Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Expert urges students to pack common sense when traveling abroad

Getty Images

Hitchhiking across America might be passé, not to mention risky, but traveling to distant lands to study and experience diverse cultures has more than doubled over the last decade, according to the Institute of International Education.
What's considered a thrilling opportunity for students, however, becomes a nerve-wracking experience for parents concerned about their child's safety. Now add cases in the news such as Amanda Knox, a Seattle student who was charged (but later acquitted) in Italy with the murder of her British roommate, and one can understand why their first reaction is nay-nay on going away.
"As travel safety experts with nearly 50 years of experience, we work diligently to ensure the safety of every student and leader in every program," said Mike Bowers, Senior Health and Safety Director for People to People Ambassador Programs, who has reviewed years of travel data to foresee the most common safety issues. "We understand the concerns and we are committed to providing a safe and enjoyable educational experience for all program participants."
American universities and colleges, even high schools across the country, participate in a number of travel abroad experiences that are successful - but for good reason. 

Mike Bowers
Students adhere to tips such as these recommended by Bowers to make their experience enjoyable and safe:

Pack along some common sense
  •  Before you commit to anything out of your normal realm of activity or actions, ask yourself one question: Would I do this at home. If the answer is no, rethink your actions.
  •  Never go without sleep. "You can have a good time without staying out too late," said Bowers. "The more rested you are, the more likely you are to be aware of and safe in your surroundings."
  •  Never travel alone. It's the same rule most parents insist upon at home. If you're venturing away from school or your place of residence, travel with a buddy, always.
Know your destination
  • Scope out your surroundings ahead of time so you know what you're dealing with. Bowers suggests visiting the Centers for Disease Control travel websites and other online resources for information about vaccines, laws, languages, money, medical services. Check out hotels and inns before you commit to staying there. Look up associations or clubs in the area that might be able to provide information about a business. Even the local university might have someone who could comment on the place you're considering.
Leave a money trail to follow
  • "Use a prepaid bank card which allows loved ones back home to know where you are, and make sure they have access to the account," said Bowers. "The U.S. Department of State indicates it is a good way to find people while traveling."
  • Always make additional copies of important documents such as passports and credit cards in case they are lost or stolen, and you have to report the account numbers involved.
Getty Images
Don't pack the bling
  •  In other words, try not to look like a tourist. Petty criminals, said Bowers, look for easy targets in crowds like a blinged-out tourist.
  •  In doing your research of the surroundings, find out about things like the country's style and culture. What do other students wear? Do they carry cellphones? Do they use their laptops in public? You want to blend in so you don't become a target.
Keep in touch
  •  Discuss routines with regard to communication. Create a schedule of when you plan to call home to let your loved ones know you are safe. Maybe it's every Sunday. If you're doing day trips, perhaps call once in the morning to say where you're going, and then again at night to let your parents know you arrived at your destination safely. "If you miss a scheduled time, your contacts will know to start looking for you," Bowers said. "Use Skype, text messaging or a GPS-equipped phone that allows people back home to track your trip and ensure your safety."
Be a smart traveler
  •  The Department of State has set up the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service that lets students submit information about their trip so that the department can assist you in an emergency. It makes it easier for U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to contact you and your loved ones during an emergency. Emergencies can happen at home and abroad. Either way - this makes getting a hold of each other easier. Read more at STEP
Visit People To People Ambassador Programs for more information. 

I haven't been anywhere but it's on my list -- Susan Sontag

1 comment: