It’s common for parents to worry about their kids’ safety while studying abroad. Most likely the experience will be as amazing as you hope. But recent headlines of natural disasters, political unrest, and random acts of violence can elevate concerns to a whole other level.

While it’s impossible to protect kids from every situation, creating an emergency action plan with them before they go overseas will ensure they know where to go and how to ask for help if needed.

The day after four Boston College students were attacked with acid at a train station in France by a woman who police say suffers from mental illness, the Boston Herald called Depart Smart’s Founder, Sheryl Hill, to discuss safety risks and emergency action plans for students overseas.

“I think [studying abroad] is getting more dangerous,” Hill told the Boston Herald in a Sept. 18 newsbrief.

While the four girls involved in the acid attack are reportedly “doing well,” Hill’s son, Tyler, died a preventable death in 2007 while on a People to People youth ambassador program in Japan. “He died in a very sophisticated country that had some of the best health care in the world,” she said. “We need to take that seriously. This is what I hear all the time: “I trust my school. They’ll help me if something happens. That’s not always the case.”

Rather than instilling fear, Hill is on a mission with Depart Smart to help others enjoy safer, more rewarding world travel. Hill and her team of volunteers at Depart Smart have devoted the past ten years in efforts to shed light on poor safety standards, advocate federal and state protections for US students and citizens abroad, and empower individuals and families with safety education.

Depart Smart now offers an online Travel HEROES Safety Certification Course. Designed as a 60-minute, interactive training program, it helps people going on international travel to develop lifesaving safety skills and a customized emergency action plan specific to their destinations. The course is filled with animated videos, games to reinforce learning, practical tips, demonstration videos and more.   

Despite the rise in unsettling headlines, the Boston Herald reports, “The number of students studying abroad, meanwhile, has continually climbed, jumping to 313,400 during the 2014-2015 school year a 3 percent spike over the year before, according to the non-profit institute for International Education.”

Studying abroad provides students the opportunity to discover their independence and better understand another nation’s people, customs and history. But no standardized education has ever existed to teach them how to travel independently and safer – until now.

“Having travel insurance and knowing local emergency numbers is key, as is being aware of travel alerts released by the State Department,” Hill told the Boston Herald.

Other essential steps for safe travel include:

  • Storing backup files of passport, bank card, insurance cards, driver’s license and emergency contacts online in a repository like Dropbox.
  • Mapping out destinations for hospitals, airports, the U.S. Embassy and housing using Google My Maps.
  • Following the advice and direction of your US Embassy when trouble arises.
  • Vetting study abroad programs by having an attorney check state and federal lawsuit registers or Googling the program name for “lawsuit, injured, death, died, rape, fire, fraud, etc.”

World travel should be an experience you want to remember. Travel like a HERO in life-saving ways.