By Amira Francis (@Mircatfrancis), Staff Writer

We hear horror stories each year about students studying abroad. Whether you’re leaving home sweet home to pursue studies or just to get a taste of the world, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind when learning how to survive in an unfamiliar place.

As someone who backpacked alone around Ireland for three weeks this past summer, I can say with confidence that it is better to be safe than sorry. Always—especially in those foreign bars and clubs you know you’ll be at—stay on your guard. Here are a few major things you should keep your eye out for when exploring the land beyond America. Hopefully these tips will help you have a safe, fulfilling time abroad.

1. Keep a lookout for shady characters

Okay, okay, this one seems like a given. Of course you’re not going to walk past that large, muscular man with his hood up, stumbling through the streets at one in the morning. Common sense, right? And you should follow your common sense. If someone doesn’t look quite right to you, by all means, stay away. Sometimes, though, these shady characters can be a lot subtler. It could be the well-groomed, smooth-talking Italian man who turns out not to be the white knight you think he is. Or it could be the seemingly trustworthy Spanish saleswoman who you thought was kindly chatting you up to help a foreigner out. Hours later you can’t find your wallet, which leads to my second and third point.

2. Never put yourself in a situation where you are alone with a stranger

A stranger could be someone that you met a day ago, a week ago or even a month ago. For the purpose of playing it safe, it’s better to stay in the public eye. If you want to go on a date with the dashing English guy you just met, stick to restaurants to start with. (And watch your drink!) If that beautiful girl wants to show you some place that all the other tourists haven’t seen yet, politely suggest somewhere a little more familiar. If you do choose to go somewhere alone with a person you have just met, which could happen in a spur-of-the-moment surge of adventure, at the very least let a friend know where you’re going and who you’re going with.

3. Keep your money and your passport close

A study abroad nightmare is a lost passport. Keep it in the most secure place you can think of, like in that safe pocket on the inside of your purse. I met an Australian man who even kept a padlock on the zipper of his backpack. The same kind of thing goes for money. Keep an eye on your wallet. It’s tough enough recovering a lost wallet in Boston. I can’t imagine doing the same successfully in a foreign land.

4. Follow your gut

If you have a bad feeling about something, don’t do it. If your gut is telling you not to trust someone, don’t trust him or her. Your intuition is wise, so make sure you learn to listen to it while traveling abroad. Err on the safe side and, by the end of your trip, you won’t regret it.