What can we do to teach students and young people who are traveling abroad what they can do to stay out of trouble and to improve their safety? In the case of minors traveling abroad, or young adults in general, these lessons are also important for parents and legal guardians.
Once again, it should be emphasized that there is no guarantee of 100% safety when one is traveling, either in one’s own country or abroad. Risk is an ever-present reality that cannot be eliminated but only mitigated or lessened. All travel holds inherent dangers. In fact, a locations that is home to one person is a foreign destination to another person. Just as it is important to emphasize to young people that they not take risks at home, so too do they require special care when traveling abroad. This is especially true as many students traveling abroad are in a foreign country for the first time and may not be “sophisticated travelers.” Thus, just as in the senior citizen market, special precautions and care needs to be given.
The following ideas are just a few of the many suggestions that should be considered. There are professional organizations such as: Global Secure Resources Inc located in Boston Massachusetts and ClearCause located in Minneapolis, Minnesota that can provide interested parties in location specific details and be advocates for American students traveling abroad.
Tourism Tidbits offers you a number of general points to consider. These points do not cover all cases, but rather are meant to get your creative juices flowing.
– Like other areas of the travel market, the youth travel market is highly complex. Young people tend to travel in three sub-categories (1) as individuals traveling abroad (2) as part of an organized tour group and (3) as part of a study abroad program. All three groups have their individual characteristics. Group one, the freelance traveler is the most difficult to control.Group two, the organized tour, is the most regimented and at least hypothetically is the easiest to control, and group three a hybrid experience where students have both organized tours but often are living with local families. These study abroad programs may have a duration period of an academic year, a semester, or they may be short-term programs, being a creative and educational way to spend a summer or even a spring break.
– Youth independent travel experiences are similar to other individual travelers except at times young people tend to put themselves into both physically and socially challenging situations. It is for this reason that both tourism locals and older family members need to treat these people with special precautions. If the young person is traveling on his/her own, it is essential that pre-set “check-in” locations be established. It is best to have these people take a course in safe travel and another course in the challenges of the places that they are visiting. They should know something about where they are staying, what the local political and crime situation is and how to contact their nation’s embassy and/or consulate services. Many people do not realize that cell phones often do not work in a foreign nation or that the cost of using one’s cell phone may be prohibitive. Develop a communication system before the person leaves home.
– Understand that once abroad a student is subject to local laws. It does not matter what citizenship a student has. Once the student lands in a foreign location s/he is subject to local laws. Know what is legal and not legal in a particular locale and if it is illegal for the local population then it is also illegal for the foreign traveler.
– Students should register with their nation’s diplomatic services. Most nations provide diplomatic services for travelers abroad. These may consist of information on how to get a new passport, places to avoid, and how to receive medical help. Many nations provide travel warnings. These are often based on what their citizens tell the consulate offices. It is wise to visit the travel advisory page of more than one nation.
– For students (and the parents of students) going on a study abroad trip, ask lots of questions before departure. Many people assume that trips sponsored by academic institutions have been thoroughly vetted and are entirely safe. In many cases, but not all cases, this assumption is true.
– It only takes one mistake, however, to turn a dream into a nightmare. For example, ask the academic institution who is organizing the trip. Is this institution subcontracting portions of the trip? Do the professors, or trip monitors, speak the local language? Have the trip leaders visited these locations before? Do they understand transportation issues? For example, how safe are the local roads, what type and condition of the vehicles do they use and how professional are the drivers? In a like manner if people are going to the beach, how safe is the beach? Are there lifeguards at the beach and have the tour leaders visited this beach before? What form of training have these group leaders have and in what subjects. Training can consist of anything from medical training (knowing what to do in a medical emergency) to knowing how to handle a homesick student. Students and parents should also ask what form of health and evacuation services are provided. Never sign any agreement without advice of professional legal counsel.
Before a student departs parents should know: Where is the student staying? If with a family, then has the family been vetted and has someone actually checked the family’s residence? How often will the group leaders see the students? Is the university or tour group using licensed tour guides, places of lodging, and methods of transportation? If so, who is doing the licensing and what are the standards for receiving this license?
– Develop multiple travel checklists. The checklist should be divided into three parts: (a) things to do and have ready before travel (b) things to do or not do while traveling, (c) repair and reconstruction in the post-travel period. For example before you go, not only should you have a list of documents needed, places where you will be staying, and medical challenges, but a trusted person at home should also have the traveler’s full information. During the trip make sure that there are check-in times and emergency numbers. Do you know how to ask for help in the local language? Will the student have access to a cell phone and will the student be in places where there lacks cell phone coverage?
– Be prepared for things to go wrong. No one goes on a trip planning to face an emergency, just as no one gets married planning on getting divorced. Divorces, however, do happen and so do emergencies. There is nothing more frustrating or frightening than having a loved one overseas in a physical or medical crisis and not being able to help. To lessen these problems, make sure that someone at home as photocopies or all travel documents and itineraries. Never take something that you cannot afford to lose. That means do not take valuables or sentimental objects. Make sure that your bank and credit card company know where you are. In a world of identity theft, you do not want a credit card company fearing that someone has stolen your card and shutting down the line of credit.