“To travel is to live,” said famed author Hans Christian Andersen, and students who have spent time abroad would agree. Perhaps no other activity opens the eyes and expands the perspective more than traveling to different places, and spending a semester—or a school year—abroad represents a life-changing experience.

Many parents understandably worry about sending their children to a foreign land, but for most, the benefits outweigh the dangers. Though all forms of travel present some measure of risk, you can minimize the risks and stay safe by following these tips while studying abroad.

Don’t procrastinate

Depending on where in the world you’re going, you might be exposed to new diseases and viruses. At least six weeks before you leave, see a doctor who specializes in travel medicine. You may need vaccines before you go or medicines to take with you.

Some vaccines are administered in a series over several weeks, so give yourself plenty of time to get your medical house in order. Seeing your dentist and eye doctor is recommended before you go, as these forms of care may not be as modernized in other countries.

Staying healthy

Though no one likes to imagine getting ill or injured while overseas, accidents do happen—and trying to access medical care while you’re sick and in another country just isn’t fun. Make it easier by protecting yourself with international student insurance, designed for students living and studying abroad. It provides access to medical treatment no matter where you are, so you’ll have both healthcare coverage and peace of mind.

Keeping track

Before you go, register with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP. This free program updates you with the latest information and news from the country you’re staying in, so you’ll know what’s going on. Plus, the program offers assistance if you lose your passport and allows your family and friends to contact you more easily in case of an emergency.

Behavior changes

One of the best things you can do to stay safe while studying abroad involves changing your behavior patterns. Simply following these simple tips can help protect you from harm while overseas, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar area.

  • Leave flashy jewelry, expensive cameras and digital devices at home rather than wearing them out and about in public
  • Don’t go out alone at night; remain with friends and stick to well-lit areas
  • Always protect your passport by keeping it with you, tucked away in a safe pocket or purse
  • Pay special attention to traffic patterns when out walking; remember, in several foreign countries, people drive on the left side of the road
  • Speak with your host family and other residents about any areas considered unsafe
  • Avoid incidents of civil unrest or disturbances

Remember, while you can’t anticipate everything, you can plan to stay safe. Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience. Ensure that those changes are for the better by staying safe and healthy while you’re on foreign soil!