Last week, our teen departed for three weeks in Italy, without his parents. He traveled with a small group of student ambassadors for a cultural exchange and school program, and while chaperones will be available, they won’t be with him 24/7. Because our teen is still under age 18, there are some things he needed us to prepare for him before his trip.
Teen travel checklist: Preparing your teen to travel abroad:
In addition to packing appropriately for the length and location of a teen trip, these practical steps should be taken before departure:
Make color copies of:
- Color copies of your teen’s passport to be distributed to 1. his or her trip leader or chaperone, 2. into teen’s own bag as a back up, 3. to you, his or her parents. Remember that your teen’s passport should be valid for at least six months past the date of the trip.
- Photocopy of all credit cards or debit cards, both front and back, to be distributed it 1. you, the parents and 2. teen.
- Copy of any doctor note needed and health insurance card (especially if your teen is on any prescription medication), distributed to 1. you, the parents, and 2. teen. Remember, all prescriptions need to travel in their original bottles.
- Copy of any travel insurance plan to 1. teen and 2. parents.
- Make paper copies of phone numbers needed, both at the destination and at home. Include parents’ contact numbers, host family numbers, chaperone numbers, and the teen’s cell phone number (since it may differ than the usual).
Make a phone/communication plan:
Parents and teens have several choices when it comes to a phone plan abroad.
- Cell service plan: You can check with your cell service carrier to see what types of international plans are available to you short term. Ours used to be $30/month data plan, with no sign-up cost, with AT&T, but it’s recently switched to a less desirable $9.99 per day.
- SIM card with unlocked phone: If you have an unlocked cell phone (such as an old phone that’s no longer attached to a plan), you can have your teen bring this phone and purchase a SIM card once in the country he or she will be visiting. SIM cards are fairly inexpensive, and allow teens to use a short term local data plan that’s prepaid.
- Cheap new phone in destination country: Of course, teens can simply purchase a cheap phone with a local pay-as-you-go plan in the country they’re visiting. Pick one up at most pharmacies and convenience stores.
- WiFi only plan: If your teen will have WiFi access in the form of hot spots where he or she is traveling, you could opt for him or her to simply bring a phone that’s kept in airplane mode, for WiFi use only. Buy a mobile WiFi hot spot plan, or rely on free WiFi in hotels, cafes, and the like. Whether this route is an option for you will depend on the destination.
Make a money plan:
How will your teen access cash and pay for things on their own? Savvy travelers know that it’s best to use debit cards for accessing cash from ATMs, and credit cards for other purchases and reservations, provided said cards have low foreign transaction fees. However, if you have a teen who is travel at under age 18, some banks in the US will not issue him or her a debit card in their name. Instead, before the trip, add your teen as a named user on one parent credit card. The teen will be issued a card in his or her own name, which can be used for emergencies.
Then, we suggest purchasing a prepaid travel gift card, such as Visa TravelMoney, which teens can use like debit cards. These cards are travel-specific, so they come with low currency exchange fees and low ATM fees (look for ones with ATM fees of less than $4). Even better: if you’re a AAA member, go to your local branch and buy a AAA travel card. You will need your teen’s driver’s license or passport, plus date of birth and SS# in order to get the card in his or her name, but this card has fewer fees attached to it than the ones you can buy in any pharmacy or grocery store. Parents can add money to these cards as needed from home, and view the balance at any given time, which is a nice feature.
Tip: If your teen is supposed to start his or her trip with foreign currency already in hand, make the request for the exchange at your bank at least one week ahead of time.
Enroll your teen in STEP:
First, you’ll want to check the CDC for any needed vaccines for travel. Next, head to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, to enroll your teen for their destination. All STEP does is alert you to any travel warnings, with the peace of mind of knowing that your child’s travel plans are noted with the Department of State. Should he or she need any help in case of emergency while traveling, alerts and instructions will automatically be communicated to her.
Stock your teen with over-the-counter medications:
I always create a personalized first-aid/medical kit before traveling abroad, because it can be challenging to find the same medications in foreign countries (or at least the same brands, so you can recognize their uses). I include standard over-the-counter medications for headaches, nausea, sinus colds, and flu, plus band-aids, medical wrap/tape, and vitamins. For teens, I write the use of each medication on the back of the boxes clearly in sharpie pen, just to make it easy. Of course, if your teen needs to take prescription medications, have them carry them in their carry-on luggage in their original containers.
Talk with your teen before departure:
Make sure your teen knows that he or she will be acting as an ambassador for our country. With international relations tense in this era, it’s more important than ever that your teen act with respect, kindness, and awareness while abroad. Encourage them to embrace the new, to look for commonalities, and to forge friendships while traveling. Pack thank you cards for your teen to fill out and hand to people who help them or host them during their travels.
Discuss any laws or rules that may differ from your home country. For instance, we talk with our teens about our family rules for drinking alcohol abroad, since the legal age limit differs in most countries, and we remind them of laws they may not be aware of in their destination countries. We encourage trip leaders to require ‘code of conduct’ type contracts with teens, to ensure respectful and safe behavior.
Tip: Read our post on travel safety and getting past the ‘fear factor’.
Do you have tips for preparing teens to travel abroad? I’d love to hear them in the comments!