You’ve packed your brightest bikinis, a fluffy towel and a dozen pairs of flip-flops for your spring break trip. But before you jet off to Miami, Cancun or the Bahamas, you should make sure you know how to protect yourself during your vacation. Being in an unfamiliar city or country can be thrilling: the people, the food and the weather are all new and exciting. But letting your guard down (plus a fruity drink or two) can make you vulnerable. If you’re smart about your safety, your spring break will be sure to be more blowout than bummer.
Be smart with your travel documents
When classes end for break, being organized is probably the last thing on your mind. But if you’re traveling out of the country, you’ll need to keep track of several important documents — most importantly, your passport. There are plenty of chic passport holders out there, so buy one and never let it out of your sight. Last year Josalyn Williams, a student at UMass Amherst, visited Peru for three weeks. Before she left for the airport, she says she made sure to have multiple copies of important documents like her passport and driver’s license, and put copies of them in each piece of her luggage. She also scanned a copy of her passport and e-mailed it to herself and to her parents. Having copies of your passport can help you if your purse gets stolen or if you get separated from the group.
Do your health and safety research
You don’t want to catch a cold on vacation, so make sure there hasn’t been an outbreak of mumps, measles, or swine flu in your destination. Search by country on The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and find travel notices and security memos. Check to make sure you don’t need any vaccinations before you leave, and learn how to avoid the flu while travelling. (Your best bet is to throw some hand sanitizer in your beach bag.) You can even download and listen to podcasts on subjects such as “Malaria and Tropical Travel” to prepare yourself should you ever tire of Taylor Swift on your iPod.
Use the buddy system
One seriously annoying aspect of international travel is high cell-phone roaming charges. Rachel Cieri, a student at Elon University, says she and her friends had no cell phone service during their cruise to the Bahamas last spring break. She stressed that you should take note of the fact that you won't always be able to call and text your friends about your trip. Cieri said, “You never realize what an impact that makes, but at one point we thought one of our group had been kidnapped because she went off by herself and we couldn't find her again! My biggest safety tip is just staying together as a group and making a conscious effort to communicate your plans, especially if you're separating in a foreign country.” Decide on a place to meet in case someone in your group gets separated and you can’t reach each other by phone.
Don’t talk to strangers
You may have learned this lesson when you were in kindergarten, but it still holds true today. Chatting up those hotties you meet on the cruise is OK if you keep the conversation in a public area. But be on your guard around people you don’t really know. Tony Maupin, president of Maupin Travel, says you should smile and adjust to the customs of the country you are visiting. Maupin says, “On any trip, you should always do more listening than talking to learn from people.” He also suggests you carry a whistle just in case and don’t stay out too late. Use the same judgment you use on campus and if somewhere doesn’t look right, don’t go there, Maupin says. One final tip—have enough local currency on you for a cab in an emergency.
Eat, drink and be wary
Try new foods during your week away from the dining hall. But being a picky eater about what you consume can help you avoid food poisoning. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises you to wash your hands often with soap and water or break out the hand sanitizer before you eat. The jerk chicken that the street vendor is selling may look delicious, but avoid vendors who may not be following strict sanitation rules. In certain countries, you should only drink water or carbonated beverages from bottles or cans — before you go away, research your destination for contaminants in its water. If a country’s water is unsafe to drink, you should avoid tap water, fountain drinks and ice cubes. As for alcohol, make sure you watch your drink get made and don’t ever leave it unattended. Search by country on The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website to see if you need to take extra precautions with your food.
Pack some sun protection
You’ll need to pack more than swimsuits and your aviators for your spring break trip. Kathryn Neely, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, says she’ll be wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and protecting herself with hats and sunglasses, during her upcoming cruise. Dr. Dean Morrell, a dermatologist, says you should pack a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF of 30 or more, and reapply it every two hours. He also suggests that you consider buying protective clothing, like a sarong or a hat. Take a break under an umbrella and remember that the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. According to Dr. Morrell, “Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. You can have fun in the sun and decrease your risk of skin cancer.”
Take care of yourself
Getting sick can mean trouble in paradise. If you do feel under the weather, you need to take it easy and skip some excursions. Neely plans on packing some aspirin for her cruise for cramps and headaches. But if she gets sick, she says, “I'll probably just stay in and rest... I read the information packet the cruise company sent, and they said there was a doctor on board in case of emergencies.” Severe sunburns and sunstroke, too, can seriously affect your trip. Try to protect yourself as best you can, but if you do get too much sun, Dr. Morrell recommends “avoidance of further sun exposure, oral anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen, topically applied ice packs, and a thick, bland moisturizer like Vaseline.” Sure, it stinks to be inside, but grab a gossip magazine and you’ll be grateful for the AC.
With the first half of your semester over, it’s time to unwind. Enjoy your spring break—you deserve it. Just remember to be smart about your safety while you lounge by the pool in paradise. Use common sense during your week and your spring break is certain to be stress-free. After all, you’ve got to be relaxed and revived for round two of your semester.
Josalyn Williams, a senior at UMass Amherst
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Rachel Cieri, a student at Elon University
Kathryn Neely, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill
Dean Morrell, M.D. (Pediatric Dermatology, University of North Carolina Hospitals)
Tony Maupin, President of Maupin Travel