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Drinking responsibly when abroad

Most of us enjoy a drink every now and then and this is no exception when we’re relaxing in the sun on holiday with our friends and family. Whilst it’s important to immerse ourselves in new places and cultures, and the appeal of sipping cocktails on sandy beaches can be enticing, it's vital to approach alcohol consumption abroad with the same care we exercise at home.

When in unfamiliar environments it's easy to overlook the importance of responsible drinking and this can lead to accidents and medical emergencies occurring. But did you know that claiming on your travel insurance for an incident related to drinking alcohol abroad could result in your claim being voided? This is evidenced by one of the following: A medical practitioner stating that your alcohol consumption has caused or actively contributed to your injury or illness. The results of a blood test which shows that your blood alcohol level exceeds 0.19% which is approximately 2.5 times the drink driving limit in the UK. A witness report from a 3rd party or a police incident report. Your own admission.

It’s a scary thought and has left many in the past having to pay more than the actual cost of their holiday on medical bills! So, we’d like to share with you some useful information for remaining safe when drinking alcohol abroad and ways to drink responsibly.

Understanding local laws and regulations

Whenever we visit a new country it’s appropriate and respectful to do our research to learn the local rules, laws and customs, especially when it comes to drinking alcohol. Certain countries may have laws when it comes to drinking alcohol in public places, only allow the buying and selling of alcohol in licenced venues, times that the selling of alcohol is permitted and different legal drinking ages to our own. So, it’s important to make sure you understand the rules and customs around drinking alcohol for your next trip away. Here are a few popular destinations and their views around drinking alcohol that you may not have known previously:

France: While it is generally legal to drink alcohol in public places in France like parks and picnic areas, some cities, including Paris, have restrictions on public drinking in certain areas, particularly tourist hotspots and near monuments.

Sweden: In Sweden public drinking is heavily regulated, and there are restrictions on where alcohol can be consumed and even different drinking ages dependent on the alcoholic beverage. Drinking alcohol in public places such as streets, parks, or squares is generally prohibited, and consumption is limited to licensed premises or private property.

Australia: Public drinking laws vary by state and territory in Australia. While it is generally legal to drink alcohol in public in some areas, such as designated picnic areas or parks, drinking in public places like streets or beaches may be restricted, especially during certain hours of the day.

Spain: A recent rule change around drinking alcohol abroad is the Balearic Island Government bringing in tougher alcohol restrictions to lower over-consumption in tourist hotspots. This new ban on late night drinking of alcohol in public places, started on the 11th May 2024. Those who are caught drinking alcohol outside of authorised areas will face fines of between €500 and €1,500. If you’re heading to one of the party islands this summer, make sure you’re aware of this!

Cultural sensitivities

We’ve mentioned about understanding the local laws and regulations when visiting a new country, but it’s also important to understand the cultural differences between our country and others when it comes to their stance on drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol may be deemed disrespectful in certain cultures around the world and in some countries, it is illegal and can lead to punishments such as fines, imprisonment or even deportation for foreigners. Here are some of the most notable:

United Arab Emirates (UAE): Over the past few years the UAE has become a popular holiday destination for influencers and families alike. But you may not know that alcohol is permitted in licensed venues in the UAE, but being visibly drunk in public and drinking in non-designated areas can result in fines, imprisonment, and deportation for expatriates.

Maldives: While alcohol is permitted on the resort islands and certain tourist areas, it is strictly prohibited in residential areas of the Maldives. Breaking alcohol laws can result in fines, imprisonment, or deportation for foreigners. So, if the Maldives is on your bucket list or you’re jetting off there for a honeymoon, remember to drink responsibly.

Japan: Drinking alcohol in public is generally not illegal in Japan, but it is considered disrespectful in certain areas, such as near temples, shrines, or residential neighbourhoods, especially if you’re visibly drunk. Some cities may have local authorities prohibiting public drinking in specific locations.

Health considerations when drinking alcohol

As fun as having some drinks on holiday is, it’s still important to consider our health and the implications that drinking alcohol can have on our bodies. Failing to drink responsibly and not taking necessary steps to ensure our safety can lead to negative impacts on our health and the need for medical care whilst away.

Hydration and heat: Drinking alcohol increases the likelihood of dehydration and pairing this with warmer climates then we’re usually used to can have serious consequences. Among these consequences are dizziness, muscle cramps and spasms, increased heart rate, impaired cognitive function, heat stroke and alcohol poisoning. If you required medical care as a result of alcohol leading to any of these symptoms, you risk your travel insurance not being valid. Make sure to drink water regularly when abroad and in between alcoholic drinks, as well avoiding too much sun exposure.

Alcohol and altitude: You may not know that alcohol can have a quicker and more powerful effect when consumed at higher altitudes. This is due to lower oxygen levels. So, if you’re planning to start the holiday with some drinks on the plane or are intending to go on a winter break to be skiing at high altitudes, it’s an important detail to consider. Some useful tips are to acclimatise yourself slowly and limit your intake.

Quality and safety of local alcohol: In some countries, locally produced alcohol may not meet the same safety standards as those we’re accustomed to back home. There is a risk of consuming counterfeit or contaminated alcohol, which can lead to serious health issues. Make sure to stick to reputable alcoholic brands when abroad and be wary of unsealed bottles.

Safe drinking practices

Moderation is key: By drinking in moderation and pacing yourself whilst having alcoholic drinks abroad it will help you to maintain control over your actions and therefore reduces the risk of accidents, health issues and legal problems. Remember drinking in different climates can increase the impact of alcohol on your body and lead to you getting drunk quicker.

Know your limits: Each person is different and their bodies will react differently to alcohol. Don’t try to compete with friends or keep up with the drinking habits of others. Additionally, look out for signs of intoxication in yourself and others such as slurred speech, impaired coordination, nausea, increased risk taking and poor decision making.

Be aware of drink spiking: Unfortunately drink spiking is a regular occurrence and being abroad can make you more vulnerable and an easier target. Make sure to never leave drinks unattended, accept drinks only from trusted sources such as friends and family, and try to keep your drink covered where possible.

Dealing with emergencies

Emergency contacts: Knowing who to contact in an emergency can be crucial to the safety and well-being of yourself and others. Before your trip find out the local emergency numbers for police, ambulance, and fire services in the country you are visiting. As well as this, ensure you have all the contact numbers of the people you’re on holiday with in case you get split up or need help.

Travel insurance: Ensure you have taken out travel insurance before your trip to help protect you against many unforeseen events when abroad and contact your insurer immediately if you encounter any problems such as a medical emergency. Your travel insurance provider will most likely have a 24/7 emergency assistance contact so make a note of this.

Recognising signs of alcohol poisoning: Knowing the signs of alcohol poisoning can help save lives. If someone is showing symptoms such as confusion, vomiting, seizures and slow or irregular breathing, call the emergency services immediately.

Impact of quitting drinking too quickly

Being responsible with alcohol abroad is not only important when it comes to consumption, but also when it comes to the impact it can have on our bodies when we quit drinking. If someone is heavily reliant on alcohol in their daily lives and decides to cut it out too suddenly, this can put a toll on our health. If this decision is made in the lead up to a trip away or during, these adverse effects could result in the need for medical care whilst away.

Withdrawal symptoms: Heavy drinkers may experience withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly stop drinking alcohol. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include tremors, anxiety, nausea, sweating, and even seizures in extreme cases. If alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur whilst abroad and result in you needing medical care, there’s a possibility that your travel insurance won’t cover the costs. Additionally, if you’re on certain medications for your alcohol dependence then this must be declared prior to your trip.

Physical health issues: Chronic alcohol consumption can take a toll on the body, leading to various health problems such as liver disease, cardiovascular issues, gastrointestinal disorders, and a weakened immune system. Quitting alcohol suddenly could worsen these health issues before improvements are seen, so if you’re suffering from these health issues, this will need to be declared on your travel insurance policy.

Mental health: Alcohol dependence often co-occurs with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress disorders. Stopping alcohol consumption can trigger or worsen these mental health issues. All mental health conditions must be declared when taking out a policy for them to be covered on your travel insurance.

While it may seem like there are many rules around drinking abroad, it’s perfectly fine to let your hair down, enjoy yourself, and have a drink during your travels. The key is to do so with caution and responsibility. By understanding your travel insurance policy such as not allowing alcohol consumption to cause or actively contribute to your injury or illness or not allowing your blood alcohol level top exceed 0.19% (2.5 times the drink driving limit in the UK), drinking in moderation, and making wise decisions, you can help to ensure your safety and avoid complications with your insurance coverage. After all, no one wants to deal with a hangover and medical bills to pay. Remember, a little awareness and preparation can go a long way in making your trip enjoyable and worry-free. Click here to get a quote for your next trip abroad. Cheers to a safe and memorable holiday!

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