Top health and safety tips for your next international trip
It’s normal to feel anxious about going abroad.
Especially when the U.S. government pumps out travel warnings, your Facebook feed is plagued with horror stories, and your friend’s cousin’s sister mentions this one time a terrible thing happened in a place which may or may not be close to where you’re going.
Getting you out from under the covers, El Nomad checked in the our alumni community and upcoming spring breakers to discover the top pre-arrival health and safety questions of study abroad students.
Be properly prepared, shake off your nerves, and arrive home safely with our key recommendations and advice – no matter what part of the world you’re about to explore.
"What if something goes wrong at the airport upon arrival?"
The moment you arrive in-country is arguably the scariest, so it's not surprising that you, like many of our other students, feel nervous about the ifs and buts.
For your own peace of mind, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the post-landing process. The airport staff are there to guide you, but having a rough idea of what to expect after landing can beef up your confidence.
Post-landing procedures at the airport
While every airport system is slightly different, you'll most likely go through immigration soon after landing.
To avoid experiencing any difficulties at the airport, do research beforehand to secure the relevant visa (if required), chat with the local embassy, and ask questions to your study abroad provider about what to expect.
Remember, immigration officers don't necessarily have the most up-to-date information, especially in countries that have a history of political instability. They also can use strategies to threaten and intimidate you.
If you find yourself being interrogated, be confident about the information you've received prior to arrival, and if you're particularly worried, print off supporting documents that outline the relevant visa regulations or your rights as a foreigner entering the country.
After immigration, you will head to baggage claim to get your luggage, and then either locate your pick-up contact or find transport back to your homestay or hostel.
Even though you may be tired, chin up, you got this!
How to respond to unforeseen circumstances
While taking a few long, deep breaths can go a long way, here's a helpful checklist to get you through any unexpected, uncomfortable, or emergency situations.
- Inform your bank that you’re traveling, so they don't suspect suspicious activity and cut off access to your cards
- Print off the relevant in-country emergency numbers, and a copy of your program itinerary to store in your carry-on luggage
- Request the number of a reliable taxi drivers prior to arrival
- Note down the name, address, and step-by-step directions of a hotel or hostel where you can stay in case of an unexpected situation
- Ensure you can be contacted from the moment you arrive in-country, whether that's by using the WiFi at the airport or investing in an international phone plan
"Is it safe to take a taxi abroad?"
Most major cities have regulated taxi systems, which means drivers are obligated to abide by a set of government laws. We recommend doing research before hand to find out what those laws are, and importantly, how they translate in-country.
In Ecuador, for example, every taxi has to be fitted with a camera and red emergency button, which is located on the right hand side of the front passenger seat.
If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable or nervous during your ride, press this button and the nearest police station will tail your taxi and pull it over at the next safest stop.
Be wary of taxi drivers that make excuses for not complying with legal regulations. If the taxi's security camera is broken, covered up, or isn't there at all, find another taxi.
What happens if I'm going somewhere that does not follow a regulated taxi system?
Most countries have regulations in place, but unfortunately, they're not always enforced. If you're traveling to a country with little-to-no follow through on the law, don't worry, you can still dig up information on in-country etiquette.
We recommend chatting to someone who has been to the country, or even better, lives in the country. Try connecting with other travelers and locals on platforms like Couchsurfing and Meetup.
Your study abroad provider should also have information.
"What do I do if there’s a natural disaster while I’m in-country?"
Natural disasters are rare anywhere in the world, so don't get too caught up in situations outside of your control.
Any study abroad company you choose should have a risk management plan, and other safety-driven documents, like emergency numbers, trusted medical facilities with English-speaking doctors, step-by-step procedures for emergency response, etc.
If natural disasters make you nervous, ask your study abroad provider about the procedures in place for these situations. They should be able to tell you the protocol, and if not, maybe it’s best to choose a different provider.
"I don’t want my things to get stolen – how can I prevent this?"
Before debating the prevalence of in-country theft and petty crime, think hard about what you're packing, and take out items you couldn't bear to lose.
While you may need your laptop for classroom purposes, is it wise to bring your most expensive jewelry or Prada sunglasses?
To stay safe in-country, use your head and remember that you're in an unfamiliar place.
While it's not necessarily more dangerous than your apartment in the states, you're still in a foreign city and country. That means you don't know what signs to watch out for, which streets to avoid, and what suburbs attract more crime. Adopt a humble approach to security, and accept that you don't yet know the best way to stay safe. No matter where you go, be cautious without being paranoid.
If you're in Latin America, we recommend keeping your smart phone in a zipped place while wandering about downtown. Avoid putting it in your back pocket, as it becomes tempting eye candy for thieves!
When taking public transportation or exploring the local markets, keep your bag close to you and in front of your body.
Some study abroad companies, like El Nomad, provide you with a local cell phone for emergencies. If you're not that lucky, invest in one upon arrival and carry it with you everywhere you go. It's your responsibility to know the in-country emergency support number, as well as the contact details of safe taxi drivers and trusted medical professionals.
"If I get sick abroad, what should I do?"
Your study abroad provider should be knowledgeable about nearby medical facilities and trusted doctors. However, don't rely on them to keep you healthy. We recommend you learn the location of the nearest reliable hospitals upon arrival, so you're equipped to deal with unforeseen circumstances.
Most travelers have experienced what it feels like to be sick in a foreign country, and it's not fun! Especially if it's the first experience with food poisoning.
However, the likelihood you're in any real danger from sickness is low. While you're in the moment, it's easy to panic and become frantic about your symptoms – especially if you google it! Stay calm, keep hydrated (sip slowly, and tiny bits at a time!), and rest. When you feel better, eat light and bland foods, like rice or bananas, and take electrolytes.
Also, don't forget to invest in international medical insurance while abroad. Some health insurance companies can easily extend your plan for a limited time to include international coverage and a few study abroad providers include it in your program. Explore all options before moving forward.
"How do I choose the "safest" study abroad provider?"
Choosing the best study abroad provider to take care of you in-country can minimize the risks involved in travel.
Even though rigorous safety procedures and emergency plans are important, and should be delivered by your study abroad provider, intimate on-the-ground knowledge goes far further than impressive pre-arrival documents.
Opt for a provider that's specialized in the country or region where you're going to, like El Nomad, and inquire about the in-country support. Culturally mixed teams with both international and local onsite staff tends to give you the most well-rounded support system. If your study abroad provider has in-country HQ, even better!
Now enough of the scary talk, want to do something meaningful this Spring Break?
Be a part of our upcoming sustainable service learning program and build a zero-waste farm for at-risk kids in Ecuador.
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