Talking or even thinking about student travel is enough to make any parent feel a bit anxious.
And with good reason. From U.S. State Department warnings to news stories about tragic travel accidents, it’s hard to simultaneously feel both excited about, and comfortable with, the idea of your children traveling around the world or even to the beach town located just a few hours away.
Fortunately, there are a number of handy student travel tips available for you to soak in before your kids soak in sun and fun at a location you’ve been feverish Googling about since the travel plans were made.
Whether you get to make the call as to where you’re children are heading for Spring Break or a semester abroad, or the choice has already been made, here are some topics to cover and even a few recommended destinations.
Student Travel Safety Concerns
When it comes to student travel, knowledge will mitigate risk, even when it comes to destinations with a reputation for posing various safety and security hazards to American teens and 20-somethings. Here are some of the areas worth digging into when looking at spots your children may be traveling to:
- State Department warnings. The State Department website is a reliable resource for gleaning accurate and timely information about potential student travel destinations. Longstanding travel warnings for Mexico, for example, alert visitors to risks including kidnapping and carjacking by those actively targeted Americans.1
- Crime and punishment. Not only is it important to do a little research into the overall criminal justice system of a foreign country your children may be studying in or simply visiting, but it’s also critical to know the local laws because you may be surprised at what you find. For example, some prescription drugs that are legal in the United States are illegal in other countries, and may carry heavy fines and jail time even for unwitting students.
- Health and wellness. Are any inoculations needed to travel to any area? Are there any outbreaks to be aware of? Staying hydrated and wearing sunscreen are the golden rules of student travel, but sometimes going off the grid and rugged globetrotting requires some homework and a trip to the doctor’s office.
- Inclement weather. Preparing for potentially harsh weather requires more than packing a rain slicker. Students heading to areas prone to hurricanes and other natural disasters need to plan carefully and know that it’s never too late to unplug travel plans. (Travel insurance is a great way to proactively manage the potential need for trip cancellation or interruptions due to weather anomalies. Look for plans that also offer medical coverage, emergency medical evacuation coverage, 24/7 travel assistance and other benefits.)
- Alcohol and drugs. Each year, about 600,000 college students sustained injuries from alcohol-related accidents. And those are just the ones that are reported. Seeking treatment and managing the upshot of accidents is inherently more difficult in strange surroundings.2
One final note: the buddy system is always a good idea for student travel, whether they’re downtown in an American city that they know well or in a foreign locale. Keeping an eye on each other is highly effective safeguard.
Alternative Spring Break And Student Travel Destinations
You may not be so lucky as to pick out where your kids study abroad or spend Spring Break, but if they’re open to ideas, here are a few unique student travel destinations that pack a good amount of fun without all the risk:
- Refreshing beach options. The top Spring Break beach destinations often have less to do with the beach itself than the bars, clubs and co-ed meeting places. Panama City Beach, Cancun, Jamaica and South Padre Island regularly top the lists of most popular student travel spots. But for a change of pace and exposure to some of the country’s best beaches – the actual sand dunes and saltwater – students might look toward Florida’s Sanibel Island, North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras and other Outer Banks beaches, as well as California’s Redondo Beach, which is known as a hub for water sports and boasts a super cool lagoon.3
- A destination every nervous parent should know: Malta. Boasting lower crime rates than the United States and the distinction as the second safest country when it comes to avoiding natural disasters, this European nation is an archipelago comprising seven islands in the Mediterranean Sea.4 But don’t think of Malta as a boring, ho-hum alternative to the European cities students normally flock to. More than 1.2 million annual tourists head to Malta to sun on Ramla Beach and explore a whopping nine World Heritage Sites, including seven Megalithic Temples. So start dropping hints about Malta to your kids today – and maybe they’ll think it was their idea tomorrow.5
- Canada is “eh OK” for student travel. Imagine international travel without vaccinations, little need for a Rosetta Stone translation course and super easy currency exchanges. That’s Canada. If your children haven’t explored our neighbor to the north – truly and deeply explored – then they’re missing out on a very interesting neighbor. There are few nations that capture the feel of Buffalo and Paris within their borders, but that’s exactly what you get with Toronto and Montreal. Whether students are chowing down fresh-caught New Brunswick lobster while staring down the world’s highest tides at the Bay of Fundy, or they’re walking through Ottawa’s eclectic Museum of Modern Art, there is plenty to do in Canada.
Student travel is supposed to be a fun learning experience, that, by posing various challenges also helps your children gain valuable life experience. By limiting some of the risk and making safe choices, you can help build an itinerary that they excited about and still lets you sleep at night.