When most people think of “travel safety,” they think about what others are doing to prevent terrorism and plane crashes, but relatively few travelers succumb to these kinds of headline-grabbing disasters. Most travelers are able to complete their journeys free of incident, but when threats to a traveler’s health and safety do occur, oftentimes a bit of planning and caution could have prevented the unfortunate incident. When traveling with your family, you must take extra precautions to ensure everyone’s well being, but it’s easy to forget about safety while juggling luggage, tickets, passports, and increasingly burdensome airline fees and restrictions. By following a few basic travel safety tips, however, you can have one less thing to worry about as the airport security guard asks you to remove your shoes.
1. Find the exits. When boarding a plane or staying in a hotel, take note of at least two escape routes. This can be a fun game for young children to count how many airplane seats or how many hotel room doors there are to the nearest emergency exits. Older children can be assigned the task of studying the fire escape maps posted in the hotel by the elevator, or the emergency evacuation procedures located in the seat pockets of the airplane.
2. Dress alike. Your family need not look like the Brady Bunch on tour, but try to get everyone to at least wear similar-colored clothing. For example, the rule for the day could be blue shirts and khaki shorts. If you become separated from one of your children, you will quickly and easily be able to answer the question, “what is he wearing?” in that frantic moment.
3. Trust your instincts. It’s natural to feel uneasy in a strange place, but if you feel especially anxious, don’t just mark the feeling up to paranoia. The neighborhood you’re driving through may actually be dangerous; the person behaving strangely in the seat next to you may really be up to no good. Leave the situation if possible and report the situation to authorities if you observe any suspicious or illegal behavior.
4. Have a plan. Whenever visiting a new place, establish an easy-to-find and easy-to-remember meeting place in case you get separated, such as the large fountain at the entrance, the giant stuffed grizzly near the restrooms, or the lifeguard station closest to the pier. Instruct children to ask directions to the meeting place, but not to tell strangers they are lost. If anyone asks, tell them to say something like, “I’m waiting for my mom. She’ll be here in a minute.” If possible, give older children a cell phone and agree on a third-party contact such as a grandparent or family friend to call in case of emergency.
5. Pay attention. In exciting and unfamiliar surroundings or engaging social situations, it’s easy for parents to become distracted. Whenever in a potentially hazardous situation for children, such as in a large crowd or near water, be sure at least one adult in your group is paying close attention at all times. Don’t assume there is safety in numbers just because there are several adults in your group. While it’s tempting to want to make new friends or reconnect with people you have not seen in a long time, make sure there is always at lease one responsible adult whose main priority is watching the kids.
7. Practice moderation. Overindulgence in anything can make you sick and dull your senses, especially where alcohol and drugs (even if they’re legal where you’re visiting) are concerned. Overeating, especially food that you and your children are not used to, can cause upset tummies and reveal previously-unknown allergies. Overexposure to sun, heat, or extreme cold can also result in sickness, injury, or even death. Get the local weather forecast before heading out and wear appropriate clothing. Take extra precautions if the weather or altitude at your destination is very different from what you are used to.
8. Know before you go. The U.S. Department of State’s travel.state.gov website offers up-to-date travel alerts, travel warnings, and country-specific information if you are traveling abroad. A quick web search of “travel safety information” for your destination can provide specific details regarding crime, terrorism, natural disasters, diseases, and availability of medical services.
9. Learn when you get there. When you arrive at your destination, take a few moments to find out the local procedures for reporting emergencies. 9-1-1 works in most parts of the U.S. and Canada and 1-1-2 is the universal emergency number in Europe, but there are always exceptions. If you are staying in a hotel, the front desk clerk or concierge may be able to place an emergency call for you. If you brought your cell phone, don’t assume it will work at your destination, especially if you are in a remote area or a foreign country.
10. Take it easy and get some rest. Enjoy your vacation, but remember that stress and fatigue can be harmful to your health and cause errors in judgment. Traveling with tired and cranky children can be exhausting, so take their need to rest as a cue to slow down. When driving, take frequent breaks and get off the road when you’re tired. Participate in a reasonable number of activities and keep the emergency room off your list of places to visit!