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Universal rule #1: Don’t trust strangers.
While the majority of strangers who offer to help you find your way or with your things are legitimate, it can never hurt to be too careful when you’re en-route. Never leave your stuff with someone you don’t know, and always keep an eye on valuables. Some veteran traveler techniques include keeping your backpack in front of you or your hand on your purse or pocket while standing on the bus. You may feel silly at first, but you’ll soon notice that many locals travel like this.
Universal rule #2: Always stay more attentive abroad to what’s around you than when you are at home or on campus.
You may have taken public transportation before, but being an American in another country brings a lot more attention to you than in the States (or your home country). Always be monitoring your surroundings and look alert (i.e not lost!), whether in a taxi, bus, train, or walking.
Universal rule #3: Never arrive to a location at nighttime
Sometimes this cannot be helped because of the way train/bus schedules work out, but arriving to a location at night puts you at risk for criminal activity simply because there is typically less foot traffic and more dark or poorly-lit areas that make you an easier target, especially if you aren’t attentive. Always know how to get from the point of arrival to the final destination before beginning your journey, whether it be to and from class, or to or from cities in your host country.
Universal rule #4: Sign up for the US Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan.
This free program provides you with the latest updates on travel warnings and alerts in the country you’re in. It is highly recommended for anyone abroad—especially study abroad students.
In the end, the absolute best way to be safe is to ask trusted locals for advice (such as your housemates, Resident Director, International Student Office, etc). Some good questions to ask include:
- What modes of transportation can be dangerous?
- How do I know if a taxi is legitimate?
- Are there certain bus stops and neighborhoods I should avoid?
- What is conspicuous to have out in the open on a bus/train? (ie credit cards, cell phone, iPhone, iPod, laptop, etc.)
- Will a photocopy of my passport instead of the original suffice for identification?
Learning how to get around while abroad is a wonderful experience, so don’t be afraid to dive in. Just be smart!
~Jeanne Zeller, Illinois Study Abroad Office Peer Advisor