Traveling abroad can be an exciting and even life-changing experience. When traveling to other countries, it is very important to be aware of the areas in which you are venturing. Understand the laws, culture, and peoples’ view of Americans, is vital so you can be prepared while you’re enjoying your trip. If studying abroad, these rules and tips are equally important. Using common sense and understanding how to handle different situations can help you stay safe while still being able to take in the entire experience, and come away with something you will never forget.
Drug and Alcohol Concerns
Not all countries have the same rules when it comes to drinking or drug use. In places like Amsterdam, people may be able to get away with some recreational marijuana use, but in other nations, the laws may not be as lax. American citizens can be arrested abroad, and charged with any number of violations, in much of the same way as any person can be under a specific country’s rule. About 1,000 Americans were arrested abroad for drug use in 1986. Since then, the number has increased, and in 2009 the total number of American arrests abroad was 1,242. Some countries may hold people for an undetermined amount of time, and may not release them to their home country for trial. This can be a scary situation, so it is best to avoid drugs, and places where others are using drugs, in order to stay safe. This also applies to drinking and driving, or other potential criminal charges that might be drinking related.
Getting into fights, vandalism, or sexually related crimes are very serious offenses not just in the United States, but in many other countries world wide. Remember that each country has a unique way of approaching the legal system on how the prosecute criminal offenses, so may differ drastically from the legal system of the U.S., some are much less forgiving and what many American may view as a small offense is a serious matter in other countries. It is important that tourists avoid getting involved with people who are behaving suspiciously, or as if they are willing to commit crimes that involve reckless behavior. Get an idea of the customs in the country you will be studying so you do not offend anyone. Be respectful and kind, and try to plan ahead if you’re going to a party or night club, so you can get home safely and avoid any groups of people who might become reckless. Unsafe behavior can get you arrested, or worse, so try to stay safe and follow basic safety practices, particularly when driving. Many students have found themselves in trouble because of fighting or drinking related issues, so be sure to be aware of how much you’re drinking and where you are, so you can keep your wits about you.
Pickpocketing is a common practice in many foreign countries. Thieves know exactly what to look for when they’re attempting to snag your purse or wallet. Women should always keep their purses over the shoulders diagonally so that the purse stays with the body, and can not be easily removed by a bump of the shoulder. Handbags are not recommended, and neither are purses with very thin straps that can easily be cut or broken. Men should not keep wallets in their back pockets. Instead, stick your wallet in a front pocket close to you. “Fanny packs” are also not recommended, and definitely make you look like a tourist! Foreign criminals know what to look for in American tourists, and have developed several different plans to get the best of them. Aside from pickpocketing, some of the thieves will develop scams that are designed to trick people out of their money without forcibly taking it. They may ask for donations, offer a souvenir, or get personal information from people. Be aware of these tricks and never give your money, or information, to anyone you do not know or trust.
Safety for Women
Women are especially vulnerable when they travel abroad. Female students should travel in group at all times, as this reduces the risk of being approached. Do not travel alone, especially in countries that do not place value on the rights of women. Never walk alone at night, and always have a friend with you when going out to parties and clubs. Be sure to carry mace, or some kind of deterrent, with you just in case you encounter an unsafe situation. Do not dress provocatively. Some countries do not give women the same respect they may in the United States, so it is easier to be a target and not know it. Do not approach men if you are in need of directions, it is more advisable to seek assistance from an officer of the law or at minimum a place of professional business. Try to ask other women or children for simple help, and be aware of the country’s culture when it comes to dealing with strangers. Try not to be paranoid, but it is always a good thing to be aware of others and of your surroundings.
- Safety for Female Students – This article offers some very good tips for females in regards to traveling and studying abroad.
- Drug Offenses Abroad – Information from the US State Department about traveling and drug offenses abroad, and what to look out for.
- Student Safety Abroad – Here are a few simple tips that can help make your experience more safe and enjoyable.
- Emergencies – Some important information every student should know about how to handle emergencies when you’re in another country.
- Safety & Security – This page contains a lot of good information for not just students, but anyone who is traveling, working, or living abroad.
- Student Drinking Abroad – American students often find themselves in situations involving alcohol while abroad; this article discusses the problem.
- Avoid Pickpocketing – Pickpockets are common in other countries, so here are some tips to help you be aware of and keep this from happening to you.
- Spotting Tourist Scams – It is very important to know what to look for when it comes to scams abroad; here is some information to help people be aware of how to spot them.
- Safety Abroad – A very easy to read, concise web page with some great tip for keeping you safe while you’re in another nation.
- The Flu – The Centers for Disease Control has some advice for students when learning abroad during flu season.