My son travelled to England, Belgium and Germany with some friends this past spring break. This was not the first time my teen had travelled solo, but it was his first time overseas. My son is mature and quite worldly for his age, but that didn’t stop me from being worried sick.
He seemed to have everything in check, including a current passport and EMV card (credit card with security chip). We decided to communicate via email. I waited with bated breath for those notes. As I peered at a photo of my son in front of Big Ben, I felt pride like no other. Here was my nineteen-year-old taking advantage of his youth and exploring places I had yet to visit myself. His trip concluded sans glitches and with a multitude of publication-worthy photos and stories about all of the fascinating people he had met along the way.
It’s normal to be concerned when our teens first travel alone, but detailed plans and regular communication before and during their absence will help ease your mind.
Parents should ask themselves the following questions when considering sending their teen off unattended:
- In general, does he or she handle new situations well?
- Would he or she panic if an unavoidable change to travel plans (e.g. delayed or cancelled plane) occurs or will he or she remain calm?
- Is he or she generally cautious and aware of safety issues and potential health issues?
- If travelling by car: Has he or she demonstrated safe vehicle handling and good decision-making skills all along? Does he or she consistently avoid distractions (e.g. mobile usage, eating while driving, distractions from passengers)? Does he or she have a good sense of direction and stellar map skills?
No matter how mature or prepared, your teen still needs your guidance. According to Susan Kuczmarski, EdD, parenting expert and award-winning author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go (Book Ends Publishing, 2004), “The fact is that controls do act as a source of unacknowledged security for teens.
Total responsibility for one’s life, or trip in this case, is a scary thing. It brings stress and teens have enough going on in their lives to bear the full brunt of worrying about what is best for them. They still need support, guidance and direction, as infuriating as this is for them.”
Parents should work collaboratively with their teen to develop travel plans and any contingency plans. This way your teen will know that you trust his or her judgment and he or she will take ownership of the rules you set together. Kuczmarski suggests, “Give them the opportunity to come up with ideas as you put travel plans in place. Reach an agreement together as to what to do in different situations (e.g. plane is late, person meeting them doesn’t show up, weather delays, etc.).”
Jay Fitter, LMFT, a family therapist, parenting expert and author of Respect Your Children: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting (iUniverse, 2010), warns that teens travelling alone are easy targets for sexual predators or adults looking to take advantage of a teen’s inexperience and youth. Parents should remind their teens that they should only request help or guidance from company employees (e.g. train conductor) or security personnel and should not engage strangers by communicating their plans or any type of personal information, no matter how friendly that stranger may seem.
For younger teens
If it is necessary for your young teen (age thirteen to fifteen) to take public transportation (e.g. plane, bus, train) to visit a relative at a distant location be sure to check the company’s unaccompanied minor policies. For instance, Qatar Airways allows you to use their unaccompanied minor service for children between the ages of five and fifteen. For an additional fee, you can request to have an airline representative accompany your child through their flight. Meanwhile, Eurostar requires additional documentation for children between the ages of twelve and fifteen travelling solo. Therefore, it is imperative that parents check all guidelines ahead of time.
Enlist a relative or friend to meet your child at the airport, bus terminal or train station upon their arrival. Be sure that your child has this person’s number and a contingency plan if he or she does not show up for any reason.
Travelling to a foreign country can raise additional concerns due to language and cultural differences. Keen research and savvy planning are imperative in this case. Not all teens can make this leap. Trust your intuition when it comes to allowing your teen to travel solo overseas.
In my son’s case, he did all of the planning on his own and then communicated his plans to us prior to his departure. The following is a list of tips and advice from Trevor Haskell:
- Have an organized travel plan for visiting sights. Without one, you will lose valuable time at the destination trying to figure out what to do.
- Alert all your credit card companies that you are travelling and specify the exact dates you will be away. Failure to do so will likely trigger account freezes and the inability to access funds.
- Change currency before you go. Although convenient, airport and hotel currency exchange rates will likely be a rip-off.
- Make extra copies of all your travel documents. Put copies in separate parts of your luggage.
- Write down the phone number and address of your country’s embassy or consulate nearest your destination. If you lose your passport or need any kind of emergency assistance, they will be able to help you.
Travel safety tips
Perhaps your teen will be travelling with friends to a distant location for spring or summer break. There is a wealth of travel guidelines you should go over with your teen before he or she seeks respite from his or her college workload. Here are just a few:
- Be sure to use licensed cabs/vans for transportation.
- Research food/water safety prior to travel.
- Road trips: Use buddy system and take breaks from driving.
- Check crime rates and tourist safety information before travelling.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
- Don’t wear expensive jewelry.
- Use a money belt that can be concealed underneath clothing.
- Don’t carry excessive amounts of cash—bring a credit card.
- Use downtime wisely (waiting in airports, etc.) to catch up on schoolwork or reading
- Don’t break the law
Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer, columnist, and author of LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS: Expert advice and support for the conscientious parent just like you (Unlimited Publishing LLC, 2012): For details: myrnahaskell.com. Book also available at: Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk