Don’t be afraid to engage with locals, but have an emergency exit plan for all situations. Observe behavior carefully and consult with trusted locals when you don’t understand something. Ask your program director, or even staff back at Carleton, if you have questions or need assistance.
Navigating Unfamiliar Environments
- Know yourself. Who are you and what are your needs? Do you have any medical conditions, medications, allergies, past travel experiences, etc? Knowing yourself well will only help you trust your instincts and needs while traveling and studying abroad.
- Know how fatigue affects your mental and physical well-being. Try to avoid, but also prepare for times where you may experience travel fatigue. Don’t feel bad about taking breaks.
- Research local culture, society, and etiquette.
- Know that, if at any point, you feel uncomfortable, exit the situation. It is better to offend someone than to ignore your “gut feeling” and compromise your sense of safety.
- Try to travel in small groups (3-4 people) whenever possible. If you choose to travel alone, do not advertise that you do not have any travel companions.
- Know how the phones work in whatever country you are in and be prepared to use them.
- Have some money (cash) stowed away for emergencies.
- Leave your expensive accessories (e.g. jewelry, fancy watches) at home, as they can cause you to stick out even more.
- When you are traveling, read travel reviews, and make sure that you are staying in well-reviewed and safe accommodations.
- Do not give out your permanent phone number, email, Facebook, or street address, unless you really know and trust the person.
- Be aware of eye contact and body language, and how these are construed in your new environment/country.
- Always keep your purse, backpack, or other personal items with you, even if going to the restroom in a restaurant or getting off a bus to stretch.
- Consider snapping a picture of your cab’s license plate before you get in it.
- Be around other people. Try to sit, stand, or walk near other groups of people in transportation or in public areas.
- Have access to copies of all of your travel documents, including visas, passports, and emergency contact numbers.
- Make sure you know where the local embassy or consulate is located and how they can assist you, if needed.
- Pack a first-aid kit.
- Always be AWARE AND ALERT.
- Know your surroundings. Act like you know where you’re going, even if you don’t.
- Most likely, you will find the people you meet to be interesting and interested in you. However, be careful about making judgments regarding your safety based on another person’s appearance, financial status, or how interesting they are.
- Seek out and speak to local people, preferably around your own age, as soon as possible about expectations in the host culture. At the very least, observe locals and be aware of their social cues.
- Dress according to what is “appropriate” for the cultural space you travel in.
- Respect local customs in your interactions with people, or at least be aware of what customs you are breaking and potential implications.
- Do not allow cultural differences to be an excuse to endure verbal or physical abuse or harassment. Depending on the situation, remove yourself from the threatening situation, confront the person, or ask for support from others.
- Culture of Safety: A Practical Guide to Safety Abroad is a 5-minute video that explains the main principles of staying safe abroad and offers valuable tips and pointers for being aware of your new environment.
- Rick Steves’s Travel Europe Blog: Tourist Scams and Rip-Offs covers creative scams popular in European cities.
Resources specifically for female-identifying travelers
- Transitions Abroad: This publication has numerous articles, links and book recommendations for women traveling alone or in groups.
- JourneyWoman is a travel magazine with resources and advice for women traveling abroad.
- Her Own Way is a woman’s safe travel guide produced by the government of Canada.
- Revisiting the Solo Female Travel Experience is an article on women traveling solo.
- A Women’s Experience with Street Harassment details a journalist’s experience with street harassment in Egypt.
Consuming alcohol looks and feels different in new places and countries. Nervousness, anxiety, or excitement, for example, can increase the intoxicating effects of alcoholic beverages. In any environment, but particularly abroad, be thoughtful about your host country’s culture around drinking and honor their and your comfort level with alcohol. Feel free to ask your faculty director or host about situations involving alcohol in which you feel insecure and evaluate your own critical attitude toward drinking. If the host country’s laws allow drinking at a younger age than your home culture, be mindful of your own and others’ limits so you can safely enjoy your surroundings and not make regretful decisions.
Don’t go to bars or pubs alone; always go with at least one other person and arrange to come home together too. Don’t leave your peers alone, especially at night and when drinking. If you choose to consume alcohol, always do so in a responsible manner.
The living environment on off-campus study may require a standard of decorum that differs from that of Carleton residential life, and students are generally expected to understand and conform to the standards of the host culture. It is important to the success of OCS programs that participants observe standards of conduct that do not compromise Carleton in the eyes of individuals and organizations abroad with which it has relationships. Student conduct that might disrupt the program, bring it into disrepute, or place its participants at risk, may result in penalties up to and including dismissal.
–Excerpted from the OCS Alcohol Policy.
- This article from GoAbroad.com covers basic guidelines for alcohol consumption while studying abroad.
- College Drinking Prevention.gov busts five common myths about drinking.
- Understand the signs of alcohol poisoning from College Drinking Prevention.gov.
- Learn about travel and substance use and travel and alcohol use from IAMAT.
- The Center for Global Education contains a wealth of information about health & safety topics, including a section on alcohol consumption abroad.
Remember that the excitement of being in another country may encourage travelers to do things they would not do at home. If you choose to be sexually active while abroad, keep in mind that cultural mores are not the same everywhere. Be conscious of the consequences of your actions on those around you.
- The CDC Sexual Health website covers STDs, HIV/AIDS prevention, Sexual Violence Prevention, and LGBT sexual health.
- Carleton’s Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response website is the best source of information about what to do in cases of sexual misconduct. In addition, you may contact the OCS office or your Faculty/Program director.
- Pathways to Safety International educates Americans traveling and living abroad, giving them the tools to stay informed about gender-based violence, and empowers victims to survive and heal.