“Can I go?” Three words that strike fear into the heart of parents when asked by their teen. Sure. You want your child to have adventures. But you want them to be safe, above all else. Here’s how to help your teen plan a trip without you and tips to keep you sane while they’re away.
Kids traveling alone, whether they are teens or young adults, can be a scary prospect for many parents. I know when my kids first ventured off on their own, 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 worried. Was I being an irresponsible parent? Was I jumping the gun in letting them go? I learned a lot about teen travel before, during and after their trip. The following are essential tips to make it easier on us moms and safe for our teens.
Letting our Teens Fly
Ahhh, the topic of teen travel. First, I am not a helicopter parent, at all, but I love my kids and want to teach them to make educated decisions. As a kid, I never traveled alone, and certainly not to foreign countries (something I deeply regret). Hence, the learning curve was huge when it came to my kids traveling solo. I mean, I didn’t even know 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. They are Class V whitewater boaters; they snowboard the back country; they climb, boulder, and dirtbike extreme trails. There is no wild adventure they would turn down. I didn’t think for one second they would travel to a Caribbean paradise and sit on the beach. Maybe one day of relaxation would be on the itinerary, but my first experience with teen travel was a 10 day tip to Puerto Rico. I was worried they would get bored and get themselves into some crazy situations.
Do Your Homework and Then Don’t Worry
As it turns out, all this worry was for naught. My kids are street smart. They might make wild adventure choices, but they aren’t stupid, their instincts are honed and they look out for each other. I also do my homework and talk to people I know who had actually been to whatever country my kids are traveling to. In the end, this particular trip 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 simply a fact and I parent accordingly. Teen travel depends a lot on the individual travelers, and perhaps equally on the collective. I trusted this trio enough to travel smartly together and to look out for each other.
Rule #1: Communication
To calm my very overactive mama nerves, I needed nightly check-ins so I could sleep. I made them promise to call me each night after returning to their hotel. Being the adventurers they are, they know the key to a supportive mom is communication, so this was not a foreign concept to them.
Rule #2: Research the Country in Question
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. We highlighted them in red on maps, to ensure they did not accidentally end up in one of the sketchy areas.
Rule #3: One Drink
As is the case in many international countries, we all knew the drinking age was 18 and that ID checking was random at best, so we discussed the real meaning of one drink and I researched stories of teens that didn’t follow this rule. Sadly, this is not an uncommon theme for many solo teen travelers.
Rule #4: Curfew
I 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, or the relative danger, that accompanied it.
Rule #5: Rules for Mom
I also placed restrictions on myself, so this would be their trip, their experience without mom seemingly being there with them. I agreed that 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, according to your comfort zone, 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 contributor, Dana Zucker. She had been to the country in question many times, as had her children – 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.
But what if you have questioned all your friends and family, and no one you know has been to the country your teens are traveling to. I can fully understand this conundrum, so I wholly recommend SheBuysTravel Community on Facebook. 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 moms, they understand the scary, yet exhilarating experience of teen travel. They are my go-to every single time!
If you aren’t already following your teens on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, do so pronto. Also, have your kids share their location with you if you all have iPhones. This is a safety issue and not even remotely tied to privacy issue. These social media apps and location sharing provide 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 Snapchat stories, and it was fun to watch them enjoying themselves almost in real time.
Discuss Personal Safety
Drug related 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 thing I forgot to mention was sunscreen … they learned about the seriousness of that the first day.
Trust Your Gut
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. While our travels didn’t start out this way, 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 teens would carry this passion with them as they traveled abroad, so 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, making new friends is great, but to always keep in mind 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 when we travel. 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 kids for teen travel 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 sightseeing.
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.”