Be Wary of Study Abroad Tours

Some of you may have seen a recent social media post about a travel company named DiscoverExcursions. In the post, an American female student who previously studied abroad in Spain alleged that Manuel, the tour director and owner of the company, committed acts of sexual misconduct against her while on the tour. Other students have since come forward with similar claims and a report on this matter recently aired on the morning television show in the U.S., called Megyn Kelly TODAY.

Last weekend, I went on a DiscoverExcursions trip to Lagos, Portugal. It was my idea, and I organized the trip for myself and 4 friends to meet the group in Seville and travel to Lagos for the weekend of April 6-8th. Clearly, this was before the story that came out. This trip was recommended by my cousin, old friend, classmates at Pitt and other friends who were currently studying abroad. I was so excited, and could not wait for my adventure in Portugal. I was lucky I had my 2 girlfriends and 2 guys friends on the trip. We did not encounter anything remotely wrong with the tour guide Manu, but that is until Tuesday, April 10th, when I stumbled upon an Instagram by the female student:

I was searching through social media one day and I came across an Instagram post by Gabrielle Vega. She had captioned the post with the horrifying story of what had happened in 2013 when she went on a weekend trip to Morocco. She talked of the contact she had been trying to make with DiscoverExcursions, trying to warn other girls and trying to find others that had been harmed. She also informed her following about the TODAY show special that would occur the following day. I was shocked and horrified. I immediately became sick, because that day, Manu had reached out to me via Instagram to get drinks in Madrid the next night (Wednesday). On the trip, he told us he was gay. We also thought his charismatic personality was a great for a tour guide. Immediately, I contacted my program to make them aware of this situation and to warn others. I did not accept the invitation and instead blocked Manu on the application, and patiently waited for the TODAY show link. His “charisma” now makes me sick to think about, and same with the lies about his sexuality.

For those studying abroad, and planning to, here are some tips when booking trips:

– Be wary of travel companies or promoters offering alcoholic drink specials, vouchers, or package deals directed specifically towards American study abroad students. Research and consider using companies that locals also use for travel.

– Travel with friends you trust and agree to look out for each other. Don’t venture off alone or leave the group that you are traveling with. If you wouldn’t do it back home, don’t do it while traveling in another country or city.

– Always be mindful of your alcohol consumption. Never accept a drink from a stranger and never leave a drink unattended.

– Do not accept an invitation that would cause you to separate from the group.

– Don’t share personal contact information with tour guides, drivers, or anyone else who appears to be affiliated with the travel company. You will have to share some relevant information with the company when booking your travel and can always ask how that information will be used.

– Carry your program numbers and insurance information with you when you travel.

– Familiarize yourself with where the closest U.S. Embassy or your home country’s embassy is in the country where you are traveling. Remember to update your STEP Enrollment with your travel itinerary so you can receive updates with important security information in real time.

The Video:
“Megyn Kelly TODAY welcomes Gabrielle Vega, who says she was raped by a tour director while on an excursion to Morocco. She says she has experienced PTSD and dropped out of school after the harrowing experience. Two other women allege sexual misconduct by the same tour director.”