Kids traveling alone, whether they are teens or young adults, can be a scary prospect for many parents. I know for even me, Unstoppable Traveling Mom, I agonized over the question of safety. Is it safe for my teens to travel alone? Even after the tickets were purchased and accommodations booked, I debated the decision with myself. How irresponsible was I being? Was I jumping the gun in letting them go? Did I acquiesce only because I didn’t want the argument? I learned a lot about teen solo travel before, during and after their trip. The following are 7 tips to make it easier on us moms who worry when the Teen Travel question arises.
Ahhh, the topic of Teen Travel. First, let it be known I am not a helicopter parent, at all. As a kid, I simply never traveled alone to foreign countries (something I deeply regret) and so, the unknown was like a dark cloud hanging above me. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what I didn’t know and this is what scared me the most: my utter inexperience with international travel.
Second, my kids are extreme adventurers. Like off the charts, you have no idea. They are Class V whitewater boaters; they board the back country; they climb, boulder, there is no extreme adventure they would turn down. Hence, I didn’t think for one second they would travel to a Caribbean paradise and sit on the beach. Maybe a day or two of relaxation would be on the itinerary, but they booked a 10 day trip and truthfully I was worried they would get bored and get themselves into some crazy scenarios. Alone, unsafe, bored and scared … not good.
But, as it turns out, all this was for naught. We planned some epic adventures, but really my kids are street smart; they have great instincts and look out for each other. I also did my homework and talked to people I knew who had actually been to the country my kids were traveling to. In the end, it was the best 10 days of their lives.
Teen travel is a life changing event. If you have teens filled with wanderlust, check out these tips to help ease your worry and ensure a fun, safe, and memorable trip for your teens.
Teen Travel Rules
Being the mom of 12 kids, I’ve learned that kids really aren’t mature and adult-like until they reach the ripe old age of 22 or so. It’s the truth, it’s a fact, and so I parent accordingly. Hence, I instilled in them the understanding that I trusted them enough to travel together, and to look out for each other, but I needed nightly check-ins so that I could sleep. Being the adventurers they are, they know the key to a supportive mom is communication, so this was not a foreign concept to them.
We also researched the country and found there were definite spots that were safe and areas that weren’t. They knew exactly where the “no go” zones were. Further, we all knew the drinking age was 18 and that ID checking was random at best, so we discussed the meaning of one drink, a very important topic for teen travel. I also asked them to have a curfew of midnight the first few nights so they could get a feel for the night life scene and the relative safety that accompanied it.
But I also placed restrictions on myself … I would, for the most part, leave them alone; I wouldn’t call multiple times per day, even though I was dying too, as long as I heard from them at the end of their night.
Everyone’s rules will be different, obviously, but setting clear guidelines for your teen’s first solo trip is a very good idea.
The greatest source of information for me, when planning the trip with my teens was fellow Traveling Mom, Dana Zucker. She had been to the country in question many times, as had her daughters – avid teen travelers. She was a wealth of information, helping us narrow down safe areas for lodging, reiterating the dangerous locales and general information that helped my teens plan some epic adventures.
Now, you may have questioned all your friends and family, and yet no one has been to the country your teens are traveling to. Enter TravelingMom’s Travel Advice section of the website. A group of family travel experts are ready and waiting to answer all your questions about solo travel, vacationing with toddlers, the best beaches, and everything in between. You couldn’t ask for a better resource … they are my go-to every single time!
If you aren’t already following your teens on Facebook, Instagram and Snap Chat, do so pronto. It’s provides great insight, whether they are traveling or not, into what your teens are doing and where they are. I took great solace in the many Snap Chat stories, and it was fun to kinda feel like I was there … you know, in a very remote, distanced way.
Discuss Personal Safety
Drug crime was a concern where they were going, but only in certain areas. Like everywhere else on the planet, you just need to know where to avoid in order to increase your safety.
Now, aside from ensuring they don’t get caught in gun fire, there are also a few basic personal safety rules that all travelers, young and old, abide by. And they’re especially important for solo teen travel.
- Keep backpacks zipped. It’s preferable to wear a bag across your front, rather than your back.
- Use the buddy system – especially at night.
- Don’t do ANYTHING illegal!
- Limit alcohol to one drink
- Never return to the home or hotel of anyone you meet. EVER!
- Don’t accept rides from anyone. EVER!
- Don’t tell anyone you meet where you are staying. EVER!
- Be wary of strangers.
- Lock your door at night.
- Stay in well lit areas if you are out at night.
- Don’t Parkour off your hotel roof …
These are the just the basics. I went into a little more detail in the area of the last item on the list, like use more common sense abroad than you do at home. The one this I forgot to mention was sunscreen … they learned about the seriousness of that the first day.
Trust Your Gut Instinct
Our main purposes for traveling as a family are to meet new people, to immerse ourselves in the local customs and to truly make new friends. Our travels didn’t start out this way, but we soon realized, that aside from the epic bonding that transpires among us as a family, the other ingredient that makes our travels so profound are the people we meet and connect deeply with.
I knew our kids would carry this passion with them as they traveled abroad, but it was important to impress upon them to use impeccable judgment. That meant staying in highly trafficked areas, staying together and keeping in mind that, as amazing as these new friends may seem, they did only just meet them. We believe in encouraging our kids to use their heightened gut instincts, to listen to how they feel and if something doesn’t feel right to leave, together!
Try to Blend In
Looking and behaving like tourists is not how we roll. As stated above, we immerse ourselves in the local customs and learn as much as we can about what makes that location tick. Hence, our teens are adept at blending in and not drawing a lot of attention to themselves. They pack light when they go out, they carry very little money and wear no jewelry. And, they keep their heads up and their eyes focused, so they do not appear vulnerable to the career pickpocketer, or worse.
Also, instead of lugging ginormous cameras that scream “tourist,” they mostly used Go Pros. Ideal for all adventure photography and video, this is the camera they throw in their bags when they head to the beach to surf or dive or snorkel, or when they go ziplining and canyoneering. They took it basically everywhere, except when they toured historical areas.
If you’ve prepared your teens and they follow these basic guidelines, all that’s left to do is for them to have fun and enjoy the incredible experience they are blessed to be able to embark on!
When my teens were planning their trip, I sat down with them and helped them find some fun adventurous activities, from ziplining and canyoneering to snorkeling and sailing. We also balanced out these planned activities with some downtime for the beach, surfing, and walking around downtown sight-seeing.
They had the time of their lives and upon returning home, they immediately started planning another trip … destination unknown because they are, after all, broke teens. They’re currently in search of cheap airfare anywhere relatively “safe.”