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10 Tips for Staying Safe When Traveling by Yourself Abroad


Posted Nov 9 2013 - 2:00pm

As pre-collegiettes become collegiettes, many new opportunities present themselves. With a new sense of freedom, many of us embark on trips abroad. Some choose to hit the road by going backpacking over the summer, while others embrace the study abroad experience. Either way, collegiettes are exposed to amazing experiences, life lessons, lasting friendships, and moments they will never forget. However, going abroad can be dangerous if not handled correctly, especially if a collegiette is traveling alone.

No matter how you choose to travel abroad, here are some safety tips to keep you out of danger’s way while you are exploring Europe!

1. Always be aware and cautious

This might seem like common sense, but it is important to be a hundred times more aware and cautious when you are traveling alone in a foreign country. You don’t need to become a Nervous Nelly who is constantly suspicious of everything and everyone, but you do need to be more attuned to your surroundings. “Part of the fun of traveling is taking chances by moving outside of your comfort zone. However, you should continually monitor your surroundings,” says Nick Gozik, director of the Office of International Programs at Boston College. “This does not mean being suspicious of everyone with whom you come into contact, yet simply keep note of what is taking place around you. When in doubt, ask locals for their advice. A hotel or hostel front desk worker, for example, can point out areas that should be avoided, especially at night.”

While it is never fun to assume the worst of people, sometimes it is better to be overly cautious. Women are often the target of catcalls and other forms of unwanted attention in Europe. The best way to handle this, according to Gozik, is “to simply continue walking, while pretending not to notice. If you continue to have problems, find a police person or someone else who can assist.” The wise words of our parents, “better safe than sorry,” are extremely important when it comes to traveling overseas alone.

2. Plan well and let friends and family know of your plans

Moms and Dads are definitely huge proponents of this tip, but keeping your other family and friends up to date on your whereabouts will only help you out in the long run. Gozik, suggests leaving a copy of your itinerary with your family and checking in with them often. “Your friends and family will be reassured to know that you are safe, and they will likely enjoy experiencing the trip vicariously through you,” he says.

Put in plan in place with your parents in terms of how often they should expect to hear from you. If you promise to Skype them every Sunday, stick with that plan. If something comes up, let them know that you are okay, just busy. Leave your family a list of emergency contacts just in case they need to reach you.

Darci Miller, a senior at the University of Miami, made sure to keep all her loved ones in the loop while abroad in London. “It definitely was tricky because of international calling plans and fees, but whenever there was wi-fi I would send my mom a Facebook message letting her know that I was still alive and well,” she says.

3. Dress appropriately and don’t draw unwanted attention to yourself

Depending on where you find yourself traveling, the definition of what is appropriate may change. People in some countries dress more conservatively, while others embrace less clothing. Gozik recommends trying to blend in to the local culture. “By not standing out, you are less likely to be the target of a crime,” he says. “You also have the ability to learn more about the host culture by becoming an observer rather than an object of observation.” He also suggests leaving any T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, and other items with U.S. logos at home. While natives might wear these items at times, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself as an American tourist. As much as you love your college hoodie and your football jersey, it is better to leave these items at home for your safety.

Try to avoid calling attention to yourself with any flashy accessories or jewelry, which could make you a target of theft. Caroline Finnegan, a senior at the University of Illinois, witnessed what can happen when too much attention is drawn to a foreigner. She recalls: “A friend of mine used her iPad every morning in Amsterdam at our hostel in the wi-fi zone. The cover of her iPad was cute (cheetah and patent leather), but it definitely made her stand out among the other hostel guests. She hid her passport in one of the sleeves of the iPad cover and put it in a safe when we went bike riding one day. When we returned, the safe was broken into and the iPad and her passport were both gone!”

4. Choose your purse (and other baggage) wisely

Collegiettes love their accessories, so before you head abroad, make sure to purchase sensible purses, bags, and suitcases. The right purse might be what saves you from becoming a victim of the local pickpockets. Gozik recommends bringing a bag or purse that can be zipped, especially if you’re going to a big city. “Purses that are open at the top can make it easy for pickpockets to pull out wallets, passports, and other valuables,” he says. “A purse that has an inside pocket, which can be zipped, is especially valuable.”

Jenna Fanduzzi, a student at Marquette University, went to Barcelona one summer and says there were pickpockets everywhere. “I brought a small shoulder bag and was pretty good about keeping it with me at all times,” she says. “However, one of the girls on my trip put down her purse for a brief moment and the purse was instantly snatched. Luckily, she only had a phone and a driver’s license in the bag, so it’s also a great idea to not carry your entire wallet at all times—only bring what you absolutely need.”

Be wary of carrying around a backpack as well. “In larger cities that are often associated with tourists, backpacks have the drawback of too many pockets, which can be opened without the wearer’s awareness,” warns Gozik.

Once you pick your baggage, make sure to wear it in a smart fashion. Holding a bag or purse in front of you will make it more difficult for pickpockets to access the bag without your knowledge. Vy Truong, online content and PR marketing specialist at Contiki Vacations, suggests carrying a purse with a strap that goes over your shoulder. Consider investing a slashproof messenger bag to avoid any sticky situations.

5. Read up on each of your destinations

More information will only help you, so Gozik encourages students to read up about the customs and norms of the cultures of the places you are traveling to before you go, and bring information along with you as you travel. “It is easy to learn the basics by consulting websites and guidebooks,” he says. “If you have more time, read longer books, watch films, and talk with people from the host culture. The more you know, the easier job you will have of blending into local culture, and in turn be less of a target for crime and harassment.”

Anna Teale, a student at Nottingham University, swears by Lonely Planet travel guides. “I travelled around Vietnam and Thailand this summer and could not have done it without buying the Lonely Planet guide for each country,” she says. “The guide goes into the finest details, and lists all the hotels and restaurants of each area, as well as things to do and the nearest pharmacies, hospitals, etc. The people who write the guides have traveled extensively and they update the guides every year.”

There are great foreign travel opportunities through companies like Contiki, where you can safely explore the continent alone, but still have the safety and security of a group.  Another benefit of Contiki trips is that their Tour Managers are like human guidebooks—they can give you all sorts of information, from where to eat to how to interact with locals to how to beat lines of tourists. “The Manager can point you in the direction of a great café, or lead a walking tour through the city and make sure you know plenty about the destination you are visiting,” says Truong.

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