Whether you are sending your child off to visit her grandparents or sending her back to school, you know how important it is for her to travel safely. After all, you have experienced just about every travel situation and glitch you can imagine. But remember that you were traveling as an adult. You had the financial resources to book a hotel room at the minute when faced with a canceled flight and your flight out was early the following morning. You knew what to do to satisfy the TSA staff as you made your way through airport security. Most importantly, you were street-smart and aware of your surroundings and had an exit path ready in case of some crisis. These are just a few of the things which you need to teach your children before they travel alone. Susie Kellogg offers 7 Expert Travel Tips for Solo Teen Travel which covers the main talking points.
Given the frequency of terrorist and other attacks both in the U.S. and abroad, it is critical that you teach your child to monitor her surroundings constantly. You would think that would be a given, but teenagers can and do lose themselves in their own world on their smartphones. They put their earbuds on and tune everything else out. Teach her to be aware of what's going on around her by looking around every couple of minutes. Once she has boarded her plane, then she can listen to her music uninterrupted except for the safety announcements. Staying alert also means not napping or falling asleep while sitting at the gate. Gate changes tend to occur when we least expect them. Even more annoying is that gate changes are not announced clearly or repeated. Your child needs to stay alert while waiting to board her plane.
This video gives us a look at a young person's first time traveling alone.
Don't accept anything from anybody.
It's not a matter of being rude. It's a matter of being aware that accepting anything from anybody can get your child in a whole heap of trouble. She cannot be naive. She has to be street smart. If a stranger asks her to take a package, that's one thing. But what about somebody she knows who asks her to take something for her. If that package or object contains something illegal, she will end up in a detention room. Drugs, food, liquids and much more will set off the alarms as she goes through security. You don't want that to happen 12 Top Safety Tips for the International Traveler offers good advice you must share with your teen.
Carry a credit card.
Give her a credit card for those unexpected emergencies. You can monitor the card remotely as needed. Show her when to use the card. Credit cards are more flexible than debit cards in my opinion. The other device which can come in handy is CashApp, especially for domestic travel. Remind her to keep her credit cards and other valuable documents in concealed pockets. Teach her to use an ATM inside a bank or in a well-lit public area. How to Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling by Lauren Juliff offers some useful tips Share them with your child.
Sit near the gate.
Gates at airports, bus terminals, and train stations can be crowded during peak travel times. But it is very important for your child to sit at the gate assigned for her trip. If she sits somewhere else, she runs the risk of missing important announcements including information about flight delays and cancellations or documentation checks. When she first arrives at the gate, coach her to approach the podium and have the agent confirm that her ticket is OK. Better to find out before she boards.
Clearing security with TSA PreCheck.
Airport security can be a hassle for adults and young people alike. So, why not finesse that process by enrolling your child in TSA Pre? She'll go through security in shorter lines as a rule and will avoid having to take off her shoes and outerwear most of the time. Review the TSA FAQ page for more information. Remind your teen that she will have to go through security when she arrives from a foreign country.
This video explains what's involved with TSA PreCheck
Transportation to and from airports.
If your child is traveling from her school at the end of a semester, the school will have provided well-organized shuttles to the area airports. Make sure that she arranges for that supervised transportation. The procedure works in reverse when she returns to school. If she misses the pre-arranged transportation, instruct her to hire an Uber or Lyft driver. In addition, instruct her to share the trip details with you, just in case something goes wrong. If she can ride-share with another student from her school, that would be ideal.
Whenever your child's flight is delayed for more than 1 or 2 hours, contact the school and advise them of the status of your child's arrival. If the delay is major or the flight has been canceled, advise the school as soon as you know so that the school can make alternative arrangements to pick up your child. If bad weather shuts down local transportation such as Uber or Lyft, advise your daughter to go to a well-lit public area. Help her execute Plan B which should be booking a hotel room for the night. Most airports will have a hotel on the premises or hotels very close by. As you plan your daughter's trip, review the availability of hotels at the arrival airport. When you know that the weather will make driving impossible, reserve a room for your child. Speak with the hotel manager and explain the situation so that her staff is expecting your daughter. If you are a member of the hotel's frequent guest program, make them aware of it. In most cases, the hotel management will be helpful. Make sure your daughter has the hotel number and the reservation confirmation number on her smartphone.
This video offers some suggestions for handling travel delays and trip cancellations.
Speaking of smartphones, equip your daughter with a portable charger and cables. Many airports don't have enough charging stations and/or outlets available to charge phones under the best of circumstances.
The last word
As the parent of two daughters and two sons, I have been through my children's travel experiences to and from school, to and from grandparents' homes, and so on. The worst moment came one summer when eldest daughter was flying on a small prop plane from Hartford to Martha's Vineyard, where she had a summer job. So you can imagine our reaction when the airline called and asked to speak with us. "Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy, your daughter's plane was struck by lightning. We had to bring the plane back to Hartford. She's ok." Well, we were not OK. We were shaking like leaves.
While most of my experience with my children occurred before we had cell phones, much less, smartphones, the basic travel concepts remain the same. Think through your child's trip. Imagine everything which you know can go wrong. Plan for those inevitable curves any travel plan will throw at you. When they happen, you and your child will know what to do. When all goes smoothly, the trip will be a happy event. Trip planning is always your best insurance.
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