Sandy beaches, warm waters and tropical drinks beckon hundreds of thousands of college students to destinations like Mexico, Aruba and Jamaica for spring break. But preparing for these vacations should include more than double-checking your passport and packing a suitcase full of flip flops and bikinis. The combination of high alcohol intake and relaxed inhibitions associated with this annual tradition can lead to increased safety risks like muggings, drunk driving and alcohol poisoning. Before you leave, take note of these 12 spring break safety tips.
1. Book a hotel in a central location to limit the need to drive. The closer your hotel is to the beach, downtown or other areas where you plan to spend most of your time, the less likely you'll be to get lost or to be involved in a car crash. Avoid unlicensed taxi cabs by asking your hotel, restaurant or club to summon a ride for you, and if in doubt, pass up the car and wait for another one.
2. Avoid going out and/or traveling alone at night. There really is safety in numbers, and you and your friends can watch out for each other. Walking alone or even clubbing alone can make you a vulnerable target to people whose intentions are less than pure. Even a two-minute walk can be dangerous when you're alone at night - especially if you've been drinking.
3. Never go off with a stranger. Spring break can be a great time to meet new people, but that doesn't mean you should leave your group of friends to spend time with people you don't know. Even if your new acquaintances just want to walk down the street, stick to your group or at least bring along someone you know and trust.
4. Limit alcohol consumption to a reasonable level. Overdoing it on alcoholic drinks impairs your judgment, making you more susceptible to accidents and crime. Pace yourself, and avoid drinks with high alcohol content, like shots. Not only is it safer all around, you'll feel a lot better in the morning. If you plan to drink, always designate a sober companion in your group who can make executive decisions about everyone's safety.
5. Watch for signs of predatory drugs. When a drink is spiked with a drug like Ambien or Rohypnol ('roofies'), most people will show symptoms like extreme wooziness, confusion, slurring speech and difficulty standing, even if they haven't had much to drink.
6. Remember that sun exposure and alcohol don't mix. Spring break often involves lots of time lounging in the sun and in hot tubs, both of which can intensify the effects of alcohol in the body. Take it easy, and remember to slather up with sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, even when it's cloudy.
7. Use appropriate safety gear for sports and other recreational activities. Whether you're driving a scooter, skateboarding or just riding on a boat, protect yourself with any necessary equipment like helmets, knee pads and life jackets.
8. Visit the ATM in groups. Friends can keep a lookout while you're withdrawing cash to lower the risk of robbery. If you must go alone, be sure to cover the keypad when you enter your pin number, just in case someone is watching or the ATM is equipped with an illegal skimming device that steals card information.
9. Keep your money safe. Carry a limited amount of cash at a time as well as a single credit card. Never flash wads of cash at the ATM or in other public places. Tell your credit card company that you'll be traveling before you leave to avoid holds on your account due to suspicious activity.
10. Don't take chances with illegal drugs. For some, the relaxed environment of spring break getaways can make it seem like no big deal to carry recreational drugs in and out of foreign countries, but possession of illegal drugs can get you into serious trouble, both at home and overseas.
11. Know what to do in an emergency. It's easy to forget that in foreign nations, the phone number for emergency response is not 9-1-1. A State Department website called Students Abroad provides a list of these numbers along with detailed tips for health emergencies, evacuations, natural disasters, crime victims and assistance to U.S. citizens arrested abroad.
12. If you're traveling abroad, sign up online for the U.S. Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The STEP program enables the State Department to contact you in case of a family emergency, or to notify you of a crisis near your travel destination. You can also download a Smart Traveler iPhone App that provides additional tips and information.
Know of other spring break safety tips? Leave us a note in the comments below.