As excited as any teenager is to travel without parental supervision, a trip abroad can be nerve-wracking for parents left at home anxiously waiting to hear whether their teen is safe. Here’s a hint for those parents: you’re gonna wait a long time before you’ll get a phone call from a teenager who’s traveling.
As a parent, you have a couple of options to keep track of your kid:
You can follow the money – Before sending any teen off on a trip, make sure you have online access to any bank or credit card accounts they’ll be using. That way, you can monitor their transactions no matter where they roam and make sure their account hasn’t been hijacked. This also helps with making sure your teen is sticking to their spending budget and it will give you information as to their whereabouts and activities. Advise banks and credit card companies well in advance – some countries require a PIN for credit card transactions and it can take weeks to process one.
You can follow their social media – these days most kids don’t use their phones for making calls, they use them to text and upload photos to social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and others. You can follow their trail through social media and have a pretty good idea how they’re doing. Just be sure to get an international data or texting plan, or switch out the phone’s SIM card so you don’t end up with a multi-hundred dollar bill.
Better yet, you can do both!
Now that you’ve figured out how to keep track of them, and assuming you’ve verified the country-specific details and updated their vaccinations as necessary, here is a list of additional steps to keep your traveling teen safe abroad.
1. Make a copy of their travel documents
The travel documents for any traveler headed abroad include the following:
Passport ID page
Bank and credit cards
Travel insurance documents
You’ll need a copy of these in case your teen goes missing, or their passport is stolen, or they get robbed. The teen should have a copy, you should have a copy, and if your teen is traveling with a group you should consider giving it to someone else in the group as well.
See the 4 Best Backup Methods for Travel Documents for some hints about how to travel with them.
2. Pack a travel medical kit for your teen
Even if your teen is healthy as a well-fed racing horse, they will be encountering germs and viruses, mosquitoes, and exposed to all sorts of common risks. The last thing any parent wants to hear is that their child is sick and needs something when they’re far from you.
Be sure that your teen has the basics so they can treat a sunburn, a headache, traveler’s diarrhea, and other minor medical ailments. Make sure they know how and when to use them too!
See What’s in your travel medical kit? for a list of the necessary items.
3. Enroll your teen in STEP
As an adult, you may feel resistant to letting the federal government have information about your travel whereabouts. As a parent, however, we’re willing to bet you’re happy to waive your kid’s privacy rights in order to have the extra support in an emergency. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service enacted by the U.S. State Department to help travelers going abroad Stay Informed, Stay Connected, and Stay Safe (that’s their slogan).
Essentially, it gives the State Department information about where their citizens are traveling and a way to get in touch – either by email, phone, or text message – with the latest relative travel warnings and alerts to dangerous situations. It also gives them a way to contact you in an emergency situation.
4. Have a discussion about personal safety
Once that kid is out of sight, everything they do is out of your control so it’s time to have a discussion about personal safety. Remind your kid of a few basic personal safety rules:
Keep backpacks and bags zipped – it’s less easy for thieves to rob you.
Avoid walking around alone, especially after dark.
Pay attention to the traffic safety rules – these may be very different from those at home.
Stay within the laws of the country or risk being prosecuted and jailed.
Never accept food or drinks from someone you don’t know.
Don’t use drugs or consume alcohol – both are serious offenses in some countries.
Stay aware of your surroundings and be cautious of strangers.
Don’t accept unsolicited rides from someone you don’t know.
Keep your personal information private from strangers.
These are the basics, but of course any parent can think of about a hundred more: lock your doors and windows at night, wash your hands, put on sunscreen … the list goes on. You know your kid and their most likely weaknesses, so customize the list accordingly.
5. Pack a simple travel medical portfolio
Sure, you know your kid’s childhood diseases, recent illnesses, and allergies, but will they remember the list? What if your kid is lying on the ground unconscious and can’t speak to the emergency medical team? Having a simple travel medical portfolio can communicate those details when you’re not there to protect your kid.
See 4 Tips to Create a Simple, Effective Travel Medical Portfolio and be sure your kid packs it along.
6. Teach them to use a money belt
While it’s likely that your teen won’t be carrying a lot of cash, having a spare credit card, their travel medical portfolio and travel documents (on a USB drive), and the majority of the current cash on hand in a money belt strapped around their waist and under their clothes means they’re far less likely to lose everything in case they’re robbed, mugged, or attacked. A money belt remains the single most effective way to carry cash, bank cards, and important documents – it’s true for adults and teens too.
See why safe travelers love money belts and strap one on your teen.
7. Protect your teen with travel insurance
Even if your teen is traveling with a group, check the options for travel insurance. If the group doesn’t have a travel insurance plan, or the plan they offer won’t work for your teen (one with a pre-existing medical condition, for example), get your own protection.
Mandatory summer school, a sports injury, and family emergencies can all affect a teenager’s life – and their travel plans – so teens are not immune to the need for trip cancellation coverage. Coverage for travel medical emergencies is a must, especially since your health insurance plan may not cover your teen when they’re traveling away from you and abroad.
If your teen is traveling to a destination that’s currently experiencing some social or political upheaval, be sure that the plan will cover travel to that region and have non-medical security evacuation coverage to get your teen out of trouble if the situation warrants it.
Use our travel insurance comparison tool to compare prices and coverage from a number of travel insurance companies.