities during the middle of the day in hotter climates and wearing warm clothing with several loose layers in colder climates. Learn about the correct management of stress caused by heat and cold.
- Sun exposure - Wear sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. Sun exposure is more intense at higher altitudes.
- Water safety - Be careful when swimming, boating and diving. Remember that alcohol/drugs and water activities do not mix.
- Altitude Illness– Learn the signs and symptoms of altitude illness and how to minimise the risk through acclimatisation eg; by ascending gradually. Consider altitude medication management options.
- Lava and toxic gas - If hiking near an active volcano, protect yourself from toxic gases by wearing safety gear, including an appropriate respirator mask.
- Prevention of insect bites – Use an effective insect repellent and mosquito net to protect against diseases spread by mosquitoes, ticks, sand flies and other bugs.
- Avoid animal contact - Including pets, livestock and wild animals. In addition to the risk of rabies, all animal bites carry a risk of bacterial infection. Discuss rabies vaccinations and treatment protocols with your travel health provider.
- Wear seat belts and choose safer transport options - In resource-poor settings, road conditions may be hazardous: inferior road surfaces, no road shoulders, unprotected curves and cliffs and poor lighting.
- Food - If you’re visiting a developing country, eat only food that has been fully cooked and served hot. Don’t eat fresh vegetables or fruits unless you can wash or peel them yourself.
- Water - Drink only bottled, sealed beverages, and avoid ice. If you are camping, hiking, or staying in a remote area, carry water filter treatments.
- Know the law - Many extreme sports are either heavily regulated, or illegal. Find out if your activity is legal in your destination, and stay within the law.
- Permits - Check if a permit is required for the adventure you are undertaking and arrange prior to travel if possible.
- Research local medical facilities – IAMAT (International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers) has a list of English-speaking doctors in every corner of the globe. IAMAT is a non-profit organisation (established in 1960) and you can join by submitting a donation - it takes about 4 weeks for the information to arrive.
- If you do have any medical (or dental) treatment while you are overseas, ensure you have all details of any medications/vaccines given (names, batch numbers, routes and dates of administration) as well as contact details for the clinic you attended.
WHERE TO GET HELP overseas
You won’t have access to the usual support systems you're accustomed to in Australia so you'll need to seek support locally, and from friends, family and your travel insurer.
Please be aware that the Australian Government can only help in certain circumstances. In many instances, you must exhaust all other avenues before seeking consular assistance.
In the event of an emergency, contact your nearest Australian embassy or consulate.
Some travel-related illnesses may not cause symptoms until you get home. Make an appointment to see your doctor and provide him or her with all relevant details of your itinerary and activities for the entire trip.
US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/travel-to-the-extreme
Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/adventure_travel.htm
Tusker Geographica: https://www.tusker.com/Geografica/the-risks-of-adventure-travel/
Adventure Travel: CDC Travellers Health Yellow Book Chapter 9 https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/travel-for-work-other-reasons/adventure-travel