Every year, college and high school students across the country feel a need to head south for Spring Break.
However, to have a safe and fun spring break there needs to be some planning.
Spring break vacations can be especially dangerous for women, experts say.
In a recent American Medical Association survey, 83 percent of college women and graduates said spring break involves heavier-than-usual drinking, and 74 percent said the trips result in increased sexual activity.
Sizable numbers reported getting sick from drinking, and blacking out and engaging in unprotected sex or sex with more than one partner, activities that increase their risks for sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
The American Medical Association is trying to call attention to underage drinking among women because their bodies process alcohol differently and put them at greater risk for health problems.
Also, 74 percent said women use spring break drinking as an excuse for ''outrageous'' behavior that the American Medical Association said could include public nudity and dancing on tables. Such action, obviously, can lead to trouble.
To prevent dangerous situations, experts offer the following recommendations:
- Listen to what your gut is telling you. If you feel that you are in an unsafe situation, leave.
- Don't wander around by yourself; there is safety in numbers.
- Stay in well-known hotels that are in commercial areas that are well lit, and don't explore remote areas. Well-populated districts are safest.
- Because legal systems in other countries are far different from those in the U.S., don't do anything illegal; consequences could be much more severe than in the U.S.
- Be sure that someone at home knows the address, phone and fax number of where you are staying and on which flights you are booked. Make frequent contact with someone at home, so your safety and whereabouts are known.
According to the U.S. State Department, approximately 3 million Americans travel to Cancun, Mexico, each year, including as many as 100,000 American teens and young adults, during Spring Break.
U.S. citizens should take specific precautions when traveling abroad, particularly to Mexico, during the Spring Break period. The State Department recently warned of drug-related violence near the U.S. border.
- U.S. citizens should be very cautious in using ATMs in general in Mexico. If an ATM must be used, access it only during the business day at large protected facilities.
- Tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as Mexican police or other local officials. Ask for the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number. You must have that information to pursue a complaint.
- Public transportation is a particularly popular place for pickpockets. Leave valuables in a safe place, or leave them at home.
- Alcohol is implicated in the majority of arrests, violent crimes, accidents and deaths involving American tourists in Cancun.
- Visitors should be careful when crossing streets in Cancun. Public transportation vehicles, specifically taxis and city buses, often do not obey the posted speed limits and do not stop at traffic lights.
- Warning flags on the beach should be taken seriously. If black flags are up, do not go in the water. There is often a very strong undertow along the beach, and minimal lifeguard supervision in most areas.
- Visitors to Mexican resorts should carefully assess the risk potential of recreational activities. Sports and aquatic rental equipment may not meet U.S. safety standards nor be covered by any accident insurance.
According to the American Cancer Society, people with too much exposure to sun, tanning lamps and tanning booths are at greater risk for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma.
Students headed south for Spring Break should know that melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people under 30 years of age. To protect yourself from the sun's damage:
- Wear protective clothing, including a shirt, sunglasses, and a hat with a brim.
- Use sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more on exposed skin. People with fair skin who burn easily should be very careful to use sunscreen.
- Many sunscreens wear off with sweating and swimming; reapply frequently.
- Sunscreens should be used even on hazy or cloudy days because UV rays still pose dangers through cloud cover.
The bottom line is to take in the sights and enjoy yourself over Spring Break, but remain safe no matter where you go.