This morning, my children left me for a month. We’ve always travelled together but not this time. Instead, their Grandmother is whisking them off to Europe ~ without me. They will be visiting countries and places that I’ve never been to. They are beyond excited and I believe they genuinely appreciate how privileged they are to have the opportunity.
And whilst I’m thrilled for them, secretly I’m terrified. Terrified that something might go wrong (I hate even typing the words) and I won’t be close by to help or comfort them. Thoughts keep flooding my head of them getting lost, unwell, kidnapped, homesick or caught up in a natural disaster or terrorist incident. The rational part of my brain knows that they are mature, resilient and sensible Tweens and that they’ll have a ball. The emotional part of my brain is twisting my heart to the point that I haven’t slept properly since forwarding their passports to the Russian embassy.
The kids themselves have given me clear instructions that I am NOT to worry and that if I so much as whisper an instruction or suggest any form of restrictions or other “unwanted” travel advice to their Grandmother, they will “hate me forever”. Use of the Tween eye-roll has been in overdrive in my home over the past couple of weeks. Sigh.
So to help me cope and set my mind at rest, I contacted my mate Sally Webb who founded and runs a unique travel service called Travel Without Tears. Sal specializes in creating handpicked family holiday packages with trusted and tested operators and also creates bespoke itinerary plans just for families. She is considered Australia’s foremost expert in family travel and holidays. What she doesn’t know about kids and travel isn’t worth knowing. I wanted her to reassure me that my feelings are normal and also pick her brains on the practical aspects of my kids travelling without me. I started by asking her how to stop my panic attacks.
What advice would you give to parents not travelling with their children? That is, what tips would you give on how best to minimise any angst they might be feeling about their ‘babies’ travelling without them?
Know that you’ve raised your kids to become independent and resilient and letting them travel the world reinforces that. Travel is one of the most extraordinary things kids can do; it changes their perception of the world and their place within it. It is the greatest gift you can give them, whether you’re travelling with them or not. You’ll miss them like crazy and hopefully they’ll miss you too. The homecoming will be the best part. And remember that although they are not travelling with you, they aren’t travelling on their own either.
What safety messages/tips would you suggest parents impart to their kids before they leave? For example, if they get lost/separated from their travelling companions or find themselves in a dangerous situation?
You should remind them to carry a business card from the hotel they’re staying in and make sure everyone has a hard copy of everyone else’s contact details. Maybe make small laminated cards for the whole group before they depart. Make sure the travelling group has a plan in each place they visit of where they’d go if one of them got lost/separated from the group. Tell them to keep a few $$ in their jeans pocket (or an inside pocket) so that even if their handbag/backpack gets pickpocketed they can always catch a taxi back to the hotel or to a police station.
What are the essential things to pack for your child if they are travelling without you?
Always pack enough prescribed medications to last the trip – your child should also carry a letter from their GP stating that he or she takes that medication for a particular condition and also specify the dose. It’s a good idea to have the generic name of the medication written down in case they need to consult with a doctor and access a new dose while they’re away. Keep the medication with them at all times (never put it in checked baggage).
Travel cards are a great idea – you can load them up with cash and then your kids can travel virtually cash free, withdrawing money as they go. They are available from all big banks and Australia Post. Another option is to give your child a debit card that links to an account at home (yours or theirs). They can then use it to withdraw cash and make purchases where credit cards are accepted. The debit card function works through the Mastercard or Visa networks and their exchange rates are usually quite good. Just remember to give the bank a call before the kids travel to inform them of the impending trip including which countries will be visited and over what period of time. This avoids accounts being frozen if the system deems irregular activity is taking place.
What about technology? What should they take and how do I stop them racking up huge telephone bills?
Remember that your kids know more about technology than you and will probably already know the one golden rule: turn data roaming off and to only use their smartphone when they have Wi-Fi. This will be hard for them at first but they simply have to do it. The good news is that almost everywhere else in the world is better at providing free Wi-Fi than Australia so there’s always somewhere to get online. A good portable power adaptor is a good idea for recharging phones and iPads. Make sure it’s universal.
A local SIM is often a good idea if you think they are going to be making lots of calls while away but it means that they can’t use their own number when travelling. Most kids don’t like that as they can’t send SMS’ to their mates unless they let everyone know the new temporary number. However if wifi is available they can do iMessage (or the Android equivalent). Stick to Facetime or Skype when they’ve got wifi and it should all be fine. And again, make sure they turn off data roaming before they get on the plane.
A phone should be enough if your kids have music loaded and it makes life simple to then use the phone as a camera. But bear in mind that in various parts of the world smartphones are still easy prey for pickpockets. Consider a good digital camera if they are photography buffs (there are some great pocket-sized ones). An iPad is good for loading up with movies to watch during long periods of travel. I’d also suggest investing in a pair of noise cancelling headphones for the plane and other times. They make all the difference.
What kind of daily allowance or $ per diem do you consider appropriate?
This depends on the type of trip and how it’s structured. If it’s an organized tour (with most things included) then the per diem would probably need to be only $10-20 to cover things like small souvenirs (in countries such as India or Africa and parts of Asia this will seem like a fortune). But if they’re doing a tour of European cities as your kids are, $20 won’t go very far, and you’ll need to work out before they go whether the per diem is to cover museum entrances, snacks or transport. I think it’s really important to have this worked out with the grandparent or responsible adult before they depart so everyone knows where they stand, as travelling can sometimes end up being one big handover of cash. Personally I think giving kids an understanding of how much things cost is really important and if they’ve got, say, $50 to spend per day on all activities it’s going to help them make good choices about what they do.
Such sensible advice which I’ve implemented and I’m really grateful to Sally for helping to set my mind at rest. Consider checking out Travel Without Tears if you’re planning a trip with your children.
Meantime, for the next 21 days, I suspect I will still be holding my breath and waiting until my kids come bounding through the front gate, faces beaming, full of stories of the wonderful things they have seen, done and experienced. I’m also going to re-read a post I wrote over at Caro & Co where I talk about parental elasticity. I’m going to need it in spades for the next little while.
Have your children ever travelled without you? Any advice you can offer?
Until next time…