International travel is a great way for kids to have fun experiences in worlds beyond school and home. For parents it can be a really good time but also stressful when children travel on their own. Our sons are good travelers. They are smart and careful. They love experiencing other cultures and landscapes.
Over the years I developed a to-do list for them so they are ready to get the best out of the experience. The to-do list helps me as well. I want to know they are having a good time and that they are safe and know how to navigate their travel environment.
Because there is a great difference between travel destinations, we are lucky to have the internet to research the attractions and safety issues of just about any venue.
Here is an email I sent our son when he was getting ready for a week's vacation to an island in the Caribbean.
Good morning. We're very happy you're going on your trip. That's so cool.
It's going to be beautiful there. Remember to bring sunscreen. From the iPhone weather app, it looks like you'll have sunny warm weather (88 hi/79 low). That's great.
Send us the confirmation email for the round trip airline ticket you bought so we have your travel information.
I put money in your ATM and paid your Credit Card bill.
Pack as lightly as possible. Figure out what clothes you will need for each day. Pack that plus an extra day. Find out if the hotel has self-serve laundry facilities. Avoid using the hotel's laundry service. The rates are very high. As in, $5.00 for a pair of underwear. $3.50 for a pair of socks. $18.00 to launder a shirt.
RESEARCHING YOUR DESTINATION
Take a look at the articles about your destination I emailed yesterday. Even if you don't go off the resort property, they had good tips for dealing with crime and how to deal with people who approach you. Like the articles say, don't wear jewelry, openly carry your electronics or pull money out of your pocket.
When you are at the airport you are vulnerable and criminals are looking for the right moment to grab a suitcase or backpack or wallet or phone, so hold on to everything you have with you at all times. Even in the bathroom.
CREDIT CARDS - TRAVEL NOTIFICATION
3-5 days before you leave, you need to call all of the credit card companies and banks with credit and ATM cards you use, to notify them that you will be using the cards on your trip. They will want to know your dates of travel and where you are traveling. That way when you use them out of the country, the banks won't think it's fraud when charges show up outside your normal area of use. The numbers to call are on the back of each credit card.
Exchanging US currency at the airport or hotel is usually pretty expensive. Some people like to buy the foreign currency in the US before they leave, but that is also expensive. The most cost effective way to acquire local currency is from an ATM at your destination. The exchange rate is favorable and depending on your ATM bank, the fees may be low. When you call the credit card/ATM company you use to give them your travel notification, ask them what those fees are.
In my experience, an airport ATM that supports your bank's card is a good place to get local currency.
Each time you use your ATM card, there is a fee, so don't use it to withdraw small amounts a lot of time. Withdraw what you need for 3-4 days.
When you use an ATM machine, be aware of the people around you. Crooks like to grab money from people who have just gotten money from an ATM, so be watchful.
COPIES OF YOUR DOCUMENTS
Make 2 copies of your essential documents: passport, credit cards (front and back) and medical card. Keep each set of copies in a separate place. When you are traveling, carry the original documents and one copy with you. Keep them in separate places.
When you are in the hotel, keep your passport and credit cards locked up in a safe. If there is not an in-room safe, usually the front desk has a safe available for guests.
To protect against pick pockets, always carry your wallet and passport in your front pocket never your back pocket or backpack.
CELL PHONE USE
Call the cell phone company and tell them about your travel. Ask if there is an inexpensive payment to roam so you can use your phone for texting and emailing on the trip and find out the cost of cell phone use where you are traveling. Let's talk about the options.
When you call the phone company, ask what you have to do to activate your phone for roaming. For some carriers you have to enter a roaming code before you leave, turn off your phone while you travel, then when you arrive at your international destination, you turn your phone on, enter and send a roaming code.
When you are in the hotel, presumably they have complimentary WiFi (if not in your room, then in the lobby), in which case you can email and text without charge. If you don't need your laptop, leave it at home and just bring your phone and iPad.
LANDLINE PHONE CARDS
We use iDPhoneCard which has dial-in numbers in most countries in the world. The rates are usually very low. Go on line to find others and compare. See which one you want to use. The way they work is you set up an account and make a deposit. Then when you are traveling, you can call in to the US for a low per minute rate. With iDPhoneCard there is no charge for making a call other than the minutes used. Some phone cards charge for each call + the minutes used.
Find out if you need adaptor plugs for the hotel. If you have a toll free phone number for the hotel, call them and ask if they have plugs free-for-guest use you can use during the stay. If they do have them, ask them to please put aside 2 for you.
You can also go to a travel store to buy an adapter plug. They don't cost much. All you need is a plug that attaches to the plug on your AC adapter. Traveling in most places, you don't need a voltage regulator. But ask the hotel about that as well.
THE HOTEL CONTACT INFORMATION
Make sure you bring with you the local phone number and address of the resort. Confirm with the hotel how you will get from the airport to the hotel. Ask if you need to give them your travel information & cell phone number so they have a person pick you up free of charge or is there a shuttle at the airport. In either case, ask how and where you will find the person bringing you to the resort. If you are expected to take a cab or bus, get all of those details and ask how much the cost will be.
Bring copies with you of your hotel confirmation.
Dad and Mom