Safe Travel Reminders for Spring Break and Study Abroad!
Most colleges and Universities are back in session after the winter break and moving ahead at full steam. The spring semester is a popular time for college students to either embark on a semester long excursion or are looking to experience the frills of spring break. There are a few things students and parents should know in order to make your experience fun and safe. I have complied a list of pertinent travel tips which I always found helpful for all of my excursions.
1. Check your overseas medical insurance and to make sure that you are covered and are able to be reimbursed in case an emergency happens. I especially tell clients to look into medical evacuation and if it’s covered. Most foreign countries have different medical procedures and are equipped with different medicines. Depending on the severity of your illness, you may have to leave the country. If your policy does not offer overseas coverage, I recommend looking for supplemental travel insurance. ISIC offers very good rates for college students and can be purchased just for the duration of travel.
2. Download the Department of States free “Traveler” app. In this day in age, kids are more likely to get an update via social media than a phone call. This app is equipped with in depth information about every country in the world and includes addresses for US Embassies. Lastly, if there is an issue in any country an update is sent out to all subscribers. Also, once the app is installed you will be able enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
3. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a handy service and I highly recommend it for anyone going abroad. The service is free and allows you to interface with US government services in case of an emergency. It allows you to send your email address and a personal contact. These contacts will be used by government services to contact in the event of an emergency. Many of you may remember the turmoil that plagued the Middle East last year; the smart traveler program helped evacuate dozens of students studying in Egypt and enabled them to get to safety.
4. One thing I can take away from the time I have spent overseas is you need to familiarize yourself with the local habitat far in advance. Of course half of the excitement is the new discovery sensation, but it is very sensible to have some awareness. Books, blogs, internet, hotel reviews, and even chatting up with a local Embassy official in the USA are great ways to gain an insight for what lies ahead. It is also a good idea to review the in-country’s laws and customs. The last thing you want to do is to offend someone without knowing it.
5. It is highly recommended you review and understand the host countries laws you are visiting. Most will differ vastly from American laws and you can count on the fact that their judicial process is different. An important thing to remember is because you are an American citizen does not mean you are immune OR that the US Embassy will bail you out. Many many make this mistake and think if someone calls the Embassy, all will be okay. Only in the movies! The Embassy will merely come see you to make sure you are in good health, advise you of where to FIND legal counsel, and contact someone on your behalf. So please do fall into the false assumption that a Diplomatic car will be waiting outside to whisk you away.
6. Understand the entry/exit requirements and other specifics concerning your visa/passport. Some countries require your passport to be valid for more than six months, others you cannot wear glasses, some you have to surrender your passport, etc. Each country has their own nuances and they need to be followed. The staff at Travel Visa Pro can elaborate in greater detail for country specific questions.
7. It is very important to understand the local currency and set your banking accordingly. I always advise to notify your bank when/where you will be travelling. This will prevent them from putting a hold on your account. It is a great idea to bring cash, debit cards, and credit cards with you. Most places love the American dollar, but be careful about showing too much cash, it attracts unwarranted attention. Always ask your bank how much they will charge for using a credit card and how much ATM withdrawals will cost. With some shrewd and dedicated persuasion with your bank, they should be able to waive their host institutions fees.
8. Avoid being the target of crime. This is easier said than done, but in lay man terms you want to avoid being the stereotypical American we all have seen on TV. It attracts unwarranted attention and can lead to trouble. You also want to avoid showing off too much and really try to blend in like a local. Trust me, when abroad it’s best not to be noticed than to be the center of attention.
9. Calling home and making telephone calls can either be extremely difficult because of logistics or your having too much fun. For those studying abroad it is prudent to pick up a mobile phone and sim card in the host country. Don’t try to add global calling to your smartphone or use calling cards. Trust me! Just do whatever the locals are doing, its cheaper. Another cheap option is the use of Skype or even the handy Facetime app that comes with Apple devices. All you need is Wifi, which you can find pretty much anywhere in the world, and then you can make cheap calls.
10. Local cuisine and stomach issues can play a large factor into your daily day. I have spent time in the Middle East where the food is nothing like we have in America, thus sometimes things may not have agreed with my stomach. Or maybe you drank too much of the local beer and the next morning your stomach is upset. One thing to do is find out if the water is safe to drink and if so from where. Otherwise stick to bottled water or water that is purified. Lastly, it is wise to ask your doctor for Cipro or a similar “traveler” medication. Sometimes just taking one of these can go a long way.
This list could go on forever and ever, but the above listed points are a quick way to make sure things are in order for your big adventure. Remember the most important part is to have fun and learn a lot. But you want to make sure you do it in a responsible way where your fun does not quickly turn into a bad experience. Safe Travels!!