No one knows the intense urge for a vacation better than a college student. Spring break is next week, and it is time for many to escape. Some lucky students will get to venture out of snowy Buffalo to white sand beaches and party with other fortunate students. However, this year, safety could be a little bit more important than in years past.
"We recommend, whether your destination is Florida or Cancun, that you make sure your lodging is centrally located," said Stacy Manley, the assistant manager of the Amherst branch of AAA. "Stay in the tourist zones; the further from crowds that you wander, the more danger you invite. Avoid renting a car because you are a lot less likely to get lost on foot."
Manley also offered some other advice for travelers.
"Scan all your travel documents and upload it to e-mail so you can access them at any time," Manley said. "Also keep in touch with parents through Facebook; it keeps them from worrying and it keeps students from feeling babysat. The final bit of advice I have is to buy travel insurance. This will cover you for emergency evacuation, medical emergencies, trip interruption, travel delay, and helps you out with baggage loss, delay, or damage."
Spring break is often portrayed on MTV as crazy, all-day parties filled with plenty of booze and bikinis. Many popular spring break destinations have led students to venture outside the U.S. to places like Cancun, Mexico or Panama City, Fla. This year, with the growing violence surrounding Mexico, many students have decided to stay inside the country.
Over the past four years, nearly 28,000 American citizens have been killed in Mexico. That's nearly the entirety of the student body at UB. In past years, thousands of students from across the country have vacationed in Cancun, a very popular destination for spring breakers. This year, the Mexican drug cartel has created a stigma for the entire country, leaving many people fearful of crossing the border. The good news is that most of the murders and violence occur near the border with the U.S., so Cancun should be relatively safe.
Another popular spring break destination in the Gulf is Panama City. This destination features warm weather, sandy beaches, plenty of fellow college students, and…oil. The oil spill in the Gulf has significantly affected travel to the coastal areas. Travel to Panama City has decreased nearly 30 percent in the region since the Deepwater Horizon exploded.
Safety when traveling is very important and students need to take precautions to keep themselves and their possessions safe. Students should keep to large numbers and avoid wandering off alone.
"Everybody should keep their wallet and other valuable belongings in a safe place that is not obvious, like the back pocket," said Lieutenant David Urbanek of the University Police Department. "Never leave belongings unattended and, wherever you are staying, make sure that the doors and windows are locked both while you are there and when you leave."
On windy days, watch out for rip currents in the water. These are areas of water rushing back out to the sea from the shore and can pull even the strongest swimmer underwater. The best thing to do if you are ever caught in this situation is to swim parallel to the shore.
Sharlynn Daun-Barnett, an alcohol and other drug specialist in student health and wellness, advised students to be careful when drinking on their vacations.
"Drinking in the sun can dehydrate you, zapping all of your energy because alcohol is a diuretic," Daun-Barnett said. "If you start drinking at 1 p.m. and continue throughout the night, your blood alcohol does not take a break and each drink needs an hour to break down in your liver. The less water in your system, the higher concentration of alcohol. Alcohol can hurt your reaction time, balance and judgment."
Make sure to stay hydrated in the sun; bring bottled water or Gatorade with you and be sure to have a hearty meal before drinking. The sun can have a bigger impact on your body than you realize.
Try to avoid energy drinks while you are drinking alcohol. It can be very dangerous to mix caffeine with alcohol because it heightens the risk of alcohol poisoning. The mixture can make your heart rate and blood pressure rise and it can worsen dehydration, leading to a nasty hangover or other problems.
"We have seen more hospitalizations over the last year because energy drinks make you feel less drunk, but your blood alcohol content is still the same," Daun-Barnett said. "You are also four to five times more likely to drive drunk because they make you feel more alert."
Girls also need to be aware of the biological differences between men and women when drinking over spring break. According to the Women and Alcohol Task Force in Wellness Education Services, women have 70 to 80 percent fewer of the enzymes required to break down alcohol than men, so alcohol concentration is stronger when it enters the bloodstream.
"Women also have different hormones that make alcohol stronger," Daun-Barnett said.
Be careful when trying to keep up with others while drinking and remember the average drink sizes; one 12 oz. beer has the same amount of alcohol as one shot or one 5 oz. glass of wine.
Students can join the Women and Alcohol Task Force for a chance to win weekly prizes and learn more about the dangers of alcohol. Its Facebook page is "Smart Party Girls Know the Facts – University at Buffalo."
Wellness Education Services is promoting its Smart Spring Breakers top five tips all week long. It will be around campus this week in the dining halls, playing trivia games with prizes such as T-shirts, water bottles, and sunglasses. Among the top five tips are keeping track of your drinks and pacing yourself, staying with friends that you know, and alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages throughout the day.
Make sure to be aware of the signs of alcohol poisoning while drinking over break, as well. If a friend or fellow spring breaker is showing signs such as breathing slower than normal, vomiting, pale complexion, blue nails or lips, or is passed out and cannot be awoken, call an ambulance.
"Always call the police no matter what city you are in," Daun-Barnett said. "Alcohol poisoning can lead to brain damage or death, and even if someone is passed out, their blood alcohol content continues to rise."
If you go out to the bars, be sure to go with friends and people you know. Plan ahead in case you need cab fare, and never leave a friend behind. Alcohol can cause blackouts, which can lead to sexual assault, rape, robbery, and even death. Knowing where your drink is at all times and pacing yourself are very important for both men and women.
The most important thing for spring breakers to keep in mind this year at the beach is the practice of safe sex. Always remember to use a condom before things get underway. Protecting yourself from STDs and HIV or even unwanted pregnancies is one of the most vital pieces of advice anyone could give you this year.
SBI Health Education gives out a variety of free condoms to all UB students. Whether you're looking for glow in the dark, Pleasure Plus, or Magnum, SBI has it all. SBI Health Education is located at 221 Student Union on North Campus or Hayes Annex C Suite 5 on South Campus.
One last thing for students to remember is to protect the things they leave behind.
"Spring is always a big time for robberies," Urbanek said. "Always make sure your window and doors are secure, have a neighbor get your mail so it's not obvious that you are gone, and make certain to secure bank statements and such to avoid identity theft."
Spring break promises to be a well-deserved vacation for all students, so remember to have fun and be safe.
Additional reporting by Michael Tyson.