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Cautiously Adventurous: Tips for a Safe and Healthy Stay Abroad

 

When sharing study abroad experiences, students are usually bursting with tales of adventure, self discovery, and exploration. These stories range from language blunders to running through airports to catch a flight to Paris.  And while little mishaps are a part of the abroad experience and are often great stories to tell, we have to remember that with misunderstandings, crime can be right around the corner. Just as you would in the States, you should always take appropriate precautions both when traveling and in everyday life.  Educating yourself on how to live safely while abroad will help you explore your host city with confidence. In addition to common sense you use at home, here are a few tips on how be cautious while walking the streets, going out on the weekends and how to keep your documents secure and how to keep your body healthy. 

Street Smart

Odds are you’ll be walking much more in your host city than you do at home. Walking to buy groceries, walking to the train/subway station, walking around just to look at everything are common occurrences. Remember these tips to make sure you do not become a victim of petty theft. 

DO:

  • Carry an emergency card with numbers to the local police, program adviser, the local hospital etc.  Your Athena “Street Smart Pocket Guide” is a great way to keep all of this information at your fingertips!
  • Study a map of your city to avoid getting lost.
  • Carry your money in a money belt under your clothes. (This is more applicable to cities with higher crime rates.)
  • Protect your belongings when in public and crowded places like the subway or train station. 
  • Avoid public demonstrations and protests if they develop. 
  • Let somebody know, and alert them when you return, if you venture alone during the day.
  • Avoid carrying back packs as they are far too easy to steal from because you can’t see or always feel when somebody touches them.
  • Be aware of pick pocketers. They often have accomplices who distract you by asking you questions, pointing out something on your shirt, bumping into you, causing a scene with somebody else so you’ll look at them 
  • Watch out for scam artists. Be skeptical of locals offering you special tours, or authentic experiences. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These are becoming more common in developing tourist areas. The trend is to offer an exclusive this or an excellent that, away from the crowded city to lure you in. Once they’ve taken you far from help, they will demand large amounts of money or offer threatening consequences. Ask your director or trusted local friend if the tour or experience is legitimate before embarking blindly. 

DO NOT:

  • Do not put anything valuable in your back pocket.
  • Do not take short cuts through alley ways and other back streets.
  • Do not go anywhere alone at night.
  • Do not wear expensive jewelry.  
  • Do not carry purses with long straps or hang loosely from your body. Carry them under your arm on the building side of the sidewalk. 
  • Do not leave your bags unattended, no matter where you are. 
  • Do not talk back if somebody hassles you. Nothing good will come from it.
  • Do not share your living arrangements with ‘new friends’ and avoid sharing your travel plans. 
  • Do not look like a tourist! 
    • Even if you are lost, walk with a purpose as if you know exactly where you’re going
    • Ask only authority figures for directions.
    • Dress as close to the local style as possible. 

Weekend Safety

Weekends are great for exploring the city, making new friends and of course having fun! Everyone has their own idea of ‘fun’ and one should remember the tips above for weekend activities no matter what they are. But if your Friday and Saturday nights are going to include alcohol, there is a need for a few extra safety precautions. 

  • Do not consume alcohol if you are not of your host country’s legal drinking age.
  • Most importantly, keep an eye on your drink. Never continue drinking your beverage if it has left your eyesight. Never. Acts of sexual assault and theft always a potential risk with the assistance of drugged beverages. It is a good idea just to keep your hand over the opening also. 
  • Take it easy, especially for the first few nights out. You don’t know where you are, you don’t know how strong the alcohol content is, nor do you know how the traveling has affected your body. Consuming too much alcohol and disorientating yourself is simply a bad idea. 
  • Know how to get back to your room. Remember your address to tell the taxi driver or remember how to walk back. Either way, always go home with a buddy. 
  • Pay attention to how the locals treat alcohol. Do Italians drink wine the same way American college students do? What’s the appropriate behavior in a Dublin pub versus an American bar? Do the locals dance the way college students dance? These are important questions to consider. 

We know, we know. These are things you already do. But we want to make sure students know how to enjoy themselves and their host city without getting into unwanted trouble. So please be sure and remember the listed advice!

Protecting Your Documents

Assuming you are aware of how important it is to protect your documents, we’ve compiled a few ways to ensure your documents are safe: 

  • Before departing for your stay abroad, make two photo copies of your passport, visa, credit card, debit card, and emergency contact information. Leave one copy at home with your parents or guardians. Take the other copies with you and keep them separate from the original documents. You never know what could happen and these extra copies can be life savers. 
  • When you arrive in your room, make sure the copies of your documents are stored safely in your bags. If there is a safe, place the originals in there. If there isn’t a safe, keep them in a discrete place and away from where cleaning services or frequenters could easily spot them. 
  • If you are traveling to another country, or within country and have to carry your passport with you, keep it close to your person. Especially if you are taking over night transportation. Tucking it in your shirt or by using a money belt is a great idea. 

Completely losing your cards, passport and/or visa is zero fun. Though it is possible to have them replaced while abroad, it is very difficult and can take away from your learning experience. Take every precaution to hold on to these, as a foreigner they are your ID and your access to money. Both of which are extremely important. 

Be Healthy, Be Happy

Getting sick is not fun no matter where you are. When traveling abroad, you are more vulnerable to new germs and illnesses. Plus, the food is new and it may take some time to adjust to the local cuisine. Even though it is impossible to protect yourself from every single germ, there are plenty of things you can do to avoid coming down with common complications. 

  • Stay Hydrated. Water bottles will be available to you in local markets, and you can always boil the water from you own place, but either way, drink a lot of water. Being dehydrated makes you more vulnerable to sicknesses and makes you feel crummy in general. 
  • No raw veggies and fruit.  Uncooked vegetables and fruit can look tempting, but you never know how they’ve been handled in the delivery process. Do not eat them. Some fruits, like bananas and oranges can be OK since you’re peeling them. 
  • Meat.  Maybe less visually appealing than the fruit, meat isn’t always stored in refrigerated temperatures and is instead stored outside at the mercy of flies and other environmental elements. Our stomachs are not used to this and the effects could be very unpleasant. If you can, figure out how the meat is stored before consuming it. (This is particularly important when traveling to places struggling economically.) 
  • Wash Your Hands.  If your one of those people who are rigid in their hand washing routine, then please continue the practice. If not, please develop the habit for your own health abroad. 
  • Hand Sanitizer. Bringing the travel sized hand sanitizers from home will be helpful. 
  • Medication. Taking preventative measures never hurts either. Airborne and Emergency-C are great to take before traveling to give your immune system that extra boost. They can be purchased at most convenient stores. 

Most of the tips above are common sense. Students who chose to study abroad are responsible young adults and we have full faith you are capable of taking care of yourself abroad. But in reality, there are dangers in every city whether they be abroad or in the United States. Using this advice will lessen the likelihood that you’ll be a victim of crime. Safe travels! 

ONE COMMENT

  • John Ferrell says:

    I like that you said that we need to make sure we hold onto our passports and ID. If I was traveling I would want to know that I would be able to get where I need after I look around the place I am in. City tours might be a good idea if you are thinking of seeing the entire city and learning about it.

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