The allure of traveling abroad to study and experience other cultures continues to grow for teens across the country. U.S. student participation in study abroad programs has more than doubled over the last decade, according to the Institute of International Education.
While traveling abroad is an exciting opportunity for students, parents often have concerns over safety.
"As travel safety experts with nearly 50 years of experience, we work diligently to ensure the safety of every student and leader in every program," said Mike Bowers, Senior Health and Safety Director for People to People Ambassador Programs. "We understand the concerns, and we are committed to providing a safe and enjoyable educational experience for all program participants."
Bowers has reviewed years of travel data to understand the most common safety issues as a leader in travel safety. People to People Ambassador Programs has developed the following practical safety tips, which you can give to your teen before he travels abroad.
Tips for Teens
Pack common sense
- Ask yourself—would I do this at home? If the answer is no, rethink your actions.
- Get some rest. You can have a good time without staying out too late—the more rested you are, the more likely you are to be aware of and safe in your surroundings.
- Always travel with a buddy—traveling alone can make you a mark for thieves. Having two sets of eyes to watch out for bad situations is helpful, plus it will be more fun to share your experiences with a friend.
Scope out your surroundings
- Be knowledgeable about your destination. Visit Centers for Disease Control travel websites and other online resources before you travel. Check out hotels and inns before you decide to stay there.
- Choosing a hostel off the beaten path might save you a little money, but it could also lead you into an unsafe situation.
- Go ahead, travel like a native, but be cautious when using public transportation. Crowds make it easier for pick-pocketers. Always keep your money and identification on your person in multiple locations.
- If you see the same person three times in different locations it could mean you are being targeted, and you should find a safer place.
Leave a money trail
- Use a prepaid bank card which allows loved ones back home to know where you are and make sure they have access to the account. The U.S. Department of State indicates it is a good way to find people while traveling.
- Make copies of passports and credit cards, etc. If lost or stolen, account numbers can be easily located and reported.
Leave the bling behind
- Petty criminals look for easy targets in crowds and a "blinged out" tourist is an easy target.
- Make an effort to blend in and use your prior research to understand the country's style and culture.
- Contact home on a scheduled basis to let your loved ones know you are safe. If you miss a scheduled time, your contacts will know to start looking for you.
- Use Skype, text messaging, or a GPS-equipped phone that allows people back home to track your trip and ensure your safety.
The U.S. Department of State says that when you leave the United States, you are subject to the laws of the country you are visiting. Therefore, before students go, they should learn as much as possible about the local laws and customs of the places they plan to visit. They can get more information at the library, from a travel agent, and the embassies, consulates, or tourist bureaus of the countries being visited.
"We know how important safety is to a parent sending their child to another country," said Bowers. "That's why parents and students need to be informed. We make sure we keep open and ongoing communication with students, leaders, and family members regarding safety and any world events that may affect our programs."
To help students—or anyone else—traveling to a foreign country, the Department of State has set up the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It's a free service that lets you submit information about your trip so that the department can assist you in an emergency. It makes it easier for U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to contact you and your loved ones during an emergency. You can also subscribe to receive updates on travel warnings, travel alerts, and other information for the countries you'll be visiting. Learn more at Students Abroad.