by Jason Brick
1. Be Realistic
Don’t plan on a 10-mile hike along the Great Wall if you have two toddlers. Don’t go to Mexico City with your teenage daughter. Your trip will be better if you plan it with the abilities of your kids in mind. The U.S. State Department keeps updated files on how safe other countries are – and can help you plan the right trip for your family.
2. Have and Practice a Plan
Create an emergency plan for the most common family travel troubles: a lost family member, getting separated and an injured child. Give each person a specific job – even toddlers can learn to grab onto mommy or look for somebody official. Practice each scenario at home until everybody knows their part.
3. Keep a Photo Handy
Imagine for a moment describing what your child looks like, while panicked, using a foreign language. If you have an image on-hand you can bypass that problem with a solution worth 1,000 words. Better yet, snap a photo with your cell phone every morning as the family leaves for the day’s adventure. That picture will include your child’s current hairstyle and the day’s outfit.
4. Use the Security Blanket
The security blanket assigns parents two roles. One parent is “security” – responsible for all tasks outside of the family. Security buys tickets, talks with tour guides and keeps an eye out for hazards. The other parent is the “blanket” and responsible for everything involving the family. Blanket tracks the location of all the kids, watches for heat stroke and upset stomachs and mediates disputes and disagreements. This means somebody’s always watching the children even when things get complicated. Single parents traveling with kids can assign the oldest child to cover many of the responsibilities of the blanket’s role.
5. Use a “Hands-On” Approach
Preschoolers and kinders are too heavy to carry everywhere, but prone to wandering off. You can solve this by setting the rule that young children must have one hand on a parent at all times, unless they get special permission. This is especially important in crowds, or while boarding public transportation that could separate the family. As situations become more crowded or risky, you can up the age for this requirement – right up to even the parents holding each other so the family moves as a group. Each person should have a specific parent to touch – otherwise, mom and dad might each assume the other has contact.
6. Assign a Meeting Place
Whenever you arrive at a new location, set a group meeting place to go to if somebody gets lost or separated. That place should be easily visible even to the shortest members of your family, and accessible without having to pay admissions or wait in long lines. For the youngest children, draw a map – or use a guide map available for the location – and mark your meeting point. This will help adults steer your child there even if she’s too young to navigate on her own.
Jason's martial arts habit has led him to teach safety and self-defense on three continents. When not travelling with his family, he lives in Oregon. You can read more at www.brickcommajason.com.