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It is impossible to remove all risks from any situation, regardless of location, but with a little preparation, you can become familiar with and identify any known risks and develop mitigation strategies to ensure you have a safe trip and experience. 

Tufts University advises against self-driving while abroad and in certain cases, it is prohibited for Tufts students. Road conditions, laws, and driving norms in other countries can be very different from those in the United States. Throughout the world, roads are shared by cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, pedestrians, animals, taxis, and other travelers. Poor road maintenance, lack of signs, and vehicle safety are just some of the contributing risk factors. And, remember to buckle up, no matter where you are.

Each year, 1.35 million people are killed on roadways around the world (WHO).

Road traffic injuries are estimated to be the eighth leading cause of death globally for all age groups and the leading cause of death for children and young people 5–29 years of age (WHO).

Injuries and deaths from road motor vehicle crashes are preventable. Whether you are a driver, passenger, cyclist, or pedestrian, take the following steps from the CDC to stay safe on the road:

  • Always use a seat belt on every trip, no matter how short. Be sure to buckle up whether you are in the front seat or the back seat of the vehicle.
  • Always wear a helmet when driving or riding on motorcycles, motorbikes, or bicycles.
  • Do not drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs, and avoid riding with a driver who is impaired.
  • Obey speed limits.
  • Drive without distractions. Don’t use a phone to text, email, or access social media while driving.
  • Be alert when crossing streets, especially in countries where motorists drive on the left side of the road.
  • Ride only in marked taxis, and try to ride in taxis that have seat belts.
  • Avoid riding in overcrowded, overweight, or top-heavy buses or minivans.
  • Check the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) website for information about driving hazards and road safety risks by country.

Visit the country information on the U.S. Department of State website for more information about road safety, overall safety, and security in every country of the world.

Whether leisurely swimming in a hotel pool or participating in water activities, like scuba diving or snorkeling, it is important to know about the risks associated with swimming in unfamiliar bodies of water, in locations with different safety standards, or without a lifeguard present. Drowning accounts for 13% of deaths in US travelers abroad. It is the leading cause of death in US travelers visiting countries where water-related activities are popular (CDC).

It is critical to consider the following safety tips while abroad. 

  • Before venturing into the water, ask local contacts or staff about any known dangers. Research local water conditions, currents, and rules before you get in the water.
  • Ask about local sea animals, such as urchins, jellyfish, coral, and sea lice. A sting from a sea creature could be fatal, or at least spoil your trip with severe pain or hospitalization. 
  • Participation in extreme water sports like boating, scuba diving, or rafting is discouraged while abroad. If you or your program will take part in water sports it is advised to only use experienced guides.  
  • When swimming at a beach, pay close attention to colored beach flags posted on the beach, which indicate if it is safe to swim or not. Make sure you understand and follow these local warnings.

Safety Precautions

  • Use proper safety equipment such as life jackets.
  • Never swim alone or in unfamiliar waters.
  • DO NOT drink alcohol before or during swimming, diving, or boating. Alcohol affects balance, coordination, and judgment. 
  • DO NOT dive in shallow water. Always enter water feet first.
  • Be aware of hidden obstacles (like rocks or fallen trees) in the water that could cause injury.
  • Contaminated fresh water can cause infections, such as schistosomiasis and leptospirosis.
  • Don’t swallow the water. It may have harmful germs.
  • Don’t swim or wade near storm drains; in water that may be contaminated with sewage, human or animal feces and urine, or wastewater runoff; in lakes or rivers after heavy rainfall; in freshwater streams, canal, and lakes; in warm seawater if you have open cuts or wounds. 
  • Protect the health of others by NOT swimming if you have diarrhea. Any amount of infected fecal matter can contaminate an entire pool or hot tub and make others sick if they swallow the water.

Tufts works with International SOS to ensure travelers have the most up-to-date advice on lodging and hotel safety while abroad. The below advice is applicable to most locations, but do keep in mind in certain circumstances specific advice for a country or city may differ from the advice given here. Travelers should seek itinerary-specific advice prior to travel. 

Pre-Travel Advice

  • It is usually preferable to stay at a hotel near where you will be working, to minimize unnecessary road travel.
  • Book accommodation in large hotels where anonymity is easier, but do not assume that all large hotels are necessarily in safe areas.
  • Make sure that colleagues know your travel arrangements and contact details, and update them with any changes.

On Arrival

  • Be especially vigilant when registering, particularly if the lobby is crowded.
  • Keep all luggage close to you and in view. 
  • Give your school or host institutions address when registering. Do not give your home address and telephone number or specify your status.
  • Never mention that you are traveling alone or give out personal information unless this is necessary.
  • Ask about safe-deposit facilities. If your room does not have a safe, leave valuables in the hotel’s safe and ask for a receipt; do not leave valuables in your suitcase. 
  • Do not accept a ground or first-floor room, or a room with access from a side balcony. Ensure any connecting doors to your room are locked.
  • Rooms between the third and sixth floor (generally the maximum reach of fire ladders) are best and if possible choose a room as far as possible from the main entrance and public areas.
  • Examine the room, including cupboards, bathrooms, beds, and window areas for anything that is suspicious.
  • Familiarise yourself with the location of fire exit routes, fire alarms, extinguishers, and emergency meeting points.

General Advice

  • If not satisfied with your hotel’s security measures it is advisable to stay elsewhere.
  • Keep your door locked at all times and use the chain/spy hole when receiving a visitor. Do not open the door, especially late at night, until you have confirmed the visitor’s identity. Be wary, even of callers who claim to be hotel employees (if necessary telephone to check with reception).
  • Meet visitors in the lobby or in public areas like cafes and restaurants, not in your room.
  • Do not leave money and other valuables exposed in your room while you are out.  Use a safe if one is available. Keep valuables and sensitive documentation secured and never leave your laptop unattended or unlocked – always assume your room might be searched. Before retiring, secure all valuables and confidential documents.
  • When leaving your room, consider displaying the ‘do not disturb’ sign. Leave the light on (so that you
    can easily check that the room is secure on returning).
  • Do not display your key showing the room number on a restaurant table or in the bar.
  • Hand in the key to the receptionist – do not leave it on the reception counter.
  • Do not get on an elevator if there is a suspicious-looking person inside.
  • Read the fire safety instructions in your room.  Know how to report a fire, and be sure you know where the nearest fire exits and alternate exits are located.

Advice for Female Travelers

  • When checking in, ask the receptionist to write the room number down, rather than tell you within earshot of other people.
  • Where available, insist on a room on a female-only floor of the hotel.
  • In high-risk destinations, consider sharing a room with a female colleague.
  • Ensure that hotel room numbers remain confidential. Do not display the room's key tag in public areas, and stress that the room number should not be given to any enquirers.
  • Insist that the hotel room has a key-chain, deadlock, and spy-hole and that the door and window locks work properly.
  • Do not accept a room with a connecting door or balcony access
  • Never open the door to anyone without taking precautions. If someone claims to be a member of staff, request their name and department and check these with reception before opening the door.
  • Avoid unnecessary or prolonged eye contact with strangers. In some cultures, eye contact with a man is considered a sign that you want his company.
  • Pack a door wedge in your suitcase; it can help secure your hotel door if the lock is faulty and provides additional reassurance.

Advice for High-Risk Locations

  • Seek a hotel that offers low-rise accommodation – for example, a series of single-story buildings – as they are less attractive targets for bomb attacks because the reduced room density decreases the likelihood of inflicting heavy casualties.
  • The hotel should be located away from main roads and at least 500m from prestigious government or key diplomatic buildings.
  • Avoid hotels that may be identified with any specific local political group or individual, or serve as the regular venue for formal or informal meetings of the local foreign business or diplomatic community.
  • A room away from the main entrance, principal public area or parking area would be likely to reduce the impact of a bomb attack.

Points to consider when reviewing the physical security of offices and hotels should include whether there is good protection against vehicle-borne explosive devices and effective access control to guard against walk-in suicide bombers.

Specifically, this should include:

  • proximity to potential targets
  • the distance between vehicle checks and buildings (further is better)
  • the strength of barriers/boom gates (can they stop a moving vehicle?)
  • whether there is effective 24-hour security
  • whether the exit is as protected as the entrance (some hotels have protection at entrance gates, but none at exits)

Security will be enhanced by:

  • An entrance that is set back from the road or protected from car bombs by bollards, barriers and/or concrete blocks.
  • Well-controlled access to the main entrance, with obstacles intended to slow traffic and restrict the movement of large vehicles.
  • Restricted access to the foyer and check-in and service areas. No provision for parking beneath the hotel.
  • A well-secured gate to the property, a secure and well-lit wall or fence, and sufficiently strong external doors and locks.
  • The overt presence of 24-hour uniformed guards, including in front of all entrances and exits to the hotel and in the foyer.
  • CCTV in the lobby and grounds.
  • Awareness of security issues among hotel staff, including the refusal to give out travel arrangements to unauthorized personnel.

Source: International SOS

Contaminated food or water can cause traveler’s diarrhea and certain diseases, but you can reduce your risk of any illnesses by taking precautions and knowing what to avoid when to comes to food and drinks. 

As a general rule, your safest options are:

  • Food that is cooked and served hot
  • Food from sealed packages
  • Hard-cooked eggs
  • Fruits and vegetables you have washed in safe water or peeled yourself
  • Pasteurized dairy product
  • Water, sodas, or sports drinks that are bottled and sealed (carbonated is safer)
  • Water that has been disinfected (boiled, filtered, treated)
  • Ice made with bottled or disinfected water
  • Hot coffee or tea
  • Pasteurized milk
Graphic on safe and unsafe foods from CDC

Consuming alcohol while abroad comes with various risks that are not always present or prevalent in the U.S. From different drinking laws, serving sizes, and alcohol content to the possibility of drink tampering and poisoning, it is important to raise your awareness about safe alcohol consumption while traveling and living internationally. 

Do not drink homemade or counterfeit alcohol: Across the world, people brew their own alcohol to varying levels of toxicity. The alcohol content of homemade brews is often unknown and may contain toxic or dangerous ingredients. Counterfeit alcohol, which is sold at a considerably lower cost than legitimate brand name beverages, is equally dangerous since it is unregulated and may be watered down with toxic items like fuel, chemicals, and antifreeze 

Be familiar with alcohol content and serving sizes: Throughout many countries, wine, beer, and liquor may have a higher alcohol content than is customary in the U.S., and drinks and serving sizes may not be labeled or are larger than in the U.S. Expect that alcohol content can be higher and pace yourself until you recognize how a drink impacts you and your body. Not knowing the alcohol content can lead to overconfidence in judging the number and volume of drinks. 

Dangers of excessive alcohol consumption: Like in the US, excessive drinking can lead to elevated personal risks such as blackouts, injury, assault, abuse, reckless behavior, impaired judgment and decision-making, long-term health consequences, and death. Medical care or access may not be up available, increasing the risk should medical attention be required.  

Understand the local context and rules around drinking: Aside from medical and personal risks, overindulging in alcohol can lead to cultural and linguistic misunderstandings that can damage relationships with your hosts and local contacts. It is important to research the customs, traditions, and laws of your destination prior to travel. Consume alcohol in moderation. Only purchase alcohol and liquor from legitimate sources, and inspect the packaging for irregularities, broken seals, or errors on the labels. Experience local customs, traditions, and gastronomy, but stay within your faculties and don’t compete with locals and their brew. Cultural gastronomic traditions may involve multiple shots of high percent alcohol that a local may have become accustomed to, but a visitor may not. 

Never let you drink out of your sight: Drinks (and food) can be spiked with a knock-out agent, often called a date rape drug, like scopolamine. The date rape drug is commonly used to assist in sexual assaults. It works fast and causes you to become weak and confused. Never leave your drink unattended and do not accept drinks from unknown people or that have been opened or served out of your presence. 

Know the legal drinking age: Most countries do not have a legal drinking age, although frequently one must be 18 to purchase liquor, and it is not uncommon for young adults to have beer or wine with a meal. Be aware of the legal drinking age and avoid over-indulging or participating in drinking practices that you would not while at home. It is not uncommon for police to solicit bribes from drunk and/or underage students to avoid getting arrested.

Never drink and drive: As in the U.S., it is never advised to drive after consuming alcohol. In most countries, citizens and police have little to no tolerance for drunk drivers, and the consequences of being found drinking and driving are quite severe in most cases. The legal blood alcohol level (BAC) and the estimated number of drinks allowed are likely to differ from the U.S. Avoid riding in vehicles with someone who has consumed alcohol.

While travel advice for women is generally similar to the advice for men, in some contexts women can be more vulnerable because of the perceptions that women present easier targets than men. The following advice is aimed to help reduce the likelihood of encountering a difficult or dangerous situation when traveling. 

  • Prepare for your trip by researching the specific risks of your destination
  • Keep aware and stay informed. Maintain situational awareness at all times
  • Know how to respond in an emergency and what resources are available
  • Be sure to arrange your travel so your flight lands during daylight
  • Pre-arranged transportation, how to get to hotel and office
  • Do not accept a ride from someone you do not know 
  • Consider your profile and travel experience
    • What experience do you have that you can rely on, for example, solo travel experience, familiarity with the location, local language skills, cultural knowledge, and familiarity with the correct dress and conduct for females
  • Avoid prolonged eye contact
  • Program your phone with emergency numbers and International SOS assistance number
  • Download the International SOS assistance app for one-click support
  • Ensure you have a charged phone and a way to charge it if out for long periods
  • Save your hotel address on your phone and have it written in the local language if necessary
  • Follow hotel safety rules
  • Never open hotel door to people you don’t know
  • Identify safe havens – where will you’ll go if need a safe space?