Each year, more Aussie school leavers are heading overseas to celebrate the end of their studies. If you're one of them, this may be your first trip overseas, or your first with just your mates, so there are a few things you should know and do before you go.
Remember that when you leave Australia you leave behind the support systems, emergency services and medical facilities we all take for granted at home.
Research your destination
Check out the travel advice for the country you are planning on visiting. It will give you information about the safety and security situation in the country, local laws and customs, and more.
Travel advice for popular Schoolies and Leavers destinations are linked below, but you'll find links to the travel advice for other overseas destinations listed on our travel advice page.
You should subscribe online to the travel advice for the country you're visiting and get automatic updates straight to your inbox. You can friend us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and we'll let you know about any updates.
You can also have the latest information and advice on the go with our mobile website and iPhone app. Download it free from the app store.
If you're planning on taking an Alternative Schoolies/Leavers trip to volunteer overseas, take a look at our Volunteering Overseas page.
Get travel insurance
Expect the unexpected – if you can't afford travel insurance you can't afford to travel.
Comprehensive travel insurance will often cover your medical treatment for illness or injury while overseas, as well as lost valuables or theft.Read the fine print to find out what you will and won't be covered for. For example, if you want to hire a motorbike check to see if your insurance requires you to have a valid motorcycle licence back in Australia before it will cover you for any accidents. Be aware also that failure to wear a helmet, or other reckless behaviour such as the use of drugs or alcohol, could invalidate your insurance cover if you have an accident.
Register your travel plans
Once you have locked in your travel plans, register your destination and contact details with us. It's quick, free and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will know where you are and how to contact you if something goes wrong, like a natural disaster or family emergency. You can even register a group – phone us on 1300 555 135 (option 3) and ask for a group registration form.
Check your passport
Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. If you still have a child's passport, remember it is only valid for five years, not ten. If you need a new passport, organise it well in advance of your holiday. See the Australian Passport Office website for more information.
See a doctor before you go
It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas including your vaccination status. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy. Vaccination can protect you against some infectious diseases that occur overseas. It's important that you discuss your personal travel plans with a health professional to ensure you have the correct vaccinations for your trip and any booster doses of childhood vaccinations you may need.
Keep in touch
Leave a copy of your itinerary stuck to the fridge at home, but once the celebrations start, don't forget to still keep in regular contact with your family. Call, text, email, update Facebook – do whatever is best to let them know where and how you are. Write down your essential phone numbers for emergencies and carry them with your passport, just in case your phone is lost, stolen, falls in the pool or your battery dies at the wrong time.
Look after your mates
Often when young Aussies get into difficulty overseas it's after becoming separated from their friends. 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 time and a place to meet in case you get separated. This will also be handy if your phone runs out of battery, you run low on credit or if you have no reception. Make sure everyone in your group knows the name, address and phone number of your hotel. Don't let your mates go home alone or with someone they just met.
Don't break the law
The laws and penalties of the country you are visiting will apply to you, even if they seem harsh by Australian standards. There are strict limits on what the Australian government can do to help you if you find yourself in trouble with the law in another country.
Don't carry or consume drugs overseas. Ever.
Many countries in our region have tough penalties for people arrested with drugs, including life imprisonment or death. Possession of even small quantities of 'soft drugs' such as marijuana can attract lengthy jail sentences. Don't expect to be treated differently from the locals just because you're Australian. Even if you're under 18, you may be treated as an adult and held in an adult prison.
A number of Australians have been injured, fallen sick and come to the attention of police after consuming magic mushrooms overseas. Magic mushrooms can cause major health problems such as severe hallucinations, erratic behaviour, anxiety and even psychosis. We strongly recommend you avoid them.
If you are planning on drinking, drink responsibly
Find out the legal drinking age in the location you are visiting – it may not be 18 and may vary depending on the type of drink. Know your limits, and be aware drinks may be much stronger than in Australia. Being drunk increases your risk of being injured, robbed or assaulted.
Protect yourself from drink spiking. Don't accept drinks from strangers and never leave drinks unattended. If you're not 100% sure that your drink is safe, leave it – it's not worth the risk.
Alcoholic drinks can be mixed with harmful substances, particularly methanol, which can cause serious illness, blindness, brain injury or death. If you suspect that you or a companion may have been poisoned, you need to act quickly and get urgent medical attention. Symptoms of methanol poisoning can include fatigue, headaches and nausea, similar to the effects as excessive drinking, but with pronounced vision problems that may include blurred or snowfield vision, flashes of light, tunnel vision, changes in colour perception, dilated pupils, difficulty looking at bright lights, or blindness.
If you suspect that you, or anyone you are travelling with, have been affected by methanol or other poisoning, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention, which could be vital in avoiding permanent disability or death. All suspected cases of methanol poisoning should be reported to local police.
Drinking too much 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 walk away.
Young Aussies sometimes get into trouble by getting involved in nightclub brawls. The laws and penalties for physical altercations, even between friends, can be much harsher than in Australia. You can end up spending days or weeks in adult prison, even while investigations are taking place.
Party venues overseas, such as clubs, bars and festival sites, might not have the same strict safety standards as at home. Use your judgement - if you are concerned that a venue is becoming too crowded, it's probably time to get out and move on. Nightclub fires, balcony collapses and crowd crushes do occur overseas. Simple steps such as checking the nearest exit or thinking of an alternate way out can be a smart move.
Take care around water
Rough seas and strong currents have led to numerous drownings in coastal resort areas, including in Bali and Phuket. Even if you're a strong swimmer, you should always obey the warnings and consult local information sources about potential water hazards. Local beach rescue services may not be of the same standard as in Australia. Like at home, you should never swim when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Choose safe transport options
Sadly, it is not unusual for Australians to be seriously injured or killed in motorcycle accidents in popular tourist areas overseas. If you want to hire a motorcycle, scooter or quad bike check with your travel insurer about whether these activities are covered by your policy. Always wear a helmet, respect local road rules and don't drink and ride.
Operators may ask to hold your passport as a deposit or guarantee before hiring vehicles. Passports are valuable documents that should be protected, so we recommend that you offer a photocopy or another form of ID instead. See our road travel page for more information.
Transport safety standards are different overseas, so you should never use taxis, buses, trains or boats that are overcrowded or look unsafe. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if the locals don't. Try to avoid having to travel in ferries and speedboats after dark. If you're heading out for the night, plan a few different options for getting home - finding out what time the last public transport service runs (or what time it starts again in the morning) is a good start.
Avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault
Sexual assault is a traumatic experience for anyone, particularly when travelling overseas and away from home. Assaults can happen to both men and women. Our Sexual Assault Overseas page provides advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault, and to provide advice to victims of sexual assault and their families if it does happen while overseas.
If you need help overseas
If you need help while you are overseas you can contact the consular section of the Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate-General at your destination. Contact details are in the country travel advice. You can also contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305.
The Australian Government will do what it can to help, however, there are legal and practical limits to what consular officers can do for Australians overseas. More information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help if you get into trouble overseas is available in the Consular Services Charter.