One of the biggest issues students face when planning to study abroad is the concern for personal safety, especially from parents. With political unrest, terrorism, human trafficking and armed conflict in many areas of our world, this is a legitimate concern. It is much more likely however, that students abroad will be affected by petty non-violent crimes such as pickpocketing or theft. In addition to general awareness, there are some tips to give you, and your parents, more peace of mind while you enjoy your time overseas.
Heed the Warnings
This may be the most obvious tip, but many travelers are unaware of the travel warnings issued by the US State Department, the FBI, and the Center for Disease Control. These warnings let you know of significant armed conflict, crime, or unrest, and what health precautions you need to take before traveling abroad. Many countries require additional visas and vaccinations before admittance into their borders. Additionally, the US State Department’s STEP program allows travellers to register their itineraries so that they can be located in case of any emergency. Registering is quick and easy, so be sure to do this before catching that flight.
Do Your Homework
Doing as much research as possible on your adopted country will provide information on important cultural nuances and tourist hot spots. For example, if women typically dress more conservatively due to culture or religion, it would be wise for female students to make adjustments to avoid unwanted attention. Also, the most popular tourist areas can be hot spots for pickpockets and scam artists. The State Department provides information broken down by country to inform you of what areas should be avoided. Diversity Abroad’s Destination Guides are also a great resource. It is also wise to make an effort to get to know fellow students that are from the country you are visiting, as they would be able to provide more insight into the areas you will be visiting.
Be Tech Savvy
There are a number of smartphone apps and other tools available to help keep savvy students safe while abroad. The obvious must-have is the official U.S. State Department Smart Traveler App which provides access to frequently updated official country information, travel warnings, maps, and embassy. Another safe bet is the PanicGuard app. This app, and others like it, creates a panic feature on your phone that sounds an alarm, records would-be attackers, alerts authorities and pre-set contacts and sends them your GPS position. A money belt may not seem like the coolest looking accessory, but it is a discreet way to keep small amounts of cash on you. And for the cash and valuables you don’t want to keep on you, a small personal safe will fit easily into a suitcase to secure items in your room while you are out and about.
Trust Your Instincts and Use Your Head
As a rule of thumb, if something doesn’t feel safe, it probably isn’t. Many crimes committed against tourists are crimes of opportunities. It is wise to avoid wearing clothing or jewelry that would give the appearance of wealth or cause you to stand out as a tourist. Students should also avoid carrying large amounts of cash and purses or bookbags that hang loose from the body or cannot be secured. Women especially should avoid unwanted solicitations and requests. Studying abroad is an amazing experience and taking the necessary precautions will help ensure that it is a safe one.