Although most teens head off on their gap year without a backward glance, parents can be left feeling worried, stressed, and often powerless. These are all entirely normal reactions to an understandably tricky time for parents; however, by helping your gap yaer student carefully prepare for any eventualities or unforeseen situations, you will feel a lot more at ease during their time away.
Help Them Plan a Budget
Few teens will have the luxury of having an unlimited budget while taking a gap year overseas, and if their finances are not planned in advance, they may run short of money quicker than they’ expect. Sit down with your teen and work out a provisional budget, calculating everyday living expenses, including a daily allowance for extras, such as entertainment. Factor in any earnings they are likely to make, if they intend to work.
These days, mobile and internet banking make it simple to get hold of money when overseas, meaning that it is no longer necessary to carry travelers’ checks or wads of cash. It is also much easier for you to bail them out by transferring funds in an emergency situation. However, make sure they have an account set up to include international transactions. Gap year travelers need to inform the bank that they will be away, otherwise they run the risk of their accounts being suspended or frozen.
Encouraging your gap year student to check in at regular intervals will not only set your mind at rest, but will alert you to a problem much more quickly. Explain the importance of regular contact, and aim for a specific time, perhaps once a week.
Most teenagers have mobile phone contracts, so make sure they have one that covers overseas usage; always check the applicable tariffs as roaming charges can vary extensively between countries. Skype is a great alternative to using a mobile phone, and other than possible internet café charges, is completely free to use, saving valuable funds for other essentials.
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Help Them Stay Safe
This is probably the biggest cause of sleepless nights for parents of students who take a gap year. It’s important to face facts: Teens are going to do things we might not particularly want them to, but worrying about it or nagging is not going to prevent it from happening. It’s much more valuable to educate your teen on the possible dangers on a gap year and encourage safe behavior.
If your student is traveling to a less-affluent country, it is important that they keep any valuables out of sight; using the latest iPhone, wearing expensive jewelry, or flashing a wallet full of money is just asking for trouble in some places.
One extremely crucial lesson to teach your kids is that they need to try to fit in, rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. Many foreign countries have different beliefs and cultures, and your gap year student may need to modify behavior accordingly. Boys, in particular, tend to act the same as they do at home, often feeling invincible, which can lead to problems. Girls may be more aware of different attitudes in different cultures
Give your gap year student safety advice similar to what you would do at home: Always stick with a friend or in a group; be wary of talking to strangers; don't assume that something considered a prank in the States will be dismissed as such overseas; be smart about alcohol and stay away from illegal substances. Penalties may be much worse abroad than in the States.
Have Adequate Insurance
Travel insurance should be the No. 1 consideration before leaving for a gap year overseas. Although many consider insurance a waste of money, considering that the likelihood of something going wrong is very slim, it is crucial to be adequately protected. Although policies vary, they should cover for sudden or serious illness, 24-hour emergency assistance, lost or stolen items (especially passports and other travel documentation), and include a cancellation or curtailment clause, in case your teen is forced to cut their travels short. If your child is on a gap year program, make sure you understand what the policy covers – and what it doesn't.
Make sure your student understands that dangerous sports or activities may not be covered, or will render a policy void. The same could be true if drugs or alcohol is involved.