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Planning for Personal Safety

According to Interpol figures, the U.S.A. is consistently rated as among the most dangerous countries in the world having higher rates of violent crime per 100,000 people. However, numerous other countries have higher rates of nonviolent crimes (pickpocketing, general theft, snatch & run, etc.) If you anticipate problems (without becoming paranoid!), you can plan for personal safety. Here are some general ideas we've accumulated over the years.When traveling (as opposed to being in your program) carry your true essential items with you, on your person: passport, tickets, most traveler's checks, credit cards, and cash (distribute some for safekeeping). Preferably you should carry these items under your clothes in a money belt, document pouch, or inside jacket pocket.

When you're out, always be aware of your environs and keep an eye on your possessions. If you put something down, put it between you and a wall and maintain contact with it (foot on top or against it).

Thieves often work crowd scenes like bus stations, outdoor events, phone lines, airports, and the like. They thrive on the confusion inherent in such places and target those who look vulnerable.

Don't keep money or valuables in your back hip pocket or a dangling handbag. Wrapping rubber bands around a wallet makes it more difficult for a pickpocket to remove it. If you carry a handbag or pouch, place the strap over your head as well as your shoulder and then put your jacket or sweater on/over the bag. A fanny pack strapped around your waist under your clothes is great for keeping valuables.

Check the straps, zippers, and clasps of pouches and shoulder bags and make sure they're rugged and strong. Also remember than an overstuffed bag is likely to burst.

Avoid looking "helpless" or weighted down. Anticipate your next step. If lost, purposefully walk to someone and ask directions, or find a place to sit down or get out of (or to the edge of) the crowd and collect your thoughts.

Make a point of learning how to use the local pay telephone. Some foreign phones require coins after you have reached your party. Others use debit cards. Always have the correct change with you, just in case.

If you'll be traveling by train or bus and you want to sleep, loop your luggage straps around your arm or leg, securing your luggage to you.

Memorize your passport number, its date, and issue city. Make several copies of your passport ID page and keep them in a safe place. If the country you visit doesn't require that you carry your passport at all times, just carry a copy for identification along with several passport size photos and perhaps your drivers license.

Passports are worth a lot of money on the black market. Don't give yours to anyone who doesn't have a good reason to see it. If you're asked to leave it overnight with hotel management, ask for a receipt.

If you' re traveling to a country that has been the focus of attention for any number of reasons - natural disaster, transportation accident, change of government, terrorism - register your passport and itinerary with the nearest embassy or consulate of your country when you arrive. You may not be in any danger or feel any threat, but your loved ones at home will feel better if there is a record of your registration.

It's important to carry identification with you at all times. If you get in any kind of trouble (an accident, witness to a crime, etc.) and you do not have some sort of identification, you may be treated like a criminal.

If approaching a confusing junction, choose people with whom you want to initiate a conversation and ask their opinions. For example, arriving at a strange airport is always confusing. Talk to the flight crew and fellow passengers on the plane about the airport so you can better anticipate your moves and options upon arrival.

There are always a number of "marks" for a thief or con artist in any crowd. If you've taken defensive measures, the probability is that they will look for a more "promising" target.

It all comes back down to being observant, having the mind set and foreplanning to protect yourself and using it in your attitude and actions abroad. If you look and act like a tourist, you might be mistreated like one.

Hotel Safety

Hotels around the world generally provide a safe, clean place for people to come and stay, whether for a night or longer. Here are a few measures you'll want to take to improve any hotel situation.

Understand the hotel or motel's fire safety system. Don't just read the instructions, rehearse them. Find the two exits nearest your room and make sure they are not locked or obstructed. Count the number of doors between your room and these exits. This will enable you to find them in the dark or in smoke.

Because smoke rises, crawl low under it. Cleaner air will be near the floor. If you encounter smoke or fire as you're crawling, turn around and find another exit. If no exit is clear, return to your room. Never use elevators during a fire. An elevator might stop at the floor where the fire is or malfunction as a result of the fire.

Be sure you can find and unlock your room door in the dark, and keep your room key, clothes, and a flashlight close to your bed. In the event of fire, take your room key with you so you can return to your room if exits are blocked. Don't stop to take anything.

If you feel your room is in an unsafe part of the hotel, ask immediately that it be changed (before unpacking). Check the doors and windows of the room and make sure they lock.

When in your room, use the deadbolt lock or chair under the door knob. This prevents entry from the outside, even from the hotel personnel. Ask the maid to make up your room while you are at breakfast. Then, when you go out for the day, hang up the "Do Not Disturb" sign. This simple idea can keep your room safe all day. When you leave your room at night, turn on one light and the TV or radio to low.

Don't flash a wad of bills or a long string of credit cards at the hotel desk. This is a favorite watching spot for pickpockets and hotel burglars. Don't turn in your key to the desk when you leave, no matter what the management says.

If you wake up and find an intruder in your room, pretend to be asleep. Do not confront him. When he has left the room (which they usually do very quickly), call the front desk and tell them what happened. You are more valuable than anything he could steal.

Always have your room key in your hand before getting on the hotel elevator. If you get into an elevator with someone who looks suspicious, act like you forgot something or that it is your floor and get off the elevator quickly.

Be careful about information you give to strangers you meet and wary of unexpected deliveries or room service calls. You can call the front desk to verify either.

Mark you hotel location on your map and take the map with you when you go out. If you get lost and haven't mastered the language yet, you can show the police officer or taxi driver the map.

Small traveling security systems are available from various sources across the country. The compact systems run on batteries and are the size of a transistor radio. Most have a motion sensitive chain, which sets off a loud and obnoxious alarm when jiggled even slightly. Some systems even come with a smoke alarm, alarm clock and flashlight.


If you have a problem, your best source or contact is the foreign center staff. If your problem involves medical or legal trouble overseas, contact your country's consulate. They are an important resource, but they will not lend you money or cash your personal check. For U.S. Citizens, The Overseas Citizens Emergency Center (Department of State, Washington, DC 20520) will help with any complicated medical, financial or legal problems incurred abroad. They'll notify your relatives at home, help you to receive funds, and coordinate medical support. Write them for information.

American Express Cardholders can use the Global Assist service in an emergency on a trip more than 100 miles from home. There's a toll free hotline that will refer you to a legal or medical professional, will arrange for a translator if necessary, and will notify your home or office.

Lost Passport

If your passport is lost or stolen, contact your country's embassy or consulate immediately. They will issue a new passport (but you have to pay full price for it and it may take several days). f you have some passport-size pictures, a copy of your birth certificate and the details of your lost passport or photocopy of it, getting a new passport will go much smoother.

Drugs & Alcohol

The effects of alcohol can be heightened in a foreign country due to jet lag, altitude, distilling procedures, measure, mix, and your state of fatigue. Drink in moderation. Use caution if going to bars or nightclubs by yourself. Exercise restraint. Public drunkenness projects a poor cultural representation, increases your vulnerability, and may result in incarceration (guilty until proven innocent).

Drug violators face stiff penalties abroad, including hard labor and execution in some countries. Warnings in embassies abroad clearly state the limitations of consular assistance in drug cases or other crimes. A consul cannot get a prisoner released, or represent the defendant at a trial. Embassies and consulates will not pay fines or legal fees. DEA agents operate overseas - so you could be offered drugs by foreign or U.S. undercover agents - and arrested if you accept them.

Foreign Laws

Joining a political demonstration, engaging in formal or informal missionary work, drinking alcohol, taking photographs without permission, swimming naked, or just talking to the wrong people are enough to attract the police in some countries. In some, civil rights are limited or immaterial. In most, some variance of the Roman legal code is used (you are guilty until proven innocent).

Don't be drawn unwittingly into crime by carrying someone's parcel. And don't agree to transport anything for anyone, especially luggage or parcels.

Renting a car from a company not protected by insurance can lead to personal liability in an accident - and a jail sentence without bail while your case is heard.

In many countries, exporting art and artifacts is forbidden or strictly controlled. Travelers have bought good reproductions, then found that officials have seized the art work. A bill of sale with a detailed description of the object in the local language may help avoid trouble.

Local officials in many countries have become jittery over the use of video recorders by tourists. It is not always wise, however tempting, to film disturbances, the inside of sacred shrines, or to take pictures of people or security personnel without permission. Always take a few minutes to size up the situation and ask someone if there are any doubts, even if you just want to take a snapshot.

Traveling Solo

Traveling solo is like taking a voyage into yourself. You will either thoroughly enjoy it, learn much about yourself, and thrive on your discoveries, or you will want to back out..quickly.

Participating in a foreign study program provides you with interaction with the locals, witnessing day-to-day life in a foreign country, and opportunities to learn the language. When you travel with someone, you'll have a tendency to slip back into your old patterns and speak in your own language.

Participating in this foreign program is a personal challenge. You'll be much closer to the reality of the country - and to the amazing goodness of other human beings all over the world.

Common sense is the key to success for the solo traveler. One friend of mine who does extensive foreign travel alone told me, "The less you appear to be an out-of-towner, the better off you'll be.

Worldwide Classroom (WWC)
Consortium for International Education & Multicultural Studies

P.O. Box 1166    Milwaukee, WI   53201   USA
Tel: (414) 224-3476    Fax: (414) 224-3466    E-Mail: info@worldwide.edu