Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst: Health & Safety for Students Heading Abroad

Posted on September 1, 2011


Hope for the best when you travel - but be prepared for the worst.

It never hurts to be prepared.  The day may look sunny and bright when you walk out of the door in the morning, but by mid-afternoon storm clouds can sweep in ruin your day if you haven’t brought an umbrella.  When you’re traveling abroad, the same rule applies, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.  It’s not likely that you’ll land yourself in any real trouble abroad, but it is a possibility so here are some ways to prepare yourself for your trip.

By Susannah Watson

Here are some things to think about as a prepared traveler:

Health Insurance

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times.  Get your health insurance lined up before you leave the US.  Contact your insurance provider and see if they will extend your coverage for your trip.  If they will not, go through a different company or even through your school if you’re with a program. You may not run into any health issues abroad, but if you do you’ll be glad that you’re insured. Medical bills are expensive even at the best of times, but having health insurance softens the blow.


When you go, there are a few types of pills that you should take with you.  Take a pack of something for aches and pains like Advil or Motrin, and a pack of meds for your gastrointestinal ills like Pepto Bismal or Immodium AD. In a different country, you may not know which pills are which, and trying to decipher instructions in a foreign language is the last thing you want to do when you’re sick.  There are few things worse than having to run to the pharmacy while you’re battling a case of the runs.


Talk to your bank before you go abroad.  Tell them where you’ll be going and how long, so that they don’t end up canceling your credit cards right when you find that one souvenir that you can’t live without.  Ask your bank which ATMs you can draw from without a surcharge and you’ll save yourself a good bit of money abroad.

Emergency Cash

Always carry enough cash with you to make it through a few days. Instead of changing money at an airport and paying fees for currency exchange, just use an ATM in another country to withdraw cash. But it’s important that you notify your bank that you’ll be traveling outside of the country, and also that you find out which banks partner with your bank internationally so you can avoid ATM fees. If your cards get stolen or hacked, you’ll at least have enough money to make it through the next few days while you figure out what to do.  You don’t want to find yourself alone abroad with no money, because no money usually means no options.

Pack a Flashlight

It’s not something that you would usually put on your list, but a small LED flashlight can be very useful especially if you’re planning on doing any camping while you’re abroad.  You don’t want to get stuck in the dark, and a small flashlight is easy to pack and carry.

Toilet Paper

International bathrooms hold a lot of surprises, and one of them might be that there’s no toilet paper. Carrying it with you will come in handy, especially in crowded places like train stations or cafes.


They have so many uses – headband, napkin, emergency tissue, makeshift wallet or purse, or eye mask – there’s no reason not to bring one along.


A noisy neighbor on the airplane or a snoring bunkmate in your hostel will certainly keep you from catching sleep. Earplugs will be your best friend when you find yourself tired and in a noisy location.

Travel Umbrella

These are small, lightweight and cheap, and they will save your life during an unexpected rain storm.

Warm Layer

Even if you’re traveling to a hot destination, the airplane ride and air conditioned hotel can get uncomfortably chilly. Always pack a lightweight fleece or sweater and make sure to leave it in your carry-on.


Whether you like to read, listen to music, watch movies on your laptop, or write in your journal, make sure you bring something to keep you entertained during long flights, or free time on the beach. We recommend a journal for making notes of your experience, and a deck of card for playing with friends.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be sure to meet any situation that comes your way as an independent traveler.

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