Accidents & Hazards

Accidents and injuries account for a significant number of health problems for travellers abroad.

Most deaths in travellers relate to what they do rather than what they catch.

Up to a third of all reported medical cases are due to avoidable accidents.

All travellers should take out health insurance to cover accidents as well as illness and should check that emergency repatriation expenses are covered.

Accidents commonly occur on the roads, when swimming and during sporting activities such as skiing, climbing, rafting, cycling, etc.

Alcohol & drugs

The risk of an accident occurring is exacerbated by alcohol. It is easy to drink too much alcohol in a hot climate. Locally brewed drinks are often stronger than one might expect.

The possession of illicit drugs in some countries carries very severe penalties. Don't be tempted, it's not worth it.

A sense of excitement induced by travel to exotic locations may lead to normal safety precautions being overlooked. This is exacerbated by alcohol.

Being aware of any possible risks and avoiding predictable injury should always be the traveller's first priority.

Hotels in some countries may be built to poor standards and have inadequate fire escapes. You should always check to see where the emergency exits (if any) are located. Gas and electrical appliances may in a dangerous condition. Balconies and staircases may be unsafe.

Fire is a significant cause of death and injury abroad. In many countries, fire regulations are slack or non existent. Never smoke in bed and ensure that cigarettes are properly extinguished. Remember, smoke inhalation can also be fatal and the best way to avoid it is to crawl low under the smoke.

Personal security

To reduce any risk of mugging travel in groups, avoid remote areas after dark, use a torch, keep on the move, carry an alarm or an anti-personnel spray (may be illegal in some countries), wear modest clothing, do not display wealth.

Many areas are not safe to wander around at night, including those that look safe by daylight. While driving consider locking your car doors at stopping points especially at night in isolated areas.

Be aware of political unrest. Up to date information is available from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on line. Do not rely on information from local residents.

In some countries, producing cameras, tape recorders etc. in sensitive areas such as near airports and railway stations can result in arrest on suspicion of spying.

Road safety

Road accidents are responsible for more deaths amongst tourists than any of the diseases mentioned on this site.

When crossing the road remember the traffic may come from the opposite direction to the one in your home country.

Drivers in many countries do not observe pedestrian crossings or traffic signals. e.g. in Bangkok you are likely to be run over on a zebra crossing if you treat it like you would in the UK and expect the traffic to stop for you.


Whilst receiving wide publicity, accidents in the air and on ships are extremely rare. Some airlines are safer than others (published data available). Ferries in developing countries are often overcrowded and carry inadequate safety equipment.

Trains and buses are often overcrowded. You should think twice about taking an overloaded up-country bus and avoid local habits like travelling on the roofs of trains and busses and jumping on and off while they are moving.

Motor vehicles may be poorly maintained. Check over any hire vehicle very carefully for mechanical defects especially brakes and tires.

When you are driving, always wear a safety belt, strictly observe speed limits, traffic lights and signs. Never drink and drive.

Local drivers may not observe traffic rules but you always should. Remember, in some countries they drive on the right, it is easy to forget.

Be very careful on potholed and non-tarmacadamed 'dust' roads which can become badly eroded from continual exposure to the elements.

Scooters and motorcycles are frequently unstable on poorly maintained roads and those riding have very little protection in the event of an accident. Always wear a safety helmet.

Water hazards

Alcohol and swimming do not mix!

Beware of fast moving tides and currents, especially the undertow from waves in deep water where even strong swimmers may find it difficult to get back to the shore.

Avoid swimming alone. Swim in approved places when there is a beach patrol or lifeguard service. Always wear proper life jackets when taking part in certain types of watersports like sailing, windsurfing, canoeing etc. Sunburn is common and may be unexpected since the swimmer is kept cool by the water.

Avoid using airbeds or inflatable dinghies in the sea. If there is an offshore wind they can easily been blown a long distance off shore. If this happens the scenario is often panic, jumping off, exhaustion and hypothermia. Invariably it is better to stay 'aboard', try to attract attention and await rescue.

Water is the home of some very dangerous creatures like crocodiles, hippos and sharks. Sea creatures like urchins, jellyfish, molluscs or fish may be unexpectedly venomous. Be aware of local dangers.

Do not swim immediately after a big meal when cramp is more likely to occur. Low water temperature can induce hypothermia. This can be rapidly fatal - within minutes.

Both the sea and inland deep water lakes may be very cold even during hot summer months.

Visibly dirty recreational water in pools, lakes and rivers especially in the tropics should be avoided. There is always a danger of contracting water borne diseases like shistosomiasis or leptospirosis in these areas.

Foot injuries on beaches are common in those not wearing shoes.

Outdoor activities

Pursuits such as scuba diving, mountain climbing, white water rafting and hang gliding can be dangerous in unfamiliar surroundings. Additional insurance may be required for these and similar activities.

Get physically fit in advance of your trip. Do not be over ambitious - make sure you are fully trained for the degree of skill required.

Avoid excessive fatigue - accidents often occur before lunch and in the evening. Keep up your carbohydrate and fluid intake.

If you are travelling in mountainous areas become familiar with the terrain and the hazards involved, including avalanche potential. Use guide books and local maps when available. Observe adverse weather warnings.

Do not 'economise' on protective clothing, boots and safety equipment.

In snow conditions watch out for skiers and snowboarders. It is your responsibility to avoid skiers in front of you.

Consider helmets for younger skiers and snowboarders.

Skiers should learn to fall correctly and to release your ski stick before it causes skiers thumb!

Serious injuries that may require a blood transfusion can be of concern where HIV screening of blood products is not universal.

Skin injuries can lead to tetanus and therefore, ten yearly boosters of tetanus toxoid are advised before travelling to many countries.