Empowering Students to Travel Safely
The key to a safe and successful student trip is being prepared. A recent edWebinar hosted by Carylann Assante, CAE, CEO, SYTA, and presented by Sheryl Hill, Founder, Depart Smart, discusses how to help students become global citizens by preparing them with essential travel safety skills.
“None of us get any safety warnings or critical incident reports before we buy a ticket or fly anywhere,” said Hill, who added that according to the Forum on Education Abroad, students are more likely to die studying abroad than in car accidents.
Since her son Tyler’s tragic and preventable death on a student trip to Japan in 2007, Hill has applied decades of outcomes-based telehealth expertise to prepare students for safe and rewarding journeys.
Duty of Care and Duty to Inform Imperatives
Duty of care is a standard in the law of negligence and is a duty to use reasonable care, meaning one must act as a reasonable person. It’s a duty to act the way a responsible person should act given a set of circumstances, and a deviation from this in traveling with a student group could result in negligence. The duty of care can be owed by an individual or by a business to another entity.
“Initially, a provider—that’s you—owes a duty of care to make a service safe for use,” said Hill. “It’s your job to check out the road transportation, housing, the bus driver—any touch points—so that you have done your duty of care in securing safe travel for that student.”
Hill also stresses the importance of making students and their families aware of any risks involved, so they may make an informed choice about the trip.
The Travel Safety Savvy Quiz
With questions such as, “Do you read U.S. State Department country-specific safety information when planning a trip abroad?” and “Do you know the emergency number(s) for your destination?”, Depart Smart’s travel safety quiz is a great way to test your knowledge and become aware of the ways you can equip students to be as safe as possible.
Hill suggests visiting travel.state.gov to see country information and view up-to-date “reconsider travel” and “do not travel” warnings. Teach students to use the website and pay specific attention to the safety and security, local laws and customs, and travel and transportation tabs.
It’s important to register your trip with the U.S. State Department. If a natural disaster strikes or civil unrest occurs, they know your location and plan and can warn and help you. Register by visiting the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at step.state.gov. To build safe travel habits in students, Hill stresses educators and planners should let students register themselves.
“When you do it for them,” Hill said, “you’re failing to train your students on how to be their own hero.”
The resource to use for current information on country-specific illnesses is the Centers for Disease Control, which can tell you how long before your trip travelers would need to visit a travel clinic. Hill notes many countries have medicines and vaccinations that are recommended or required before visiting. However, they can take weeks to work. Visiting the clinic four to six weeks in advance is the usual recommendation. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 travelers return from developing countries with preventable illnesses.
Hill stresses the importance of knowing the emergency numbers for your destination and ensuring students know how to ask for help in the native local language. Additionally, have you thought about how to translate a student’s personal health information into the local language? Having the Google Translate app handy will help in a pinch, though they should already have these translated documents ready before traveling.
Knowing the location of the U.S. Embassy in the country you’re visiting and how to contact them is vital. Use apps such as Google My Maps and Map Fight to get to know the area better before departing and ensure students know their proximity to risk while visiting.
Purchasing travel medical and evacuation insurance before your trip may seem like going overboard, but it’s not. Most domestic healthcare plans will not cover you abroad and many foreign hospitals require pre-payment. Life-saving medical evacuation can cost between $50,000 to $300,000 out of pocket. Hill says that insurance typically costs 5 to 10 percent of what the trip costs and provides you with a 24/7 hotline with translation services and more.
In the case of an emergency, it might be hard to know who to call first.
“My advice would be to call your travel insurance provider, followed by the embassy, and then emergency services—if you know that the number is reliable,” said Hill, adding that students’ emergency contacts should also have several items before students depart. “They need their passports, powers of attorney, money and insurance.”
Be sure to have electronic copies of student’s important documents—passport, visa, travel insurance card, credit card and driver’s license—so if a student loses their backpack on a bus or train, their documents are still accessible. Also, the Embassy will likely be able to help them replace those lost items faster.
Teach students to protect their data while traveling by looking for the “https” at the beginning of websites. Without the “s” at the beginning of the address, students will know they’re not on a secure network.
Hill suggests always carrying:
- A dual-purpose carbon monoxide/fire alarm.
- An RFID wallet.
- A safety straw.
Hill notes that no student should ever be denied the right to communicate with their parents and to be prepared to let them do so.
“When I’m on a cruise or a mountain in Patagonia—where I know cell service is going to be sketchy—I will rent a satellite phone or a spot texting device,” said Hill. “It’s also smart to have a code word with students that they can use in public to let you or their parents know something isn’t right.”
Tyler’s trip to Japan shouldn’t have been his last. Hill stresses that every life is priceless and that even a little prevention can go a long way in alleviating risk.
“I honor him in how I choose to live my life. He should be here,” said Hill. “It’s not about how much fun they’re having—it’s about how much they know in order to get help themselves, and how much you know to be able to avoid those risks.”
View the edWebinar in its entirety here.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for Teach & Travel.