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. Australians have had their drinks spiked, had their documents stolen, been assaulted, injured, arrested, imprisoned and even killed. If you are planning to attend a Full Moon or other party or festival overseas, think about your personal safety and take appropriate precautions so that your trip is memorable for all the right reasons.
Plan before you go out
Decide where and when you are going and what your transport options are, particularly if you are not familiar with the location. If you are catching public transport home, make sure you know what time the last service runs. This includes private boats or ferries when travelling between islands, for example to attend a Full Moon Party. You should ensure that any vessel you intend to board is carrying appropriate safety equipment and that life jackets are provided and are worn. You should avoid travelling in ferries and speedboats after dark. Try to ensure you will not be travelling alone, particularly at night.
Know your alcohol limits
If you are drunk your judgment is affected, and you are more likely to take risks and make dangerous decisions. Don't drive or swim if you have been drinking. Being drunk may also increase your risk of being injured, robbed, or assaulted. Limit your intake of alcohol so that you remain aware of your surroundings. The strength of alcoholic drinks may differ from Australia. Be aware that the alcohol content of drinks is not always marked or accurate. Insurance policies may not provide cover if your injury was sustained while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Don't use drugs
The importation, purchase, possession or use of illegal drugs incurs severe penalties in most countries around the world. Each year many Australians are arrested overseas on drug charges. Many countries have strict penalties for drug offences, including the death penalty, which apply equally to Australians. In addition, drugs can reduce your ability to make considered decisions and can make you more susceptible to being injured, robbed or assaulted.
Stay in a group
Australians frequently get into difficulty at Full Moon and other parties and festivals overseas after becoming separated from their friends. Don't leave your friends 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 place to meet in case you get separated. Remember, it could be dangerous to go home alone or with someone you have just met, particularly if you are unfamiliar with your surroundings.
A group of friends attended a Full Moon Party held on Koh Phangan in Thailand. One member of the group decided to return to the hotel early, as she was not feeling well. She left the party on her own. A man who was at the party followed the woman back to her hotel and sexually assaulted her. Her friends did not know what had happened until she told them the next morning. When attending Full Moon Parties with friends, it is important to stay together to ensure the safety of everyone in the group. This may mean escorting a friend back to their accommodation, particularly if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs - don't let your friends be the next victim of crime.
Protect your valuables
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 so that you don't have to spend valuable holiday time and money organising for a passport to be reissued or funds to be sent from home.
Check prices and services
Before entering or ordering services in a bar, restaurant or other establishment that you or your friends are not familiar with, check that it has readily available price lists for food, drinks and other services it may offer. 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, for example for bar girls, and these drinks may be very expensive. A good practice in unfamiliar establishments is to always pay for any drinks as they are purchased.
Two Australian men travelling in Europe accepted the recommendations of a friendly taxi driver and went to a downtown bar where they shared some light drinks and food. There were no prices on display, although the barman advised that beers were about AUD13. After an hour or so, when they were preparing to leave the bar, the friends were presented with a bill for the equivalent of thousands of Australian dollars. One person was held at the bar while the other was taken to a nearby ATM by a number of 'security guards' and forced to withdraw large amounts of cash.
Beware of drink spiking
Do not accept drinks from strangers or leave your drink unattended. If you are unsure about whether your drink is safe, leave it. If you feel dizzy or sick, tell your friends or staff immediately, and ask someone you trust to take you to a safe place. Remember to keep an eye on your friends at all times. If someone collapses and is unconscious, seek medical care immediately and don't leave them alone.
A young Australian traveller went into a local bar to sample the night life. He bought himself a drink and left it on the bar while he went to the toilet. He woke the next morning lying underneath an ATM in the street. He had been drugged, sexually assaulted and robbed.
Avoid getting into fights
Excessive alcohol or using drugs 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 remove yourself from the situation.
Stay in contact with your family and friends
Call or e-mail family and friends regularly and let them know where you are, particularly if you are travelling in a high risk area. You should also register your travel details on smartraveller.gov.au. Staying in regular contact means that it will be easier to find you in an emergency.
Be careful who you give your travel information to
When travelling overseas, it is important not to pass information to people you don’t know about where you are staying or travelling. Giving strangers your contact or travel information can leave you vulnerable to theft or assault. Make sure you only give your information to trusted friends, and avoid broadcasting your travel plans to the public on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
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.