5 backpacking safety tips for travellers visiting Australia
Two backpackers attacked while camping in South Australia have sparked concern about how safe backpacking in Australia really is.
The women in their 20s befriended a 59-year-old local man and camped with him at Salt Creek before he allegedly held them captive, sexually assaulted and attempted to kill them.
One of the girls managed to escape, alerting a group of people who were fishing in the area, who calmed and protected the girl before making a call to police.
Tourism Australia spokesman Leo Seaton said they are taking the matter very seriously.
Backpacking, no matter where you are around the world, comes with an element of danger. Those dangers change depending on the situation of the country you're in.
While I want to make very clear that a victim of any crime so heinous as what these girls experienced is not their fault at all — it was the alleged perpetrator that was in the wrong — there are ways backpackers, especially we women, can be extra vigilant about our safety while backpacking in Australia.
1. Know where to camp
There are areas of Australia that are incredibly remote. Just because it's great to get off the beaten path sometimes, doesn't always mean it's a good idea, especially if you're a solo female backpacker. Stick to registered campsites — that way you can at least report to people if you see anything suspicious and you have people around to support you should you find yourself in trouble. Michela Fantinel from the Rocky Travel blog says she stays in registered campsites because it's safer. "As a solo traveller I would highly recommend staying in paid camping," she says. "This will help you getting familiar with the area, creating connections, finding out about local tours and activities, making use of landline phones. Moreover it is safe to stay in a paid camping site."
2. Research job offers
There is often the temptation while travelling to pick up work from the most unlikely of places. But be cautious about where and how you find employment. There have been reports of people being taken advantage of while working in remote areas on farms and while picking fruit. Make sure the place you are looking at working is reputable and registered. Chat to people in the area to get an idea of the place's reputation, too. Jodie from The Little Backpackers, who spent almost three months fruit picking in regional South Australia, says it's important to do your research. "We were promised something completely different than we got. I would warn you to be careful," she says.
3. Report your location
Backpacking in Australia can be a great way to disconnect from your life back home and lose yourself in the journey, but it's also important to make sure people know of your whereabouts should something go wrong. The travellers behind OzUltra say it's especially important to do this while travelling through remote Australia. "If you're travelling great distances or through remote locations you must always tell [an] appointed person at the very least when and where you will be starting your journey, the date you intend to arrive at your new destination or next check point [and] the exact route you will be taking, with contact check points in between if possible." If your appointed person doesn't hear from you when expected, they know to alert the authorities.
4. Plan ahead
Have I mentioned that Australia is huge? I have? Well, I want to make that point really clear because often travellers come to Australia hoping they can visit Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all in the one weekend. It's just not possible. Taking time to plan a trip through Australia, and having a fair idea of how far apart locations are, will help you plan your trip and have realistic expectations of how long you're going to spend in certain areas. Without this knowledge, you might find yourself spending three weeks in a remote part of the country without knowing how to get safely to your next destination.
5. Come prepared
If you're driving around the country, then it is more important than ever to come prepared for the journey. The travellers behind Travel Around Australia suggest doing the following before you embark on a journey through remote Australia.
- Only travel through remote Australia if you have a roadworthy 4WD
- Always check with the local motoring association or information centres about the current conditions of outback roads
- Carry two spare tyres and extra oil and water
- Have a well-equipped first aid kit with you
- Find out where emergency services are located in remote areas
- Be aware of the local weather conditions, noting that heat and rain can cause havoc on your trip
Safety should be your number one concern when backpacking in Australia, because without preparation and understanding of the local conditions you could end up in a situation you can't get out of.