[shore] For Maren Neely, the opportunity to go to Mexico with a bunch of friends isn’t one that comes along too often. Neither does the chance to stay for relatively cheap.
Neely, who will be staying at a friend’s parents’ condo in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico during spring break, is not exactly a rookie traveler. The 22-year-old spent last summer traveling throughout Europe and has visited many other places such as the Bahamas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Aruba and London. Because of her previous travel experience, Neely isn’t too concerned with traveling out of the country for the week, but she will be taking certain precautions.
With spring break around the corner, many MSU students have visions of tropical locations and swim-up bars in their heads, anticipating their last mid-term before getting to go somewhere with friends to let loose. Unfortunately, since many students go to unfamiliar places where tourists are targeted and tend to lose some inhibitions, many do not realize the safety concerns presented when traveling abroad and how easily they can take preventative measures to ensure that they have a good time.
Because Neely has such a good handle on how to be aware in an unfamiliar place, her parents aren’t too concerned with her going to Mexico with friends for spring break. Neely said, as far as her parents are concerned, “It’s my money, my decision.”
For second-year telecommunications graduate student Micah Bushouse, it wasn’t his money, but his parents’ money that factored into his decision to go to Cancun, Mexico. “My parents are paying for it, so they gave me a list of places I could go,” said Bushouse who chose Cancun because he said it seemed like the best option on the list. Bushouse, who has been keeping track of happenings in Cancun such as Hurricane Wilma’s destruction and local crime, is only really concerned with one safety risk-the water.
“You try to only drink beer,” Bushouse joked. “Stay away from the water. I will have no problem drinking beer only…that’s usually not too hard for me.” While Bushouse said his parents aren’t too worried about his drinking, he said, “It’ll be interesting what they say to my sister (who is a 19-yr old CMU student), because they still think she’s a little angel.”
But not all students leaving the country for spring break have had as much travel experience as Neely or parents accompanying them like Bushouse, which can put these spring break students in serious danger while on vacation.
Julie Friend, a health and safety director for the Office of Study Abroad points to the general risks of students traveling abroad on break. “As a population, you [students] are not very cognizant of risks,” said Friend. “You drive too fast, [you] can drink to excess…people think the plane could crash, not that I’ll get robbed…and you’re a lot more likely to get robbed.”
According to Friend, students need to be aware of the risks they take and the people they meet during spring break. “Students need to understand in a lot of these spring break locations they are targeted by people looking for vulnerable people in those locations…the most common problem is theft,” she said.
Alcohol, Friend explained, is often a major factor in jeopardizing students’ safety. “Many times students overindulge in alcohol, which increases risk-taking behavior,” she said. “When you add overindulgence of alcohol you increase risk while on vacation in an unfamiliar environment, and culture with a foreign language. When people go on vacation they tend to let loose, they know they don’t have to get up and read 40 pages of Bio the next day. It’s easier to justify relaxing a lot more.” [quote]
Sociology junior Aris McDonald doesn’t plan on drinking at all while in Jamaica, for MSU’s Alternative Spring Break. McDonald has heard of students going to a different country, and “drinking, drinking, drinking, until they can’t drink anymore,” which is not something she plans on doing in a foreign place. Instead, McDonald is looking to get more out of her spring break than just having a good time.
When asked what the trip meant to her, McDonald, who has participated in numerous volunteer opportunities before, said she liked the feeling of going to a place she has never visited and, “giving back to my roots, and giving back to a disadvantaged community.” Since McDonald’s father is from Jamaica, she said he imparted some safety tips for the trip. “He kept giving me advice like not to travel alone, not to go out late at night, and he named the places I shouldn’t go,” she said.
McDonald will be going to Jamaica to do volunteer work including helping to build an elementary school and interacting with elementary school children. This was an issue McDonald was excited to get involved with.
Andrea Hart, an MSU graduate student in student affairs and administration and ASB advisor, said identifying issues that interest them should be the primary focus of students looking to go on an ASB trip. “Idealistically, I think it’s students’ conscious choice to learn more about the world and their place in it,” said Hart. “As a student you will go as someone who doesn’t know other participants, [it will] broaden your understanding of different cultures and instills a sense of social responsibility.”
Health provisions should also be taken before any trip abroad, according to MSU Travel Clinic employee Mary Ellen O’Doherty, who urges students to do their homework before going anywhere. Different places require different safety and health precautions, but O’Doherty explains that the clinic provides immunizations and consultations for international travelers. “We talk to them about food and water-borne illnesses and how to prevent it, traveler’s diarrhea, immunizations, tuberculosis, mosquito-borne illnesses, etc.,” said O’Doherty. The best suggestion O’Doherty has for students is to know where they’re going, do research on what they need (like going to the Center for Disease Control Web site), and to come in to the Travel Clinic at least a month prior to their trip. [staphoto]
Marketing freshman Tara Hooey was surprised at the extensive amount of information provided by the university for her freshman seminar trip to Merida, Mexico. Hooey said she was given health and safety information on about “everything you could think of” and isn’t too concerned with remaining safe on her trip. The main thing Hooey said she was concerned with was the fact that people in Mexico may prey on her because she is a woman from America. “Being a girl, they can target us as stupid, easy American girls,” said Hooey. “I just have to make sure when I go out day and night I’m with someone else.”
Eddie Lindow, branch manager of STA travel in East Lansing, believes this departure of many students from the typical Spring Break destinations (think Cancun, Bahamas, etc) is a result of people starting to expand their horizons culturally. Lindow explains that while the warm destinations still sell the most, more and more students are opting for trips to Europe and Asia. With the more obscure places to visit, many students have specific travel concerns, as well as their parents.
Lindow also assures that the travel agency always checks any place they offer to make sure they are not in a terrible part of town. Lindow also adds that STA requires travelers to have insurance and that they have a company rep in all locations that can help answer questions or if an emergency situation occurs. “We try to play to both parties,” said Lindow. “We want them to be able to party and to be safe.”
Whether spring break to you means hanging out with friends, volunteering in the community, or experiencing the local culture and sights, there are some things that every traveler should do to ensure they have a great spring break:
1)Investigate specific insurance policies-most students don’t know they are relatively cheap and cover quite a bit
2)Do your homework- read about the destination on the State Department and CDC websites
3)Realize any health precautions-If you need to get immunizations, go at least a month before so your body can develop antibodies
4)Photocopy documents-this can save you a lot of trouble and time if they get lost or stolen
5)Leave information back home-tell someone back home a loose itinerary of your plans, or you can even register with the state department
6)Don’t partake in high-risk behavior- excessive drinking, unprotected sex, drug use, and other activities put you at an increased risk of danger
7)Be alert- Always be aware of who you are with, what you are doing, and what risks are involved.