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Teen Travel

Can My Child Travel Solo Overseas?

A Checklist to Measure Your Child's Readiness

By Carol Dalton Sebilia

When I address the eager and excited audience of potential junior ambassadors I see their parents nervously sitting next to them trying to stifle the question: "Can my child manage international travel without me?" My job is to select students for international educational tours on criteria that include maturity, positive attitudes, health issues, possible homesickness, and learning capacity. Parents can use these same criteria to measure their child's readiness for a trip abroad.

• Is my child mature enough? The key question is can the child handle new situations safely and effectively? If separated from the group, could he or she develop a plan of action? Would he know to find the proper authority and request assistance? Would he panic? Would he be able to keep himself safe?

• Does my child require medicines or eyeglasses? If so, pack the primary set of medications in a carry-on bag and a duplicate set of medications and a copy of prescriptions, including eyeglass prescriptions, in different pieces of luggage. Educate travel companions about the symptoms of serious conditions. Include your insurance company's coverage information and form.

• Does my child have a positive attitude? Travel is uncomfortable. I remind my students that you will begin your adventure jet lagged and exhausted; you will not sleep in your own bed. On a tour you will go wherever the bus takes you and your mother will not be around to make sure things work smoothly.

• What about pre-existing health issues? Is a rigorous schedule with limited sleep damaging to your child's condition? Would your child be better served traveling with a group that includes medically trained staff?

• What if my child gets homesick? Most children miss their parents, but severe homesickness can immobilize a child. Occasional homesickness can be managed by substituting fax or email for phone contacts. The sound of Mom's voice is often the trigger for an inconsolable flood of tears. Rooming with a nurturing friend or comforting sibling who will give occasional hugs is another way to manage the sadness that hits hardest at bedtime. One mother explained how she carefully instructed her son to take Tylenol for headaches, Ibuprofen for muscle aches, and Imodium for diarrhea. "What do I take for homesickness?" he asked innocently. "That is why I packed the M and Ms, she responded. Eat a package and know that I love you."

• Is my child old enough to appreciate it? Appreciation builds in direct proportion to enthusiastic preparation. Encouraging research in advance of the trip enhances a traveler's understanding immeasurably.

• Am I pushing my child before he is ready? Occasionally, parents are more enthusiastic about the child's trip than the child is. As I interviewed a young man for a trip to Australia and explained the itinerary, the mother could not contain her excitement. Her son weakly smiled in return. In the planning meetings he acted silly, behaviorally begging me to reject him from the trip. I did.

Parents commonly express amazement at their son's or daughter's increased maturity level following a trip. The kids knew they could do it all along.