As far as traveling is concerned, I would consider Costa Rica one of the safest options based on its stable government, low crime rates, and great health care system. That being said, my travel safety tips are focusing on choosing where you are going to travel, with what program you are going to travel, and planning for your trip before you leave. By doing this, you will have a more enjoyable trip, and will not have to worry as much about safety, allowing you to enjoy your experience more!
1. Where to go. In choosing where to travel, you first want to consider the overall safety in the country. Travel.state.gov is a great website where you can find information on the safety in other countries and specifically Costa Rica. Also, talk to people who have traveled out of the country before about their experiences, recommendations, and any warnings they have. Costa Rica is one of the safest countries I came across during my search. It is also important to consider your ability to speak another language. This will help you to ensure that you can get the information you need even if people do not speak English. If you cannot speak another language, it may be a good idea to consider countries that speak English as a first language or where a lot of people speak English as a second language. In Costa Rica, they speak Spanish. I can speak Spanish fairly well and I found that the more I tried to speak Spanish, even if it wasn’t perfect, the more people were willing to help and explain things to me. This will help make traveling easier and increase your comfort level.
2. Choosing a program. There a multitude of programs you can travel with in just about any country in the world, doing just about anything, so how do you choose? First, start by asking people who have traveled with the programs you may be interested in about them. Talk to the people who run the program and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions! My thoughts are that traveling with a small group of Americans (2-5 people) or even better, traveling with people from the country you are in are the safest options. When you are in large groups of Americans, you stick out and can be more easily targeted for theft and other crimes. Also, traveling with people from that country increases safety because they know where to avoid, what to expect, and how to interact with the people. I would say that established programs that work with the locals, or are run by the locals tend to be safer because you will know that they are supported by the community and that many other people have gone before you who can validate the safety of the program.
3. Planning before you leave. I would probably consider this the most important part of ensuring that you have a safe trip. Depending on the country you are going to it may differ but here are some general guidelines.
a. Organize all the information on: where you will be staying including addresses, phone numbers and emails where you can be reached while you are there and include those of the people in charge of the program. Have this information with you when you are traveling and leave it with a few family and friends before you leave.
b. Register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at this website http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/registration/registration_4789.html through the Department of State. Also, if you are a university student, most will have ways to register your trip with the university and will know where you are and be able to keep track of you. This is just another way to ensure that in case something happens, you will be able to get the help that you need.
c. Buy travel insurance. This is another good precaution in case something happens overseas. You will not have to worry about the cost of getting the health care or getting out of the country if need be. It’s inexpensive and will be really helpful if you end up needing it.
d. Get your vaccinations. Check on the CDC website http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ for information about the vaccinations you may need to get before traveling to that specific country. Many times your doctor’s office will not carry vaccinations as they are not given routinely in the US and you will have to go to a place like “Passport Health” to get them. For instance, you may also have to take malaria pills. Ask your doctor if you have any questions. It may also be a good idea to ask your doctor about taking a course of antibiotics with you in case you do get sick while overseas. Bring over the counter medications with you as well such as Pepto-Bismol, antihistamines, anti-diarrheal, and a pain reliever as these are the four essentials I would recommend.
e. Check with your phone company. The last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere without any way to contact someone. Many times your phone will work overseas, but the prices will be high. If your phone does work overseas, consider how much you plan on using it while there. If you are going to be using it a lot you may want to buy an international plan for the duration of your trip, or consider buying a cheap pay as you go phone when you get to your destination. If you do not plan on using your phone other than in case of emergency, just ensure that it will work overseas and carry it charged at all times. Always carry a spare power charge cord.
Prepare well for your trip and there won’t be much to worry about once you get there!