Traveling Teens: Ways to Keep Your College Kid Safe When Coming Home for the Holidays

Although you’ve sent your child off to college, that doesn’t yet make him or her a full-fledged adult ready to take on all the responsibilities that come with age. They might be doing well enough to keep up with their studies and keep their dorm room decent, but they haven’t necessarily mastered commonsense.

And that can be an issue when they’re traveling home for the holidays.

Unless you’re going to the campus to pick them up, your child is likely getting home some other way. Before those arrangements are made, make a quick review of what to consider, so you and your teen can be clear on travel plans and how to be safe during the journey.

Planes, trains…
If your child is traveling by plane, train or bus, make sure all travel arrangements are made well in advance. You don’t want to purchase a plane ticket only to find out your child never arranged for transportation to the airport, for example, or that they didn’t know they needed to be at the train station an hour before departure time. There will be some babysitting from afar this first time or two that they travel home independently, but they will get the hang of it.

Also review basic safety tips with your child well in advance, meaning not the night before when they’ll be too distracted by packing to pay attention. These kinds of safety tips might be commonsense for you, especially if you travel a lot, but that doesn’t mean your teen knows them. Go over them just in case. Include things like don’t leave your bags unattended, carry your purse or wallet close to you, be aware of people bumping into you or in other ways distracting you, keep your photo ID and boarding pass with you (like in your pocket) all the time, sit in crowded rather than isolated waiting areas, and make sure your contact information is inside of any checked bags.

…and automobiles
If your child is driving home from school, you have a whole different list of safety topics to go over. But that safety starts in the summer.

Before they even head to school in the fall, make sure they know how to check the tire pressure, fill the washer fluid in the car, and do a light check, making sure all brake lights, headlights and blinkers are working. Also check the windshield wipers. Consider giving them a car safety kit as a going away gift, one that includes flares and jumper cables, in addition to blankets, water and spare food.

About one or two weeks before the trip home, encourage them (strongly) to get an oil change in addition to doing these other safety checks.

Once the car is ready, make sure they know the route, plan to drive in daylight only, and have a plan for stopping every couple of hours to rest and stretch their legs. Stress the importance of not driving while tired! If they have a mountain pass to cross or other hazardous conditions, then chains or other precautions (and how to use them) are a must.

If your child plans to get a ride with a friend, do your due diligence to ensure this friend is a safe and trusted driver. Find out when they plan to leave, the route they plan to travel, when they will stop to rest on the drive, etc. If you have any doubts at all about the reliability of this friend, you have the right to voice your concerns!

And charge that cell phone!
No matter how they’re traveling, also make sure they leave with fully charged cell phone batteries, or a way to easily charge en route (reminding them at the same time that texting or talking on the phone while driving is not okay).

Although letting them travel independently can be scarier for the parent than the child, the lessons they will learn about planning in advance, being safe while traveling or timing their travel are all life lessons they’ll carry with them always—lessons that didn’t cost you a penny in tuition, mind you!

Note: Beyond the safety of traveling teens, also take note of another potential challenge: the disruption that can be caused when a teen or young adult is home for the holidays. Experts warn parents that the first visit home can be an emotional one, and this article has some great parenting advice on what to expect and how to handle it.

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