Sending our college graduates and teenage kids abroad for summer studies or student travel takes a village for even a seasoned womantraveler -- with planning complexities far beyond sports and arts camps. Destinations, flight deals, often last-minute ticketing, safety issues, itineraries, hotels, cell phone and Internet cafe connections -- just for starters. Sure, there are books and guides, but the wired generation have their own resources -- and the Internet is primo. What's an experienced travel mom to do to help tee up the experience, yet stand back and let the kids have the enjoyment -- and challenges -- of making it happen?
The options aren't as simple as "packing my bag and heading off to Europe" to bum around, as we moms did back in the dark ages. though possible, it's not so easy as air travel is more expensive and more crowded. Hostels are so full this year in the popular European cities that students need to book ahead, not to mention plan for the reserved trains that are separate transactions from the various types of Eurailpass, which must be purchased in the US before the trip. And the choices can get even more complicated than that -- a father recently asked for a reference for a Spanish-language self-defense class in his hometown region for his 17-year-old daughter heading to Latin America in the next two weeks. Great question, but not a quick answer. With some digging, they found the best option. We parents have to think on our feet, too.
Having "been there, done that" now for the past two summers, and interviewing my womentraveler friends who have accomplished the same, there are several ways we can set the right stage for a great travel experience for our newly touring teens and 20-somethings...
the Wise Mom suggestions:
- If your student traveler isn't in an organized program, use a travel agent. You might be lucky and skate into a good deal online, but if the trip has any complexity -- like arriving in one country and returning from another -- forget it. The skill and speed of using a pro, let alone the hand-holding, is well worth the phone call. The personal touch can also yield great ideas and unexpected savings.
- Buy a ticket that offers a student or youth ID for discounts for food, lodging, transportation and more. Many airlines, such as British Airways, offer them. Be sure to ask when you book the ticket.
- Book hotels and hostels ahead of time. That's something our students can do themselves, but they may need encouragement. Two of us moms took the initiative and booked the first night for our sons' rendezvous in London from separate countries. (Nothing like arriving in a big strange city with no place to stay -- duh!) But our students used this safety net and turned it into lodging arrangements that worked better for them after some of their own research. Bravo!
- Hostels are inexpensive, so they fill up, and the ones with security (eg, locked closets or bins for luggage) go fast. Sometimes budget hotels are better or compare favorably in cost, particularly if 3-4 students are traveling together and can share the cost.
- Buy a Eurailpass, but check out the segments to determine if you need special tickets for reserved trains. Example: an unrestricted Eurailpass gets students through Europe, but there are segments that require reserved trains that are likely to be fully booked in advance, such as the Chunnel train between Britain and France. In addition, where possible, buses are cheaper and often more fun.
- Check out the inter-Europe airlines, such as Ryanair and easyJet, for low-cost travel between countries.
- Provide your student traveler with an international cell phone for emergencies, even if he or she chooses a local in-country option for the everyday. Pay phones are tough in a new language, particularly the first day or in an emergency. Make sure the phone is charged before leaving home and has a take-along charger with adapters for various countries. One of my more wonderful mom experiences was the phone call from my son when he arrived safely arrived in Spain after 24 hours of travel from the US.
- Make sure that your student traveler's bank knows that he or she will be using an ATM abroad for a certain period of time. Otherwise, the first attempt to withdraw cash in Paris, for example, could result in a blocked transaction because it looks fishy to the bank back home.
- Give your student traveler a send-off bag with travel-smart goodies -- maps, passport holder, first-aid kit, suitcase organizers, a small lock, $100 in cash and coins for the first destination and Airborne cold-fighting tablets.
- Buy a pull-handle duffle bag your students can schlepp along with a backpack and encourage smart packing.
- Then, kiss your son or daughter goodbye and let go. They're on their own -- and they'll do great!