It is the fall, and teens have started school.  Many are involved in sports, music groups, church activities, or other extracurricular activities.  Often, the opportunity arises to travel abroad.  The teens almost always want to go!  Who wouldn’t want a chance to see the world with a group of friends? For parents, this opportunity to travel is exciting, but at the same time may cause concerns about costs, safety, food borne illness, and lack of adult supervision. In the midst of the end of the Amanda Knox trial and her return to Seattle, parents may be reconsidering allowing their teen to travel abroad.

So what do you as a parent do? It is relatively easy to determine which adults (and how many adults) will be going on the trip.  The cost will also be presented early on, but there are a lot of other unanswered questions…

The first time I traveled out of North America, my mom’s first question was “Is the country safe?” I happened to be traveling to a country that had recently been in the news for bombings, so it was exactly the question I had as well. Initially, she really did not want me to go, but I did some research and had a wonderful host family to meet me and make sure I remained safe.  In the end, I went and had an amazing trip.

Other questions parents need to consider include:

  • Which immunizations will they need?
  • Will they need a passport? How long does it take to obtain a US passport?
  • How will they travel once they are in the foreign country (bus, train, car, plane)? Will they be crossing any borders? Will they need to obtain a visa to enter the country? If so, how much will it cost?
  • Where will they have meals?
  • Will they be living with a host family? Will it be in a city or a village? Have contact information for where they will be staying. Consider adding an international plan to your cell phones for the duration of the trip to make it easier to stay in contact.
  • How much money will be needed? What is the exchange rate? Where will they change their currency?
  • How much will evacuation insurance cost? Contact places like the University of Washington Hall Health Travel Clinic for information on safety, accessing care in a foreign country, and evacuation and health insurance.

The World Health Organization has a daunting amount of information on nearly every country in the world.  Information on safety, common illness, and travel can be found in their section on Health Topics and Travel Health. The CDC also has great resources for traveling abroad, including a checklist on traveler’s health.  Once the decision to let your teen travel has been made, the next step is to set up an appointment with your medical provider. Nearly all of the questions I listed above are related to infection, food borne illness, and safety.  Your medical provider may send you to a designated travel clinic to obtain more information on country/region specific risks and to advise you on which immunizations or prophylactic medications your teen may need to take.

Travel clinics can discuss issues such as safety and possible violence in the country being visited in addition to immunizations and risk of illness. The World Health Organization also has information on safety.

Speak with your teen about substance use, legal vs illegal activity, and appropriate behavior. Though the US Embassy is present in most places, if there is trouble (such as with the law), it could take a significant amount of time and money to help with the case. Being jailed in a foreign nation can lead to days, months, even years of confinement.

Finally, travel abroad can provide amazing experiences for teens.  Before allowing your teen to travel abroad, ask questions, do your research, and encourage your teen to have a safe and fun trip!