By April Daniels Hussar, SELF magazine
The sun! The pool! The sexy waiters serving fruity drinks with umbrellas! Yes, after a long, weird winter, spring is on its way at last, and with it, the time-honored tradition of heading to warmer climates for a break from school or work. But before you book your flight and pack your bikini, make sure that you not only have a total blast, but a safe and healthy trip.
Of course, it should go without saying that if your spring break plans include getting hot and heavy, being safe is a must. If you need some motivation to pack protection, consider this -- Yahoo! reports that along with a spike in searches for "spring break destinations" (up 149 percent this week!), they're also seeing a sharp increase in STD-related searches like "STD symptoms." No fun, right?
Marybeth Bond, founder of the online travel magazine GutsyTraveler.com, has visited over 90 countries and written 11 travel books with National Geographic and Travelers Tales, including Gutsy Women. She shared these tips with HealthySELF to make sure you have a fun -- and safe -- time on your much-deserved getaway.
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Before you go:
1. DON'T Facebook that you're leaving! "It's easier than you think to look up your address online," says Bond.
2. DO make out a detailed itinerary with your travel plans, the phone numbers and addresses of the places where you'll be staying, and how to reach you. Leave it with your parents or another responsible party. This is for their own peace of mind as well as yours.
3. Make sure you can stay in touch. Call your cell phone carrier and make sure you understand if your phone will work while you're away, and how much it will cost. Coming home to a $500 phone bill because you texted photos to your BFF your entire trip is not a fun way to preserve the memories. If you're traveling out of the country, you can usually negotiate a special rate or plan so you can stay reachable -- and so you can reach out if you need to.
4. Invest in a TSA-approved lock. It won't stop airport security agents from pawing through your stuff, but it will keep prying fingers out of any valuables or important travel documents you want to lock in your room while you're soaking up the sun and reading trashy novels on the beach. Priorities, people!
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5. Pack a smart purse. And no, we're not talking about that totally cute little clutch. According to Bond, if you don't want to go the money-belt route, your best bet is a cross-body bag that zips. Seriously -- losing all your money and ID is a major vaca buzz-kill, no? While we're on the topic, if you go out at night, always make sure you have enough cash in that purse to get home in a cab.
Once you're there:
5. Got a cute new bikini? Yay! Wear it to the beach or pool ... and only the beach or pool. Bond says this is more important when traveling in foreign countries. "Be very careful about what you wear; in some countries, it can be difficult to know what is considered offensive or overly suggestive," she says. "Take your cues from the local women," she adds, noting that it's better to blend in than to stick out.
6. Buddy system! "Do not go into a bar alone," says Bond, "and get smart about Rohypnol, the "date-rape drug.'" You probably already know all this, but don't get carried away by the festive, anything-goes atmosphere of a tropical getaway and forget that you can't ever leave your drink unattended, accept a drink that you didn't watch the bartender pour or consider leaving a bar alone or letting your buddy leave alone, either. And speaking of drinks, cocktails can be a fun part of spring break, but too many can be downright dangerous, so make a deal with your buddy to watch each others' backs AND mojito intake.
7. Ask for advice! "Don't pretend like you know everything," says Bond. Ask locals -- preferably women -- and fellow travelers questions like, "Is the public bus system safe at night?" and "Is that neighborhood OK to go to alone for lunch?"
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8. Keep your city smarts. "Just because it seems like Dream Vacation Land, there are still the same dangers as in a metropolitan city," says Bond. "Ask yourself, "Is this something I would do at home, or in a big city like New York?'" You wouldn't leave a party with a group of strange men in Manhattan -- why would you in a small beach town? "Listen to your inner voice," says Bond. Your instincts will tell you what to do -- and what not to do.
9. Show confidence. "Don't act afraid," says Bond, which can make you seem more vulnerable and easier to attack. If you're in a scary situation, be bold and confident and get out of there.
10. Don't be too nice. By this, Bond means don't do anything you're not comfortable doing because you want to be "nice." Bond says, "If some strange man talks to you and you don't want to talk back, you don't have to!"