Studying abroad is a rite of passage for many students and it’s an experience that can pay off both academically and on a personal level. But for many young people, studying abroad is the first time they’re traveling internationally. For parents, it can be worrisome and stressful sending your child away from home for school, much less alone across an ocean.
If your child is leaving to study abroad, here are some travel tips to discuss with him or her to ensure a safe and enjoyable time overseas, (and give you some peace of mind).
- Know emergency numbers and the location of the U.S. Embassy
Before your child leaves for their trip, sit down with him and together research safety services in the city where they will be studying. Look up the emergency phone numbers for the country where they’ll reside—most countries don’t use 911 and have their own emergency numbers, some even vary by city. Identify the closest hospital and emergency room. Also take note of the nearest U.S. Embassy, including its location, contact information and even it’s Twitter handle. Print out the emergency information you’ve gathered together and have your child keep a copy in their wallet, purse or backpack. Enroll in the Department of State’s free STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), which alerts US Embassies along their itinerary of their presence in the area.
- Familiarize your child with safe and smart travel habits
Though your child will most likely live in a dorm or with a host family while they’re studying abroad, one of the great things about study abroad programs is the opportunity to travel on weekends and during school breaks. If your child will be taking short trips around their host country, make sure they are aware of safe travel habits. Talk to your child about staying in hotels on well-traveled streets in safe areas of the city. Encourage your child to stay on lower-level floors in case of fire or other need to evacuate quickly. Have your child check to be sure the room they rent has a fire alarm, fire escape and carbon monoxide detector and that the doors and windows lock securely. Also make sure that your child shares their itinerary with you before leaving and that they stay in touch with you while they are away.
- Communication is key
Your child may know her international college campus or host family neighborhood like the back of her hand, but if they ends up in another part of town and have to get home, or if there’s an emergency, will they know how to return? Ask your child to carry the address of their home away from home on their person at all times, written in both English and the native language.
Cell phones are also an important part of communicating while abroad and will be your child’s best friend in an emergency. Check with your cellular provider before your child goes abroad to make sure she’ll have service. (You can also) use an International SIM card or buy a pocket hotspot device to keep them connected.
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- Keep a low profile
Off of campus, if your child looks like an obvious tourist there’s a much greater chance that pickpockets or scammers will target them. Talk to your child about leaving expensive laptops or camera equipment in their room.
It’s also important that your child not discuss travel plans or itineraries publicly. Though social media can allow you to keep up with your child almost instantaneously, make sure they don’t live-stream their location. If they’re going to post photos of their day, ask them to do so once they’ve returned to their room, so strangers with bad intentions can’t locate them in real time.
- Study up on common scams
In most places where tourists flock, scammers are waiting to prey on those who are unaware. If your child will be studying in, or traveling to, a popular tourist city, take time to research common scams that take place there—from cab drivers that overcharge foreigners, to scammers that “accidentally” bump into tourists, spilling food on their shirts and, in the chaos that follows, steal wallets or other belongings.
In case your child is robbed, encourage him to keep money and credit/debit cards in multiple locations. If their debit card is in their pocket, their credit card should be locked up in a safe place in their room. This way, even if they do encounter a pickpocket, they aren’t stranded without money.
- Hit the town with buddies
When it comes to traveling in groups, the rule is no different abroad then it is at home. Ask your child to hit the town with friends, not to walk alone after dark, not to leave food or drinks unattended, to stick to well-lit streets while walking at night and to use official cabs that are registered with the city (not hired cars).
- Use caution when walking and exercising outdoors
If your child grew up in a community of sidewalks and enforced speed limits, they may not know that many cities are not pedestrian friendly. If your child is a runner, let them know that jogging on the side of the road in their host country may be uncommon and drivers may not be looking out for them. Also remind them that traffic may be coming from the opposite side of the road than what they are used to. When walking or exercising outdoors it is always best to be vigilant.
- Confirm the reach of your medical insurance
Even with the utmost vigilance, accidents and illnesses can happen. Does your medical insurance cover your child overseas? Most do not. Purchasing separate travel insurance is a good idea, at least to cover medical and dental emergencies. For complete control over your child’s health, consider an air medical transport membership. In case of a hospitalization while traveling, most travel insurances, or your platinum card benefits if you’re counting on those, will only get your child to the “nearest acceptable facility,” where language barriers, quality of care or capping out on the insurance medical limits may still be a risk.
Some air medical transport companies, like Medjet, also offer security and crisis response options in addition to medical transport benefits. While it’s scary to think about it, knowing your child has someone to call in the event of political threat, act of terrorism, natural disaster or other safety concern, and that you have access to in-country response if your child is the victim of a violent crime, or (and I know it’s unpleasant to think about) if your child just disappears, is well worth the extra cost.
In summary, it can be stressful and overwhelming to think about what danger could befall your child while studying abroad. It’s hard not to worry. Hopefully, you’ll never find a need for emergency services, but these tips will set your child up for safety and success. The sense of comfort that comes from knowing that your child is ready in the event of a crisis will allow your entire family to relax and enjoy the experience.
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