For most of us, travel doesn’t seem dangerous. In fact, it seems kind of glamorous. It’s easy to be seduced by the idea of wandering the streets of Dubai, floating in the Dead Sea, or seeing the iconic and awe-inspiring pyramids of Egypt.
We young people are notorious for getting caught up in excitement and losing sight of caution – or even common sense. Planning ahead can help insure a safe trip, minus the stress. If nothing else, I quickly learned that “safety-planning” quieted Mom’s nagging.
Although our country is at war, we do not live in a war-zone. At my suburban home in New Jersey and my picturesque college campus in central New York, I am sheltered from these realities. After studying abroad in London for four months – with many weekend trips across Europe – I learned that what is a vacation for you might also be taking you into the heart of a century-old conflict or the heat of a present-day disagreement.
The dangers that plague us on a daily basis – such as the threat of terrorism – also exist abroad, but may be compounded by the fact that you are in an unfamiliar environment. In London, we were constantly reminded of the 7/7 bombings that occurred in the London Underground. These reminders made me aware that while I was “on an adventure,” I still had to live in the real world. What would I do in an emergency? What would I do if I got severely sick? What if I got injured?
The What Ifs could go on forever; the important thing, I realized, is that when a What If occurs you can answer the next question – What Now?
If you are going to be traveling abroad for an extended period of time, I recommend registering on the International SOS website. You’ll be mailed an SOS card that you can carry in your pocket or wallet, as well as a student identity card with your picture, school, and birth date. Both cards have emergency phone numbers on the back. Not only did I feel safer traveling Europe with my cards, but I quickly discovered they were very useful in obtaining student discounts.
Membership to International SOS also includes 24/7 medical assistance, security services and information on global happenings. You can even have SOS alerts sent to your e-mail account so you are immediately aware of dangerous circumstances and can avoid traveling to specific places during riots, high terrorist threats, or natural disasters. I quickly got into the habit of checking my e-mail before planning any trip – even during the hurried planning that followed my roommate’s cry of, “Let’s go to Amsterdam tomorrow!”
Also answering the call for safe and secure travel measures is a new website by the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs; http://studentsabroad.state.gov. This free site provides information for all travelers on documentation, health, emergencies, news alerts, and even voting while abroad.
Traveling abroad is a life-changing experience, but it’s important to remember that the world doesn’t go on vacation, so safety-planning is key. And if nothing else, there are always those student discounts!
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