Imbibing Abroad: A guide to safe drinking practices abroad

The KU Office of Study Abroad does not condone the excessive or illegal use of alcoholic beverages; if you do choose to partake, we urge you to consider the following guidelines.

As soon as you step foot on foreign soil you will start to take in the plethora of differences in your country of study: new languages, unique architecture, wonderful people watching, exotic customs and relaxed liquor laws. All of these changes seem rather innocuous, but the last one in the list can get American students into a heap of trouble. Learning how to drink abroad intelligently can be a skill that makes or breaks the enjoyment you experience during your trip.

Start by becoming familiar with the laws in the countries you are visiting. Find the answers to basic questions: What is the legal drinking age? Is the legal age different for beer, wine and liquor? Is drinking allowed in parks or on the streets? What are the open container laws?

The next step is to become accustomed to drinking practices in your country of study. Watch the locals and observe how they drink during meals and into the night. Ensure that it is culturally acceptable to drink during lunch and dinner and also become familiar with late-night drinking practices if you choose to participate. Knowing these informal rules will do more for you than just avoiding embarrassment, it may also keep you from becoming the target of muggers and scammers. Also, learn about the traditional alcoholic beverages that are customary in your area; many times there are regional drinks that are unfamiliar to Americans. For example, in Italy there are many liqueurs that vary in strength from 12% ABV to 40% ABV. Knowing the difference between those varieties could be the difference between sobriety and intoxication.

Furthermore, if you are going to imbibe abroad, know the laws regarding intoxication. In some countries it is a crime to be blatantly intoxicated in public places, while others have no such policy. Also, being composed in public after drinking is very important to remain off of the radar of criminals who prey on intoxicated tourists.

When going out in a group there are a number of things to keep in mind. First and foremost, always stick together. There is no bigger deterrent to criminals than a large group of people. Follow the model outlined by the Jayhawk Buddy System, it applies in Lawrence but it is also just as useful abroad. Another important point is to know when bars and clubs close abroad. If a bar has irregular hours, it may throw off plans you had made to meet a friend and help them get home safely. Essentially, the more you know about where you’re going, the better off you’ll be.

Before you leave for a night out, plan your way back home. Set a reminder on your phone if you need to catch a specific train, subway, or bus. Learn about your options to take a night bus. If you plan to use taxis, do research before to know which companies are reputable and safe. Program the number of a reliable taxi company into your phone, and consider getting a taxi at a taxi stand (if available/common) instead of hailing one off the street.

Above all, be smart and realize that you are not on your home turf while abroad. A potentially great trip can be damaged by boorish behavior. Remember that we Americans aren’t known for our ability to drink moderately and criminals and authorities alike may make drunk American college students a target.