What is my biggest fear? Hands down it’s losing one of our children or being separated from them through some kind of disaster. Read on to find out how to stay safe when travelling with children.
There are many things you can do to stay safe when travelling with children and I’ve tried to come up with as many tips as possible in this post.
Does it mean that you should not travel unless you’ve implemented all of them? Does it mean that your safety is guaranteed? No and no. Use what you can and ignore the rest. Implement the things that suit your family and do what you can. This guide is put together for parents like me who want to know everything they can about how to stay safe while travelling with children using our own experience, research and advice of other very experienced like-minded travellers.
- Part 1 (Tips 1 to 4) Important points to consider before you book your trip with links to interactive maps to help with your research.
- Part 2 (Tips 2 to 21) Practical tips for while you are on the go with your kiddies.
- Part 3 More tips from other bloggers with bucket loads of experience travelling with children.
Too often I wake up in a cold sweat with nightmarish thoughts threatening to plague my mind all day. You can damn Liam Neeson and his Stolen saga for putting fear in our hearts all you want, the truth is that things like that happen. Children are taken. Natural disasters and catastrophes can strike and your family can be swept into chaos when you least expect it. Oh, the doom and gloom! I know and I’m sorry, but we need to talk about it because we need to know what to do to prevent chaos and how to stay safe when travelling with children. But where to begin?
PART 1: BEFORE YOU GO
1. NO FEAR
Let’s not get paranoid. We do not and we will not live in fear. Yes, danger lurks around dark corners, but those corners can be in your own street. Fear should not hold you back from travelling, from seeing, feeling, touching, smelling, tasting and experiencing foreign flavours and places for yourself.
Prepare before you travel to curb the paranoia.
You can just look around and do a search on social media to see that more and more families are packing up and taking to the road travelling far and wide with bambinos in tow. Just be careful, informed and prepared. Use fear in a healthy way to empower and inform yourself for not only survival but to LIVE while you can!
On a personal level, in addition to preparing and taking action, we pray to fight the fear in our hearts.
2. RESEARCH YOUR DESTINATION
You’ve read up all you can about the lovely sights and places to stay at your travel destination and you know how to get there. You’ve sorted the budget, researched visas and passports, itineraries and you know how long you’re going for and who with. Well done! All the fun stuff are done.
Now, before you book anything, dig a little deeper and find out if it’s safe in terms of politics, crime, natural hazards and health. Use the information available on the internet, but use your own discretion for making a final decision by finding out what other travellers are saying about the area on platforms like Tripadvisor and the Lonely Planet Thorntree forums. Somewhere we won’t take our children, may be perfect for travel-savvy experienced and well informed solo travellers.
2.1 Politics & Crime
I’m not calling it but should world war three break out, we might change our travel plans slightly. Current world affairs are messy. As I’m typing right now, radio is sharing with me the spine-chilling news that bombs and missiles are being detonated by Russia and that the UK and US are getting involved by doing the same in defence of Syria. At the same time, North Korea just accused Britain of an act of war while further south the South African government is officially putting into action their “land redistribution” plan. That sounds all good but the action goes hand in hand with the brutally violent removal of white farmers from their homes and more often ends with the torturous murder of the farmers and their families. And that’s only the news we get at the moment.
Read about 5 Of the worst countries for human trafficking according to a US News report in 2017.
2.2 Natural Hazards
As if current world affairs and politics aren’t scary enough, nature has its own set of monstrous hazards happening somewhere in the world, but what is happening where, how often and when?
Only recently I discovered that there is a hurricane belt and that most Carribean islands should be avoided during the Atlantic hurricane season from 1st June to 30th November.
Use this cool interactive map by the Amercian Geo Sciences organisation to see which areas are prone to tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Find out about drinking water and how to avoid nasty tummy bugs. This is especially vital when travelling with young children. Precautions to avoid horrid travel diarrhoea, depending on the destination include:
- Take probiotics a week before leaving and during the trip.
- Don’t drink the tap water.
- No ice.
- Brush teeth with bottled water.
- Shower with your mouth closed.
- No fresh cut fruit or salad unless thoroughly washed in pure water at least until your tummies adapt.
Research the state of a countries health to decide about further medical measures that need to be taken and the options available to you to prevent infectious disease. Do this well in advance to make sure you have enough time in case you need to make a doctors’ appointment and vaccines are required.
Subscribe to live updates and the twitter feed of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
To find out about vaccination go to the CDC’s very comprehensive list of required vaccines and tips
Curious if a country is affected by malaria? Go to who.int/ith/en in case you’re travelling to a country in which malaria is endemic.
View the Health Map for warnings, outbreaks and occurrences of any dangerous diseases worldwide and download the app to your phone.
Ultimately, HealthMap’s integration of real-time, web-based infectious disease surveillance augments epidemic intelligence with information from outside the traditional public health infrastructure to enhance awareness of disease threats.
2.4 Important Local Numbers and Addresses
Find these local contact numbers and addresses for your destination. Make sure everyone travelling with you know about it and where to find it.
EMBASSY: Know where your local embassy is if you’re travelling internationally. Let them know your travel plans, and keep their information in a safe place with you everywhere you go.
EMERGENCY CONTACT NUMBERS: 999 / 911 / 112 all redirect to the emergency service in the UK and US. Research the emergency contact number of the country you are travelling to and make sure everyone has it and knows it.
HOSPITAL & EMERGENCY CENTRES: Have this information to hand before there is an emergency.
3.1 Travel Insurance
It’s simple. You cannot travel without travel insurance. If it happens. That thing we fear. A tsunami. A hurricane. An accident. You want and need travel insurance. There is plenty of advice with regards to travel insurance here, and if you are travelling long-term all over the show like us, you can check out World Nomads for a quote.
3.2 EU Citizens: Order a European Health Insurance Card
An EHIC is a European Health Insurance Card. If you’re a citizen of the EU, the card entitles you to free or discounted medical treatment when you’re in an EU country. It’s not the same as travel insurance, but it’s coverage that’s worth having. Everyone in your family needs an EHIC card – if they’re under 16, you can add their application to yours and they’ll receive their own card. There’s no lower age limit to EHICs, so make sure the whole family has one.
Our lovely world adventure was almost derailed even before we started when at the Johannesburg International Airport check-in desk we were asked for the children’s’ original unabridged birth certificates. What!? They are all safely filed at home in a fire safe cabinet of course. A panicked call was made to my dear brother, Dean, who frantically dug in said fireproof cabinet to send photos of the docs. After a long argument and close to undignified begging the important man behind the desk accepted the pics and let us through. Can you imagine!?
Apart from visas and passports, the standard requirements for authorisation to travel are your child’s unabridged birth certificate, your marriage certificate (if applicable) and a signed and attested consent letter from the other parent confirming you can travel with your child. If the other parent is no longer alive, you may need proof.
PART 2: ON THE GO
5. A SET OF CONTACT DETAILS
Write down the address of where you’re staying, your own contact number, the phone number of the hotel and the phone number of the person at home “tracking” your travels. Put it safely in a zip pocket on each child’s clothing or use nightclub style wristbands, temporary tattoos, shoe tags, laminated notes in shoes, written with permanent markers in sleeves or business cards in their pockets.
One parent writes his phone number on his child’s body with a sharpie. Make sure the children know what to do with the contact details in case of emergency or when they ask for help. Older children with mobiles can save the address and numbers on their phones too. Do not rely just on phones as they can get lost or taken away.
Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe do something about it and get away or shout for help and take photos of suspicious people.
7. MEETING POINT
Decide where to meet in case you get split up in crowded places or on public transport and make sure that everyone understands and agrees on the meeting point. It should be a landmark, something big that they will remember and easy to find or the ticket desk at the next stop on the tube route.
8. CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS
Give them instructions if they get lost. Explain they must look for a community helper (policeman) staff members or mommy or daddy who has other boys or girls with them.
9. BRIGHT COLORED CLOTHING
Dress your children in bright clothing. Fluorescent neon bright if you can.
10. STRANGER DANGER
Teach them to beware of strangers. Traffickers are not always weird creepy people. They could be the nice lady with sweets or a puppy. Teach them to shout “STRANGER DANGER!” and point or to shout “THIS IS NOT MY MOMMY!” so that witnesses will know exactly what is happening.
11. DON’T TELL ALL
Do not tell people who you don’t know your full name or where you are staying or that you are staying alone. Tell the kids not to tell either.
12. BE QUIET WHEN ADULTS SPEAK
Tell the children to keep quiet when you are speaking to strangers unless you ask them to speak. Our Leah has a way of telling the uncomfortable truth or volunteering too much info when I am clearly trying to avoid stating the obvious or giving too much info in awkward situations.
13. ORDER OF ENTRY
Once getting onto a tube in Switzerland with locals we’d just met ended with us getting on the tube with their son and with them left standing on the platform as the doors suddenly closed. We got off at the next stop and waited for his parents. The best rule is for one adult to get in first, children follow and another adult gets in last. Same goes for taxis and trains. Agree what happens if you get separated.
14. DO NOT FLAUNT AFFLUENCE
Avoid extravagant displays of wealth like shiny jewelry and expensive cameras around your neck because they are triggers for thieves.
15. DON’T OPEN THE DOOR
If you are not expecting guests, call reception to verify the person on the other side and do not open the door until you are sure who is behind it. Make sure the children know this rule.
16. DO NOT “CHECK IN” ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Discourage “checking in” on social media or geo-tracking until after your trip.
I always post about our location and check in a week after we’ve left!
17. ONLINE SAFETY
Talk to your child about online safety
18. SAFETY GADGETS
Use safety gadgets like Safety harnesses, wrist straps and tracker watches. Our children each have a whistle to wear around their neck. We also have a special whistle/sound of our own in case we lose each other and forgot our whistles at home.
19. MEDICAL AID KIT
You need the basic medical supplies at least and always lots of mosquito repellent.
20. COMMON SENSE
Make smart choices. For example, choose sensible hikes and distances that are appropriate for your child’s level of ability and endurance and think about the time of day and weather before you set out on a hike or trip with young children.
21. FAMILY TRACKER
Ask a friend or two at home to be your “tracker”. Give them your itinerary and have them follow you closely as you travel keeping track of your progress all the way. Your children should have their details in case something happens to both parents so that they can contact the family tracker.
More Tips From Other Travellers
Send Luggage Ahead to Free Your Hands
If it looks like you’re going to be weighed down with mountains of bags, you may want to send on suitcases and bulky items such as prams via a baggage delivery company. Prices per kilo come down the more you send, and you’ll get better rates if you send things a few weeks rather than a few days before you travel. Try firstluggage.com or carrymyluggage.com for a quotation. here are also companies that specialise in delivering baby products such as formula, baby food and nappies – try babiestravellite.com
Take a photo of your child each morning when you leave.
Before you head out, take a photo of your child with your phone. This way, if you did get separated, you would be able to tell authorities what your child was wearing, and they would be able to get a visual on what your child looks like. iMom
Make a game out of it
Play the “What if …” game with your children. If you ask my toddler, “What if Mommy gets lost?” (they never think they are lost) she will tell you, “Find another mommy, take off my shoe (or bracelet or scope) and ask the mommy to call you!” Make a game of remembering what colour each of you is wearing that day. Practice pointing out possible mommies that you could ask for help. Child Safety by Kay Green
Travel with Duct Tape
I really wish I invented this tape, this is one of the best multi-purpose tapes I’ve seen or used. Once you are in your hotel room, you can use this to tape off electrical outlets, soften sharp corners, tape up blind/curtain cords and any other hazards in the room. BabySafeElements.org
Don’t leave young kids in the room by themselves
Even if just running out for ice. Instruct teens to lock the door behind you if you step out and to ignore all knocks when an adult is not in the room. When you knock to get back in, you’ll say “It’s mom/dad.” Never answer the door for someone who says that their parents sent them and teach them to call the front desk to confirm emergency personnel.
Pack glowstick necklaces and bracelets for the kids. In the summertime, no matter whether we’re in a city, at a theme park, or on a camping trip, we inevitably wind up staying outside after nightfall. My kids love wearing glowstick jewelry, and I love that it makes them easy to spot in the dark! Frommers
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Disclaimer: All maps and links are live and accurate at the time of this post as far as we know, but you should research up to date information on your own when you plan your travel to ensure accurate stats. Where possible credit is given to sources of information.