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Travel outside U.S. requires some caution

March 5, 2003

By Brandi Dean

With scant days left before spring break, many Baylor students are anxiously counting the minutes before they can pack up their suitcases and board planes for exotic destinations. But for those traveling out of the country, the State Department has warned that extra caution is in order.

According to a travel safety fact sheet released by the State Department, more than 2,500 Americans are arrested in foreign countries each year on charges ranging from possession of illegal substances to disorderly behavior. And even those who aren't planning to break any laws should be aware of the possibility of being mugged or attacked.

For instance, Wes Johnson, a Fort Worth senior, will be traveling with friends to Costa Rica next week. Though he has studied abroad in Argentina, Mexico and Cuba and feels confident that he can handle himself, he said he does worry about some of the people traveling with him.

'We're traveling in a group of 15, and the vast majority of them have never been out of the country,' Johnson said. 'So we have to worry about the basic things like pickpockets and getting overcharged at stores and restaurants.'

Steve Graves, the student missions and ministries director, works with many students who are going to foreign countries for missions. He said he instructs students to visit the State Department Web site to check for travel warnings and the Center for Disease Control Web site to find out if immunizations are needed.

Graves also suggested contacting the local U.S. Embassy in the area and giving them an itinerary for the trip _ that way, if something unexpected happens, they know what Americans are in the area and should be contacted.

But he also said there are plenty of little instructions to remember.

'There's definitely the common sense stuff like staying in groups and not accepting packages and things like that,' Graves said.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs in the State Department offers a brochure of tips for students that includes those kinds of details and can be found at travel.state.gov/student_tips_brochure.html. Among its top ten travel tips are suggestions such as leaving copies of itineraries, passports and visas with friends and family at home in case emergency copies are needed; never leaving luggage unattended; and avoiding wearing expensive jewelry or carrying excess cash or credit cards and thus becoming a target for thieves.

To stay out of trouble with the local law enforcement, the State Department Web site tells travelers to know the local laws. Lynnette Belt, a U.S. Consular agent in Cancun, Mexico, said fliers are handed out to spring breakers as they arrive in the city that inform students of the legal drinking age and local drug laws. The travelers are warned to follow these rules.

'They punish much more severely for drugs than we do,' Belt said. 'We have had students in jail for several years on drug possession charges.'