Although my daughter has spent summers away from us before, this is the first summer that she is travelling to a foreign country without us. Even though I am excited for her to hopefully have an amazing adventure, I was also a little nervous to have her so far away.
Based on our experience, here are 10 tips for parents when sending their child on a travel abroad program.
1. Make sure paperwork is in order in advance
If you are thinking about sending your teen on a trip abroad and they do not have a passport, get one immediately. Processing times can vary depending on the time of year and while you can pay to get it expedited, this is an unnecessary cost if you plan ahead. To obtain a passport for a minor (16 and under) both parents must be present.
If your teen does have a passport, check the expiration date. Passports issued to minors are only good for 5 years (adults for 10 years). Renewing a passport for a minor cannot be done by mail even if it has not yet expired. Before your teen leaves on their trip, make two copies of the passport—one for your records and one for them to keep on their person in case they lose it while traveling.
2. Research the travel program
Do a lot of research and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask to speak to other parents who have sent their teen on the program. Read reviews on GoOverseas.com. The more comfortable you are with the company, the better you will feel when your child is away.
3. Pick a program that suits your teen
There are a wide variety of teen tours available. Choose a program and location that matches your teen’s interest and comfort level. Three weeks mountain biking in the Swiss Alps is awesome—but not for an inexperienced rider.
4. Ask about medical concerns in country of travel
Make an appointment with your teen’s physician to get all necessary travel shots. Also, check the CDC and International SOS websites to see if there are any medical alerts for the areas your teen is visiting.
5. Be honest when filling out forms
Yes, there are a lot of forms but all need to be filled out in their entirety.
Travel programs need to know if your teen has any medical or emotional issues—anxiety, ADD, food allergies etc. Parents may worry their teen will be pre-judged or feel their teen can “handle it”, but programs can only provide a safe experience when they know what they are dealing with.
Finnegan says, “In recent years, food allergies have been a big issue. If a student has an allergy to fish, a trip to Asia can be hard to manage. But there are many other trips such as the Dominican Republic where this can be easily accommodated.”
6. Follow the packing list
Most teen travel companies provide a detailed packing list specifically for each trip. Follow the list. Your teen may not think they will wear unfashionable water shoes or need fragrance free shampoo but if it is on the list, it is there for a reason. Conversely, do not pack too many extras that are not on the list like fancy clothes or electronics. Kids are responsible for their possessions. The more they take, the more they can lose during travel.
7. Discuss the rules in advance with your teen
Most travel companies have strict rules regarding acceptable behavior. Says Katey Finnegan, Rustic Pathways leader, “We make parents and teens sign a list of our rules regarding drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, etc. before the trip and again when the teens arrive at their destination so our expectations are clear. If a student breaks the rules, there is a no tolerance policy. They will be sent home even if it is a first offense. Our number one concern is for the safety of the group as a whole. A student that is not focused on the program distracts from the experience of the other students.”
8. Don't expect perfection
Before your teen leaves, remind them travel is rarely 100% smooth sailing. Finnegan says, “Part of a travel experience is learning how to manage obstacles and handle things independently. This is how students grow and change.” Encourage your teen to reach out the group leader with any issues. If they have a problem they cannot resolve on their own, reach out to the travel program
Having a teen traveling abroad for the first time can be nerve wracking for parents. Many travel companies post photos from the trip on their websites. In addition, most teens travel with their cell phone and carriers usually offer short-term international calling plans. Parents can communicate with their teen through messaging services such as Skype, Gchat, Viber and WhatsApp without having an international calling plan.
While parents are used to communicating with their teen throughout the day, try to avoid setting a call time schedule or suggesting a daily check in. They are there to immerse themselves in their program. Let them have this chance to enjoy their experience and be really present. Which leads to …
10. No news is good news
Throughout my own daughter’s trip I have decided to try to live by this mantra. If I haven’t heard anything negative (or anything at all), she must be too busy having too good a time to call me—which is the reason I sent her in the first place. When she comes home, she will have plenty of time to tell me all about her adventure.