Travel Safety Tips For Families Traveling With Young Children
Destinations Travel Magazine | June 15, 2015
Traveling with children can be a stressful and exhausting experience, and many parents have questions about keeping their families safe while traveling abroad. Much like personal safety, staying alert and focused is essential while traveling with young children.
With school ending and the kids home, many families are about to go on trips to different parts of the world. This is a great time to freshen up on personal safety and discuss a few things parents should keep in mind before and during their travels.
Planning and Preparation
As with any trip, parents should begin by thoroughly researching their destination prior to leaving for the airport, ensuring they know the general lay of the land and understand potential threats in the area. Enrolling your family in the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is another good first step.
Parents should also consider the following:
- Your Children’s Travel Documents – everyone in your family will need a passport to leave and enter another country regardless of age, and parents will need to be present when applying for a child’s passport. When applying you will need evidence of the child’s U.S. citizenship and your parental relationship (a birth certificate will fulfill both of these requirements). It will take approximately 4-6 weeks to process the passport application, and parents should remember to make copies of their children’s key travel documents before the trip. Additional information on applying for a child’s passport is available on the State Department website.
- Vaccinations – make sure that your children are up-to-date on their vaccinations and check if there are any recommendations based on your destination. Your doctor will be able to help with this, and the Center for Disease Control has a webpage focusing on traveling with children, which is another great resource.
- Adjusting Sleep Cycles – if traveling to a different time zone, start to adjust your child’s sleep cycle 3-4 days prior to departing. Jetlag can hit young children hard and make for an unpleasant experience for both you and the child, so it is a good practice to get them accustomed to a different sleeping schedule (especially if you want to avoid being woken up at 3 a.m.). This is also a good practice for adults.
- Your Child’s Luggage – when packing, make sure to keep all essential items (i.e. medication, formula, etc.) in a carry-on bag. Clothing and toys can be replaced if your checked luggage is lost, however you will not want to be in a foreign country without your child’s medication. Have these items on you at all times during transit.
During the Trip
The best way to ensure your family’s safety during the trip is to pay attention to your surroundings and keep your children within eyesight at all times. A good rule of thumb is that the more crowded the area, the closer you should be to your child. For example, it’s fine to give your kids some freedom if they’re playing in the hotel pool as long as you can see them, but if you’re at a crowded tourist attraction they should be within arms distance or holding your hand at all times.
Parents should also keep the following in mind during their trip:
- Hydration – make sure children are drinking water, especially during transit. The pressurized atmosphere of a plane cabin causes people to become dehydrated quickly, so ensure they are drinking fluids regularly. Water quality varies throughout the world, so it is best to drink bottled water while in another country.
- Food – food is produced and prepared differently throughout the world, which can cause illness if you’re not accustomed to the local cuisine. Getting sick overseas can become a major issue, so remain cautious when eating abroad – especially since the local healthcare system may not be as competent as in the States. Meats should be cooked thoroughly and eaten hot, while fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed prior to eating. Remember that most of the produce sold at open air markets have not been cleaned, so parents should ensure that anything their child eats is thoroughly washed. Parents can also peel the skin off any produce to be extra safe.
- Set a Good Example – children emulate the attitudes and actions of their parents, so it is important to set a good example for your children while traveling. Make sure to speak with your children about how to behave during the trip, especially while in transit. For example, they should know that it is not appropriate to run through the aisles or talk about weapons on a plane.
- Lost Child – make sure to speak with your child about what to do if you get separated from them, ensuring they know to contact a policeman if lost. If the worst does happen and you are separated from your child, your first call should be to the local authorities. Make sure you have pictures and his/her documentation to share. Your next call should be to the nearest Embassy or Consulate which can help with the local authorities. Each U.S. Embassy and Consulate has its own website with contact information.
Have a Safe and Enjoyable Journey
Introducing your children to other cultures and environments is a great learning and life experience that will benefit them for years to come. Most families travel abroad without encountering any crisis situation, however it is always best to be knowledgeable and prepared to deal with potential threats. By keeping these tips in mind, parents will be able to travel with confidence and enjoy the trip as much as their children.
By Robert Falise, TATE Global