March 4th, 2006 16:05 EST
Travel Safety Information for Students
Many college students are getting ready for that much anticipated trip abroad as the time approaches for spring and summer breaks. Most will have a safe and enjoyable adventure, but for some the trip will become a nightmare. A number of vacations are ruined by one or more of the following: drugs, alcohol, disorderly behavior, and preventable accidents.
Each year, more than 2,500 American citizens are arrested abroad -- about half on narcotics charges, including possession of very small amounts of illegal substances. A drug that is legal in one country may not be legal in a neighboring nation. Some young people are victimized because they are unaware of the laws, customs, or standards of the country they are visiting.
Besides drugs, alcohol can also cause trouble for U.S. citizens traveling abroad. Students have been arrested for being intoxicated in public areas, for underage drinking, and for drunk driving. Disorderly or reckless behavior is to be avoided. In many countries, conduct that would not result in an arrest in the United States may constitute a violation of local law. Some young Americans go abroad assuming that local authorities will overlook such conduct, believing that they are immune from prosecution in foreign countries because they are American citizens. The truth is that Americans are expected to obey all of the laws of the countries they visit, and those who break these laws could face severe penalties, including prison sentences.
Being arrested is not the only misfortune that can occur on a foreign vacation. Young Americans have suffered injury or even death from automobile accidents, drowning, and falls, in addition to other mishaps. While these accidents are sometimes chance occurrences, many are caused by alcohol or drug abuse. Sadly, other Americans have been sexually assaulted or robbed because they have found themselves in unfamiliar locales or are incapable of exercising prudent judgment while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or have been the unwitting victim of a "date rape" drug.
Other hidden safety issues are of major concern as well. Because standards of security, safety and supervision are not the same in many countries as they are in the U.S., many young persons have died after automobile accidents, after falls from balconies or into open ditches, by drowning in the ocean as well as in hotel pools, and in water-sports mishaps, among others. In some countries, the water sports industry is not carefully regulated. Unlicensed operators have been linked to assaults, and a number of Americans have been killed or injured by the improper use of jet-skis and other personal watercraft. Although it is crucial that young Americans be aware of these safety risks as they are enjoying their time abroad, it is also important to remember that prudent behavior may help minimize these risks.
Young Americans traveling abroad should remember that the use of drugs or alcohol or engaging in reckless behavior while in another country can do more than ruin their vacation; it can land them in a foreign jail, cause them to suffer physical harm, or worse. Common sense should prevail in any activities young Americans engage in so that safety hazards may be minimized. It is possible to have a safe and fun trip if risky behavior is avoided and familiarity is attained with the basic laws and customs of the country being visited.
In addition, even if a passport is not required to visit a foreign country, U.S. immigration authorities require that U.S. citizenship and identity must be proved to reenter the United States. A U.S. passport is the best proof of U.S. citizenship. More information about traveling abroad is available at the Department of State's web site: http://travel.state.gov.
Source: US State Dept.