How to stay safe when traveling abroad on an alternative break

What safety issues should I be concerned with during my alternative break? When traveling abroad you should place yourselves in the mindset of the locals. Many people in third world countries are in desperate need of medication, food, clean water and a variety of other resources. If you have traveled to some of these countries you are aware of how the homes and businesses protect themselves from crime. They put bars on their windows, broken glass on the their roof and walls, and they use fencing to keep intruders out. Most theft in third world countries is not out of violence, but rather to provide immediate relief. Therefore, many desperate people in these countries either beg or steal to try to meet some of their needs. Most of the time the people in need will look for a weakness or try to take advantage of a situation in order to steal goods or finances. I have a story of an American tourist who was briefly visiting Quito, Ecuador. He spoke very little English, but he felt he knew enough to get by in an alternative break to Guatemala. As he arrived in Quito, he was told he had to go to secondary section of the airport in order to depart for the next flight of his journey. He spoke to a man that was in a uniform and tried to speak what Spanish he knew. The gentleman in uniform seemed very helpful at first and told him that he would give him a ride to the second airport area. While riding in the car the American man noticed that the ride was taking much longer than he thought. After 30 minutes of driving, the uniformed driver stopped by a bank ATM machine, pulled out a knife. and told the American to pull out as much cash as he was able to get from the cash machine. He was only able to pull out $400 dollars. The uniformed gentleman took the $400 dollars in cash and abandoned the American in a rough part of Quito.

This incident and many others occur in third world countries like Ecuador, because many American’s are unaware that they are making themselves look like targets. The next question you might ask is how do make myself not look like an easy theft target? There are many ways to do this, but the most important is preparation. If you are traveling abroad, try to set up a contact that will meet you at the airport once you arrive. Once you have scheduled this pickup, make sure you have all their contact information. Also, make sure that they have a sign with your name on it when you arrive. Many unscrupulous locals will look for tourists who look lost or cannot speak Spanish well. They then offer assistance and in the end either rob you or ask for finances for their assistance. You can also hire an organization like Appleseed Expeditions to set up the alternative break or travel abroad program for you.

Other tips would include;

1) Don’t wear baseball caps. (This is an American thing and foreigners know it)

2) Hide your passport and money deep in your backpack. Thieves like to cut your backpack under the outer section where many tourist keep their valuables. They do this while you have your pack on your back and you are not paying attention.

3) Wear your backpack, purse, or wallet on the front of your body.

4) Do not take an unmarked taxi. Always take the yellow, red, or orange taxi’s that have clear markings.

5) Do not look lost coming out of the airport. Always look like you are meeting somebody or heading in some direction.

6) If you must ask a stranger a question or for directions, always ask the people working behind a booth (For example, money exchangers, airline people)

7) Do not use your broken English to communicate to strangers unless they are an official for the airline or somebody working behind a desk.

8) If your contact does not show within 30 minutes at the airport, take an official taxi to your destination.

9) Make sure you have your hotel phone number and address before you travel to a foreign country.

There are many more hints and tricks to keeping you safe while you travel. Please email us at for more info. You can also go to for more information on our international alternative breaks.


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