Safe Behavior Abroad

Travel abroad is always an adventure for students.  A common sense approach to the risks involved goes a long way toward assuring safe travel and pleasant memories.  We offer the following suggestions for your own safety:

  • When you travel during vacations, give a copy of your itinerary to your Resident Director.  Even if your plans are vague, leave whatever information you can, such as the names of travelers, expected destinations, lodging, phone numbers, and if available, mode of travel and dates of departure and return. 
  • Check State Department advisories on the web for all countries you will be traveling through to be prepared for any special conditions or dangers, visa requirements, etc.
  • Travel with at least one other person.
  • Carry passport, travelers checks, money, and other important papers in a pouch around your neck or waist under your clothing.
  • Avoid travel in large, predominantly American groups.  It is easier to meet local people this way.  It is also easier to organize trips and sightseeing in smaller gatherings, and can be safer.
  • Always carry some local currency.  Keep the equivalent of at least $50 cash in reserve while traveling.
  • DO NOT HITCHHIKE.  Travel by bus, train, local transportation, or car.
  • Do not leave money, tickets, your passport, or other valuables in a hotel room while you are out.  Take them to the hotel front desk and ask them to put them in a safe.
  • Keep a low profile in demeanor and dress.  It is wise to adapt to local dress codes; avoid clothes and behaviors that call attention to yourself as a foreigner who doesn’t know the culture. 
  • Leave expensive jewelry at home.  It's best to wear little or none.
  • Every year backpacks are stolen from students who set them down at their feet or sling them over the back of the chair in a café.  Be careful with your belongings because replacing your passport, credit cards, keys, etc., is quite a hassle.
  • Be polite, low key, and sensitive to local customs; always observe signs and regulations in public places.
  • Speak the local language wherever possible.
  • Student guidebooks such as Let’s Go or Lonely Planet are generally a good source of information.

In Troubled Times...

Avoid the following:

  • Controversial discussions/situations in public places such as pubs
  • Street gatherings, demonstrations, picketing, etc.
  • Dangerous areas, shortcuts, narrow alleys, or poorly lit streets
  • Walking around in a large group speaking English
  • Heated sports matches and public events characterized by crowd excitement.

In times of heightened political, religious, or ethnic tensions, be particularly careful in:

  • Identifiable American institutions such as Embassies, American Express, McDonald's, Hard Rock Cafés, discotheques, and other places such as bars and restaurants identified with Americans or where Americans usually gather
  • Military and diplomatic installations; war memorials
  • Highly visible and crowded churches, mosques and synagogues
  • Train stations and airports; do not hang around ticket offices or airline counters--go quickly to your train or the lounges beyond the passport controls.

Some advice concerning terrorism:

  • Be especially careful to help maintain security both at your study site and while traveling. Because terrorist actions are usually preceded by a surveillance period, the U.S. State Department asks all American citizens "to be alert to anyone who might appear to be following them, or anyone whom they notice in the same place repeatedly, or anything unusual near their vehicles, workplaces, or locations frequented by Americans.  Any unusual activity of this sort should be reported to local police."  
  • Remember that terrorist attacks are usually planned months in advance.  They often involve innocent accomplices.  Students in foreign countries are considered easy to recruit.  Be cautious when you meet new people.  Do not give your address, your telephone number, or contact info for your study site

Further recommendations when traveling:

  • Do not accept any package, parcel, or suitcase from anyone asking you to carry, look after or store items for them.
  • Do not borrow suitcases; make sure that no one has put anything in your luggage.   A few years ago, a bomb found at Heathrow Airport in England had been planted in the bag of a young woman by her boyfriend whom she had known for over a year.
  • Never drive a car for someone else, especially across national borders.
  • Remain alert in public places; look around; get away from any package or bag which appears abandoned, and notify the employees or local police.
  • Do not leave your own bags unattended, not only because they may be stolen, but also because the police may consider them dangerous and confiscate or destroy them.

Family Emergencies:

Since you will be far away from home for an extended period of time, it is good to discuss with your family what to do in the case of a family emergency while you are overseas. This should include what you would do if a family member becomes ill or dies.

It is important to consider how your family will respond if you are involved in an accident or suffer from a severe illness while abroad.  We advise one or both parents to obtain a current passport in case of emergency.  This should be done before you depart the U.S.

Final Thoughts:

Observing these mentioned precautions will be reassuring to you and to your parents, relatives, and friends at home.  However being overly concerned with safety should not interfere with the enjoyment of life and study in another country.