My son traveled to England, Brussels, and Germany with some friends this past spring break. This was not the first time he had traveled 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). He even applied for Global Entry, which allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers entering the US.
We decided to communicate via e-mail. I waited with bated breath for those notes. As I peered at a photo of my son in front of Big Ben, I felt a pride like no other. Here was my 19-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.
Most parents fret over their children traveling solo, but detailed plans and regular communication before and during his absence will ease your mind.
Parents should ask themselves the following questions when considering sending their teen off unchaperoned:
• In general, does he handle new situations well?
• Would she panic if an unavoidable change to travel plans (e.g. delayed or canceled plane) occurs, or will she remain calm?
• Is he generally cautious and aware of safety issues and potential health issues?
• If traveling by car: Has she demonstrated safe vehicle handling and good decision-making skills all along? Does she consistently avoid distractions (e.g. cellphone usage, eating while driving, distractions from passengers)? Does 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, 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 judgment, and he will take ownership of the rules you set together.
“Give them the opportunity to come up with ideas as you put travel plans in place,” Kuczmarski suggests. “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, a licensed marriage and family therapist, parenting expert, and author of “Respect Your Children: A Practical Guide to Effective Parenting” (iUniverse, 2010), warns that teens traveling alone are easy targets for sexual predators or adults looking to take advantage of a teen’s inexperience and youth.
“For female teens, never get into a conversation with someone of the opposite sex,” says Fitter. He cautions that male teens can also be targets. “Teen males are targets for scam artists and predators, too,” he continues.
Therefore, 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 that your young teen (ages 13 to 15) must take public transportation (e.g. plane, bus, train), to visit a relative at a distant location for the holidays, for example, be sure to check the company’s “unaccompanied minor” policies. For instance, United Airlines only allows you to use its “Unaccompanied Minor Service” for nonstop flights (www.united.com). Also, some bus lines do not allow children under the age of 16 to travel 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 she does not show up for any reason.
Traveling overseas 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 traveling 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 the US 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.
*Check www.usembassy.gov for US Embassies/Consulates near your destination or for travel warnings and alerts.
Spring break travel safety tips
Perhaps your teen will be traveling with friends to a distant location for spring break. There are a wealth of travel guidelines you should go over with your teen before she seeks respite from her college workload. Here are just a few:
• Legal drinking age at your location? NEVER drink and drive (Inebriation = poor judgment, even for those not behind the wheel).
• Be sure to use licensed cabs or vans for transportation.
• Research food and water safety prior to travel.
• Road trips: Use the buddy system and take breaks from driving.
• Check crime rates and tourist safety information before traveling.
Additional travel tips provided by Jay Fitter:
• Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
• 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.): catch up on schoolwork or reading
• Don’t break the law. Smoking weed in a foreign country can land you in prison, even for miniscule amounts.