Sunday, March 16, 2014

Safety First on Student Spring Breaks, or Should We Say Bacchanalia?

It's that time of year to contemplate the debauchery of prospective spring-breakers who are currently enrolled in college and, yes --in high schools -- around the country. Companies like StudentCity are advertising space on (barely) escorted three- and four-night trips to "our most popular international destinations, Nassau, Bahamas and Cancun, Mexico." Sound familiar?

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of State, who regularly field complaints and crises involving spring break behavior, are sharing some tips we can pass onto our kids... without taking the heat.

Spring Break welcome from Student City crew

As they rightly note, some students use their spring break from classes to volunteer in a foreign country, embark upon a European adventure, or visit friends studying abroad. We don't mean you. But regardless of the motivation or destination, the U.S. Department of State shares this wisdom:

  • Avoid underage and excessive alcohol consumption. “Overdoing it” can lead to an arrest, accident, violent crime, or death.

  • Obey all local laws, and remember they might be different from our own. Don’t carry or use drugs, as this can result in severe penalties. Don’t carry weapons either -- some countries have strict laws, and even possessing something as small as a pocketknife or a single bullet can get you into legal trouble. Punishments in other countries can be very different than those in America, and just because you're traveling abroad, doesn't mean you're free from criminal persecution. 

  • Before you leave for your trip, learn as much as possible about your destination at, our website dedicated to student travelers. Here, you can find out about entry requirements, crime, health precautions, and road conditions.

  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This program keeps students up-to-date with important safety and security announcements, such as Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and security messages.

  • Keep in touch with your parents. If you will be without Internet or phone service for a few days, let them know. We receive many calls from parents who fear the worst when they have not heard from their children. In most cases, their child is fine, but has been too busy to check in.

  • Be careful traveling at night. Of course you are going to want to see the nightlife of some places, but be smart. Stay with your group, always let someone know where you're going to be, and stick to the well-lit main streets. Places in Mexico, such as Baja California can be especially dangerous at night, so exercise caution. 

  • Avoid getting involved with political affairs. Some destinations may have a lot of political tension, and it's important to avoid demonstrations, riots, or anything else that can harm you or others.   

  • Learn important key words. If you're traveling to a country where you are not fluent in the language, learn a few key words and phrases beforehand. A precaution such as this will make asking for help and directions easier while visiting. It's also just a fun way to embrace the culture you're in!

Of course, even well-prepared travelers may face an emergency, like a lost passport or an injury. In those cases, the embassies and consulates of the United States are available to help 24/7.

  • Be sure to write down the contact information for the U.S. embassy or consulate in your destination country. In emergencies, they can direct you to the nearest doctor, lawyer, or any other service you may require while traveling. Other resources concerning natural disasters, lost or stolen passports etc., can be found here.

  • Prepare for health-related issues. Does your vacation destination require vaccinations of any kind? What medications will you need to bring with you on your trip? Does your health insurance reach outside of the U.S.? These are all very important questions to consider before you travel.

For more sage thoughts on young ones traveling, especially to regions that are often mired in political trouble and civic unrest, read Mayer Nudell's story on security tips.

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