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8 Ways to Stay Safe When Traveling or Studying Abroad

(photo by lifehacker.com)

When I talk to college students about study abroad, safety is one concern that never comes up. However, when I speak with their parents, safety is one of the first few things that they worry about. Many parents have expressed concern that their college aged student (especially daughter) will have an experience abroad like in the movie Taken. Although the chances of this are slim, it is important to understand that large international cities like Paris do have crime networks and practicing safe travels in and outside the city should be a priority.

Staying safe is important for every traveler no matter their age or how long they’re staying abroad. Taking certain, quick precautions can help you to be prepared for any situation in any country. Let’s take a look at 8 ways to stay safe when traveling or studying abroad.

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(photo by lifehacker.com – don’t leave Mom & Dad a note like this! Just follow the below easy steps)

  • Register your trip/study abroad with the US Department of State. No one goes on a trip expecting to encounter any sort of legal or disaster issue. However, it’s a good idea to have a back up plan in the event something does arise. Having your trip recorded with the US Department of State helps you get the assistance you need wherever you are in the world and no matter the situation. The US Department of State would be able to help you coordinate with the closet US Embassy and can help you connect with your family. To register your trip go to travel.state.gov
  • Look up current safety issues of the country. Every country has its own unique set of safety concerns. Reading up on these specific issues will help you to know what to watch out for when you’re abroad. The US Department of State’s website lists every country’s current safety issues as well as advice on how to stay safe there.
  • Get up to date vaccinations and confirm health insurance before leaving. If you’re traveling to Europe, the U.S. Department of State (travel.state.gov) does not list any required vaccines but it’s a good idea to be up to date on Meningitis, HPV, Tetanus, Hepatitus A and B and Rabies vaccines. Don’t forget to make sure that your American health insurance will cover you abroad. If it doesn’t, check out the list at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1470.html to set up medical insurance for your time abroad.
  • Put all foreign emergency numbers in your phone. 911 is not a universal number. In the event of an emergency, you don’t want to be stuck not knowing the country’s emergency numbers. You can obtain these numbers from the U.S. Department of State’s website. Make sure to have these numbers in your phone before leaving. For example, in France dial 18 for les pompiers and 17 for the police.
  • Give someone back home a copy of your itinerary and passport. Even with registering your trip with the US Department of State, you should give someone in your family a copy of your itinerary and your passport. It is extra security for you to have someone close to you also know your whereabouts and how to help the closest US Embassy find you in the event of an incident.
  • Respect the local culture. Before going abroad, read up on the culture so that you can respect the cultural traditions and not offend anyone or worse, end up in legal trouble. Societal expectations vary from country to country. Respecting the local culture will not only help you have a better, authentic experience, it will help you to avoid cultural misunderstandings.
  • Establish and maintain communication with family. If you are going to be staying abroad for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to keep in contact with family. Set a day, time and method that you’re going to use to keep in touch and stick to it. Establishing communication with family is a great way to stay safe and connected while abroad. It’s important to maintain this contact so that you’re family knows that if they don’t hear from you, something has gone wrong and they can get you help.
  • Research the areas to stay away from before you go. Having an itinerary before you go lets you research areas to stay away from in your travels. As a non-native person, you don’t always know which areas are safe and which ones aren’t. Research these areas on your itinerary by reading guide books, talking to people who have traveled there and internet searches before leaving. It’s best to avoid dangerous areas abroad and researching these places in advance will help you to avoid them and stay safe.

Studying abroad and traveling are great experiences that can open so many doors in your life. Please take these few extra precautions (in addition to common sense precautions – ex: put your bag across your shoulder and in front of you; wallets in front pocket or in travel necklace, etc…) to protect yourself so that you have can have the safest and best time abroad. They don’t take much time and are free to do!