Published February 16, 2011
College students are counting down the days to spring break to escape the stresses of college life. While spring break is a great time for students to unwind, it’s important to keep safety a top priority.
“Having a safe spring break requires planning,” says Ann Quinn-Zobeck, director of education and training for The BACCHUS Network. “Students can decrease their chance of being an easy target by establishing a budget before they leave for spring break, communicating expectations with their friends, and planning before you go out where you are going and how you will get home safely.”
You can still have fun and create life-long memories on vacation while being smart about both your money and your well being this spring break.
Keep a Low Profile
Avoid drawing unwanted attention to yourself while on vacation and stay alert of your surroundings.
“Be sure your room number is given to you discreetly when checking in,” says Larry Kaminer, president of the Personal Safety Group. “Criminals do hang out in lobbies looking for easy targets. Jewelry, laptops, cameras and electronics attract attention.”
Don’t tell anyone outside your group your room number, and always make sure hotel doors and windows are locked.
Limit the amount of expensive electronics and flashy luxury items you bring. If you absolutely can’t live without your iPod, lock it, along with other valuables, in the hotel room safe when not in use.
Be Smart About Cash
If you have to use an ATM while on vacation, the experts suggest using one in the hotel. If that isn’t an option, find one in a well-lit area and go with a group.
“Cup your hand over the keypad as you enter your PIN,” says Kaminer. “Going into a bank to get cash is another option. Carry small amounts of cash and be discreet with money when buying gifts from street vendors.”
Don’t Expose Your Credit Card Information
Most hotels require a credit card to be on file to make a reservation, but experts warn that some hotel staff might see a young face and make bogus charges with the hopes they will be overlooked.
“Parents can avoid their children having to engage in financial transactions at hotels by prepaying with their credit cards,” says Kaminer.
If your parents are not willing to help, be sure to monitor your account to make sure all charges are legitimate.
“The best defense for credit fraud is meticulously checking your statements and setting up fraud alerts with your card,” says Erin Weed, founder of Girls Fight Back.
Always Have a Cell Phone
You should always have a cell phone with you for emergencies and for staying in touch with the people in your group.
“Have three emergency contacts programmed into the speed dialer,” suggests Kaminer. “If you travel abroad, [you can] buy a prepaid cell phone upon arrival and share that number with your friends and emergency contacts.”
When going out, make sure your phone is charged and that everyone in the group remembered to bring their phone.
“Group members should have each others’ phone numbers programmed into their phone as well as the phone number of the place they are staying and a local cab company,” says Quinn-Zobeck. “Students should be sure to check in with the members of their group throughout the night, not just at the end of the night.”
Stay in a Group and Don’t Leave Your Drink
Students should always stick together when going out anywhere, day or night. There is more potential for something unfortunate to happen if you split up.
“Go out with your friends, go home with your friends,” says Weed. “It’s so much more fun, and so much more safe.”
Kaminer advises buddying up for bathroom breaks and never leaving your beverage unattended.
“Keep any drinks with you and be wary of anyone who wants to keep pouring you more drinks,” he says. “If you’re ordering a beverage, be sure it is opened in front of you.”
Watch How Much You Drink
Drinking too much alcohol can unintentionally lead students to let their guards down, says Quinn-Zobeck.
“Alcohol is a depressant and even one to two drinks can decrease your ability to perceive a situation as dangerous,” she says. She also suggested appointing one person in your group to stay sober to keep tabs on everyone and drive if necessary.
Before leaving for a night out, have a plan that details how everyone will get back home or to the hotel safely.
Kaminer says that students should never appear to be drunk in public; in addition to possibly breaking the law, you make yourself a target.
“Criminals read body language,” he says. “Focused people walking ‘heads up’ with brisk athletic stride are seen to be harder targets and most often passed over for those that are clearly intoxicated and not aware of their surroundings.”
Alert Banks if Leaving a Country
If you are travelling out of the country be sure to let your bank know to expect foreign charges or it might suspend your account over suspected fraud, leaving you stranded with no money.
You should also let the government know you’re leaving. In case of an emergency, it can be helpful if the U.S. Embassy knows where you are.
“Remember bad things can happen anywhere, even ‘safe neighborhoods’ surrounded by lots of people,” says Weed. “This isn’t to say always be afraid, but just always be ready to handle a situation and have an action plan.”
Tell Money101 about your wackiest budget-stretching strategy that got you through or is currently helping you in college! Write to FoxBusinessMoney101@gmail.com with your budget tip, your name, age, and school.