I was like many of my friends who looked forward to studying abroad so much because I could have a chance to have freedom and live in a country on my own. The opportunities for traveling around and visiting other European cities also made me so excited. However, along with the excitement came our worry about safety abroad. During the five months abroad, there had already been four terrorist attacks in Europe. The London Westminster attack in March was less than three miles from where I lived. “Safety first” became something my parents had to stress every time we talked on the phone. As someone who had travelled to seven European countries alone, here are my three tips on how to stay safe while traveling.
Stay in a hostel
Airbnb is indeed a useful way to find affordable and well-located accommodation, but I think it’s only a good idea when you are traveling with friends. Staying overnight alone in a stranger’s house in a foreign country doesn’t seem to be a wise option. If a single room in a hotel sounds too luxurious, then a bed in a hostel is ideal when you are traveling alone.
You will probably ask, “is it safe to share a room with a few other strangers?” Trust me, most hostels are secure and run by people who care about their customers. They are usually strict on checking IDs and require a passcode or electric keys to get to each floor. Some hostels even have a curfew. There are also lockers in the dorms and in the lobby for you to store your belongings as long as you remember to bring your own padlock. You will also meet many people just like you who are open to experience and hope to travel within a budget. During my stays in hostels, I met people from Argentina, Germany, Italy and Korea. Talking with them and listening to their stories was one of the highlights of my trip. Personally, I like hostels over other accommodations for its safety, affordability and sociality. However, it’s still necessary to do some research on the hostel before you book it. Read the customer reviews and check its location.
Travel with friends
Although traveling alone gave me a lot of freedom and independence, I still love to have companions during my journey. Especially for people who are not good at finding their way in a new city or doing research before their trip, it’s wise to have someone watch their back.
I am very grateful that I had two travel buddies, Becca and Jeannie, who saved me from many troubles during my first European trip. We went to Budapest, Vienna and Prague together. At that time, none of us had any previous experience traveling. In Budapest, we walked through a foggy and mysterious park together at night, trying to find the subway taking us back to the hotel. In Vienna, we were almost locked out of our hotel since we got there too late that night. In Prague, we lived in a place where there was no light in the hallway and the room looked nothing like what it was on the website.
I can’t imagine how I could have overcome any of these problems without my travel buddies. Traveling with them also made me less of a target to pickpockets or attackers. We kept an eye on each other’s belongings, and staying with them made me feel safe. Hence, travel with your friends unless you have enough experience and feel very confident about going solo.
Research the city before you go
It’s very important to do enough research on the city you are visiting so you are less likely to be caught unprepared. Before you get to your destination, it’s necessary to get information such as how to get to your accommodation from the airport, where the closest bus or subway station to your accommodation is and where the nearest police station and embassy are. With such information in hand, you can travel with fewer uncertainties and react quickly to any threats. You should also make sure that you could use your cellphone and data in the city you visit. I use map everywhere I travel to and it’s impossible for me to find my way without it. Before traveling, I always make sure I have enough plan allowance or pay-as-you-go credits for me to use data abroad. Preparation reduces your chance of getting into danger and your research may even save you in case of emergency.
There is no doubt that traveling abroad is one of the most exciting parts of studying abroad. But no matter where we travel to and what we do there, we should keep in mind that safety always comes first. Traveling is fun and adventurous, but it is full of risks. Stay alert at all times so that at the end you can proudly tell your parents and friends that you had a safe and amazing trip.
Wenli Bao is a student at Brandeis University studying Business and Psychology and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University College London in England in 2017. She was an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.