Family Travel Safety Tips: How to Handle Child Safety While Traveling

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Looking for family travel safety tips? Before any big trip with kids, it’s important to prepare everyone for potential hazards. Here are a few things we’ve learned about child safety while traveling.

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Our Top Family Travel Safety Tips

We love adventure, and many of our favorite places and activities involve some level of risk. That’s why child safety is a crucial element of any family travel. It doesn’t matter if we’re canyoning in Spain, trekking in Sumatra or just walking down the street in Memphis. Danger and dodgy situations are everywhere. That’s why I’ve put together a few family travel safety tips to review before your next adventure.

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Listen: 99.99% of family travel situations are going to be fine. However, it helps to be prepared. You wear a seatbelt for that rare chance you’re in an accident, right? Look over these family travel safety tips with the kids in the same way. Review before you leave. That way everyone knows how to handle any situation life throws at you.

This list of child safety tips can always be added to. Do you have any family travel safety tips you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments or contact me directly.

Clarification

I hesitate to write posts like this because it can discourage some people from taking the leap into traveling with their kids. It’s my job at An Epic Education to prepare you for meaningful family travel. Not to scare you away from it.

These family travel safety tips are here for the rare chance that you need them. Most people return from their travels with great memories and life lessons. For the few that do experience some trouble, they’re often glad that they reviewed and practiced some family travel safety tips before they left.

If I haven’t been clear enough, let me be as explicit as possible:

  • Travel is safe: if you prepare and pay attention, then safe, fulfilling family travel can happen just about anywhere outside of a war zone.
  • The news is often sensationalized: Danger is real, but often overblown and exaggerated. Treat the news and any paranoid friends or family members with a healthy dose of respectful skepticism.
  • Use family travel safety tips at home, too: Crowd safety and child safety don’t stop being important once you return home. In fact, most of these family travel safety tips are just as valid in my hometown of Atlanta as they are in Barcelona, Johannesburg, and Ho Chi Minh City.

Now with that out of the way, let’s talk safety while traveling with kids. Here are a few family travel safety tips that I think most families can use.

Before You Go

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I’ve divided these family travel safety tips into pre-travel and on the road. This first list is pre-travel safety stuff. It includes things to practice, prepare and think about before you head to the airport.

Play the “What If” game

You’ll see this family travel safety tip in a number of lists because it’s so important regardless of age — especially if they’re inexperienced travelers. Sit with your kids and run through as many travel safety issues as you can think of. Ask them how they would handle themselves.

  • “What if we were separated in a crowd?”
  • “We’re on the subway platform. What if you got on the train before I did and the doors closed?”
  • “What if a stranger approaches you?”

This exercise isn’t meant to scare the kids — or you. It’s simply a way to run through any possible scenarios you may face and discuss how you’ll deal with them.

Come up with a plan together for each of these situations, and make sure you’re all on the same page. For example, let’s look at the question:

“What if you got on the train before I did and the doors closed?”

Formulate a plan together. Something that everyone understands and can act on without thinking. For example, some families choose this method: if someone gets on a bus or train before the others, then they should get off at the next station and wait there. The others will meet you there.

You don’t have to go through every single situation in one sitting. Break it up as needed.

Role-play, Practice, and Pretend

Now it’s time for some role play. Regardless of age, run through the different scenarios and act out how your kids should respond.

Make this fun. Be goofy and overly theatrical so that it isn’t scary for little ones. Go through all of these family travel safety tips, and add your own. It’s important that they know what to do, but you don’t have to frighten them before your big trip.

Prep all documents and relevant information

Make sure to travel with copies of everyone’s passports and any other relevant documents. That may include birth certificates and insurance information, as well as any shots, immunization, allergy or other health-related documentation. Some people also recommend traveling with a recent photo of your kids.

Carry printed copies of these documents, and have a digital copy in your cloud-based platform of choice: Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.

If your kids are old enough, make sure that the kids know any important phone numbers and skype names by heart. This may or may not also include passwords to your email account or another online platform. This could be just your info or possibly another relative or contact person as well. These numbers should be in favorites and/or on speed dial on any phones or devices you’re using.

Prep your traveler’s insurance

Accidents are rare, but you want to be covered if they happen. There are a number of reasons to get traveler’s insurance. We always get traveler’s insurance before we head out. Here are a few tips for finding the right policy for you.

We’ve had really good experiences with World Nomads, but do your own research and see what works best for your family.

Charge everything the night before

This one may seem obvious, but worth remembering. Get into a routine of recharging any phones, tablets or other communication devices that you and the kiddos will use each day.

And like mentioned above, make sure any important numbers are saved on your devices so they can be called with minimal effort.

Family Travel Safety Tips on the Go

Family Travel Safety Tips: How to Handle Child Safety While Traveling jamie shooting in Bali

Okay, so you’ve planned, you’ve prepared, and now you’re out in the world. Here are a few family travel safety tips worth considering when you’re on the go.

Avoid Public Displays of Affluence

One of the best ways to avoid being targeted is to not look like a target. Granted, in many parts of the world, the mere fact that you’re traveling there signals to the locals that you have more money than they do. But you can minimize this spotlight.

If you’re traveling in a developing country, try to keep any high-value items concealed as best as possible. Think about your watch and any jewelry: those are signs of affluence. The biggest indicators, however, are your camera and phone. These can be more difficult to conceal since you’ll likely be using them, but if you’re in a dodgy area, keep them in a pocket or a bag whenever possible, or double wrap the strap around your hand.

As the Wagoner family discovered, gadgets can be yanked straight out of your hand by a passing motorcycle passenger. If you’re walking alongside a road, keep your bag and other high-value items on the side of your body opposite to the road.

Decide on a designated meeting point

Before walking into a crowded place, decide on a meeting point to return to if you get separated. Make sure it’s somewhere prominent that’s easy to access. Preferably somewhere that others know in case you have to ask for directions.

If the meeting point is large, like a monument or a public square, make sure to choose a specific spot to meet.

Dress them in the same color

You may not get teens or tweens to do this, but with younger kids, one travel tip for crowd safety is to dress them all in the same bright color.

For example, if everyone is wearing yellow T-shirts, it’s much easier to find them in a crowd.

Take a pic each morning

Before you head out for the day, use your phone or camera to take a quick snap of the kiddos. That way you have a super-recent pic with the exact clothes they’re wearing. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, you might not remember.

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Have the right contact info

Each kid should have certain info on them if they get lost or separated. This info could be phone numbers, email addresses and the name of your hotel. This could be on a piece of paper in their pocket or written on a small wristband if they’re younger. Some parents even write it on their arm.

If you’re in a country where the writing system is foreign to you such as Japan, Taiwan, Thailand or Vietnam, I highly suggest picking up business cards from your accommodation and keeping them with you in case you need to take a taxi back later. That way you have the address written in the native language in case the driver doesn’t speak English.

Let’s say you’re staying in an AirBnB which doesn’t have business cards. In that case, look for a hair salon or restaurant nearby. Or take a phone pic of the address wherever you can find it.

Choose secret words and sounds

Figure out specific code words and sounds that your family uses in safety-related situations. This doesn’t have to be James Bond-level spy-speak, but if your family has specific words that mean “let’s go,” “potential danger,” and “where are you?” it can really help out in some situations

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you and the kids are strolling carefree down a street. Then you turn the corner and the situation changes. Suddenly you’re walking into crazy traffic, a crowded market or something potentially more dangerous or easier to get separated.

Here’s where you say your code word. Choose a word you’ll all understand right away, but not so common that you’d likely hear it elsewhere.

I know one mom who uses the word “pockets.” Whenever she says “pockets,” her little ones knew that they needed to come to her right away and grab one of her pockets. Suddenly, they’ve regrouped and are together again.

If a kid gets separated, I know some parents like to set up a specific sound for the kids to make. Don’t just yell “mommy!” (although that works, too). Instead, make a particular bird call or whistle, so that others can follow the specific sound.

For this to truly work, you must only use these words and sounds in real situations. Don’t play with them. When a code word or sound is used, everyone needs to know that it’s a real situation to deal with.

Look for mothers and authority figures

If your child gets lost and doesn’t know how to return to the meeting point, tell them to look for another mother with kids or an authority figure. This authority figure could be a policeman, a soldier or a shop owner. You decide who deserves this role. In general, I think mothers with kids are best.

Take pictures of license plates

Before getting into a late-night taxi, make a show of taking a quick phone pic of the license plate. This indicates to the driver that someone is expecting you, and they now know what car you’re in.

Post location-specific information later

This is just precautionary measure, but I don’t often post our location — or our upcoming location — on social media. Instead, I upload pics later. There aren’t as many creeps out there as the “stranger danger” media wants you to believe, but they do exist. I don’t like to give them a heads-up on our coordinates. Sure, sometimes I “check in” at specific places, but not often.

Insist on helmets, seat belts & life jackets (when you can)

Family Travel Safety Tips: How to Handle Child Safety While Traveling safety life vest

If you’re riding in boats and on motorcycles, ask for life jackets and helmets, respectively. Seat belts, too. However, if you’re traveling in the places we like to travel, they are frequently not an option. You have to make peace with that or find more time-consuming and expensive ways around it, such as private drivers. Or just don’t go to these countries.

We’ve forgone the seat belts in multiple places. We’ve even given up on helmets in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. However, when it comes to life vests, we usually don’t budge. Especially if it’s a larger craft. Even if your kids swim well, like ours do, wear your life vest, and put them on your kids.

Riding scooters? Tie them to you

One of our favorite things to do in Southeast Asia is to ride around on scooters and motorcycles. This is a lot of fun, but there is a minor risk that kids could lose their balance or fall asleep and slump to one side or another. When they were younger, we actually tied them to us as a precautionary measure.

No, we don’t travel with rope. Instead, we simply used a sarong.

When the nights turned chilly, Keiko actually zipped our girl into the same jacket as her, which helped to keep her both safe and warm.

What Are Your Family Travel Safety Tips?

This list of family travel safety tips is far from complete. What advice do you have for crowd safety, theft avoidance or any other insight related to child safety while traveling? This post will surely grow as I add your feedback to it. Let us know in the comments, or contact me directly.

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Comments

  1. Safety first should be our motto when we travel as a family. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Thanks Jason. We’ll keep your advice in mind.

  3. Good tips, Jason. Some of the things you suggested we do already. Some of your ideas were new to me. Just forwarded a link to DW so we can talk it over.

    Are you guys licensed to drive motorbikes in Japan or elsewhere? We’ve heard WN won’t cover us in the event of a motorbike crash unless we’re licensed to drive a motorbike at home, which we’re not. We’re in Hoi An now watching all the foreigners around us cruising on motorbikes. Looks like fun, and I’m tempted to rent one, but we’ve also seen some crashes and wounds on travelers and locals from crashes, so we’re a little hesitant…

    • Hi Shane. Riding scooters & motorbikes is a lot of fun but obviously, comes with some risk for the reasons you described. I learned to ride in Taiwan in 1997, and taught Keiko there the following year when she arrived. We’ve been riding motorcycles in SEA for a while, but understand and accept the risks. If you’re not used to riding or feel unsure about it, don’t push yourself

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