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Student Travel Safety Overview

Stay safe while traveling (but don't stay home)


Student Travel - Pesky Pickpockets Photo

Is Student Travel Dangerous?

Any travel holds inherent dangers. You can be held up at home while walking to your local convenience store or in a back alley in Istanbul, though -- travel abroad is, just like merely walking down the street at home, largely as safe as you make it. Your first trip away from home may occasion special safety considerations, however:

  • If you've grown up in a small town and this is your first big trip, you may not be prepared for the fact that not everyone you meet in a big city has your best interests at heart.

  • Not being able to speak the local language while traveling abroad will hinder you from getting help.

  • Street crime takes forms abroad that you may not have seen at home, even if you live in a large city. Nomadic ethnic bands, especially in Eastern Europe, specialize in ingenious street crime methods designed to lighten your load.

  • Scam artists, conmen and touts may target you because of your youth, which they might equate with naivete.

How to Plan Safe Travel

Check U.S. government issued travel warnings and consider not choosing a destination that the State Department is advising Americans to avoid -- the travel warnings are updated frequently during times of extreme unsettlement abroad.

Check Consular Sheets to find areas of instability and the American Embassy location in your destination area. Consider registering with the US Embassy (now called STEP, or Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) in the country you are visiting if you're staying longer than a month or the scene there is especially sketchy (like recent political unrest) -- if you find yourself in an particularly difficult position, your government, at least, will know where you are, which can be a help if you find yourself in need of a repatriation loan to get home or other emergency assistance from Uncle Sam.

Invest in a phrasebook and memorize some possibly helpful phrases before you leave home. In countries where Spanish is the predominant language, for example, you may want to know phrases like these:

- Socorro! ( Help! )
- Llama a la policia! ( Call the police! )
- Vayase! (Go away!)
- Ladron! (Thief!)
- Me han robado! (I've been robbed!)
- De'jeme sola! (Leave me alone!)

Stay Safe While Traveling

  • Use the same safety precautions you would at home: consider avoiding walking alone on deserted streets after dark, keep your travel cash stashed and stay alert.

  • Learn the laws and customs of the land you're visiting -- for instance, Mexico is infamously (and often unfairly, these days) known for "la mordida" (the bite), or bribery of public officials like police; know your rights and know that you don't have to hand out money for nothing. Keep in mind, though, that there are times when forking over a few local bucks in any country can send you safely on your way if you're willing to back down in the interest of moving on after something like a routine traffic stop.

  • Eschew illegal drugs or underage drinking, lessening your chances of brushes with the local law.

  • Acquaint yourself with common street crime scenarios so that you can avoid or escape them. Although this street crime scam regards Turkey, the scams and pesky pickpocket scenarios it details are global.

  • Pay attention in taxis and on trains: you're unlikely to get too far from your bags during air travel, but losing 'em to someone who really wants 'em during other transportation is easier than you might think -- and the wrong cab can be a costly and even (on very rare occasions) downright deadly mistake in some countries.

  • It goes without saying that you will never agree to carry anything in your baggage if a stranger or even a friendly acquaintance asks you to do so; check your bags carefully before crossing a border or boarding a flight to ensure that their contents are yours and yours alone. You're guilty until proven innocent if your baggage contains contraband or explosives.

  • It's true that women do need to shoulder a couple of extra cares when traveling -- which doesn't mean hiding in the hostel if you're female. Do a little prep thinking, and you'll be perfectly fine, even solo: stay safe, but don't stay home!

Prepared? Enjoy!

The bottom line: study and preparation will equip you with the knowledge you need to avoid getting mugged, ripped off or jailed (all of which are actually unlikely to happen to the vast majority of travelers). People you encounter on your journey will be as likely to be friendly and honest as the people you know at home. Don't be afraid to get to know the locals and tread the back streets - just travel with the same safety sense you show in your own back yard. And enjoy the trip!

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