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9 Ways to Keep Your Family Safe When Traveling Abroad

Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr Open

After hearing that we were taking our toddler on a journey around the globe, everyone asked: don’t you worry something might happen?

Of course I do! But I also know that good preparation can prevent bad things from happening.

As a mother, our number one job is to keep our kids safe and alive, and the second is to worry about what could possibly go wrong so we can prepare to do number one again. The good news is that no matter where you go in the world, there are kids who are as equally rambunctious and careless as yours, so even when things do happen, there are good doctors and aunties and uncles who are ready to help.

I'm a worrier by nature, and was blessed with a completely fearless kid who will jump onto, off of and into anything. He loves squishing bugs, running into forests and traffic, and eats whatever he wants. He adores drinking bathwater, and has absolutely zero fear of strangers. Knowing this, I knew that I had to be extra careful when taking him abroad, especially to countries where disease and kidnapping aren’t as rare as you’d hope.

Here are the things I had to prepare for our great adventure:

The obvious things

Just in case you haven’t traveled before, here’s your PSA reminder to get your vaccinations and to bring any medicines you may need, especially if your kid has allergies. Bring sunscreen, hats, and bug spray, and remember to buy bottled water (preferably mineral) to stay hydrated. Check the travel warnings.

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Emergency file

I have a phone contact with name, ID, blood type and relevant medical information (including insurance, when we have coverage abroad) for every single person in my phone.

The personal tag

For intrepid kids and teenagers, prepare a document with their name, nationality, your contact info and any medical conditions. Laminate it and make sure they keep it on their person. On the back, you can have the names of the hotels you’re staying in and which date. That way if they get lost, someone can help them back to the hotel. You can also pout one of these in each piece of luggage.

Keep pertinent info handy

If you have travel insurance or a pediatrician with a nurse line, make sure you have that info saved and at the top of your contacts (I save important info as its own contact, even when it’s not a number.) I’ve called them a handful of times, even if it’s to get a second opinion on the meds prescribed by a local doctor.

In many countries it’s considered rude to ask more questions, so many people may pretend they understand you even when they don’t.


In many countries it’s considered rude to ask more questions, so many people may pretend they understand you even when they don’t. You don’t want peanuts? OK! But they may still use peanut oil. Use Google translate or ask a friend to translate a complete statement of allergies into the native language, print it, and laminate it. Make sure to save a copy to your phone and keep extras. You can write instructions on how to administer meds on the back of the card, in case you are separated.

Turn on “Find my Phone”

If your kid is old enough to have a phone, make sure you turn on this feature. This will allow you to figure out where they are, and is also useful in case you lose the phone. (If you do lose a phone, use this before you call it, so that the thief doesn’t power off. )

Make sure they know what to do

I once read that you should act out possible scenarios of what could happen. Mine is still a toddler, but once he’s older I will teach him what to do when grabbed, how to duck for cover if something scary is happening, and how to scream his head off until someone gets the police. Also remind them that it’s not always safe to drink water and eat street foods, if you’re traveling in an area with contamination. (I will add, though, my kid drank the tap water in Mexico and sipped some from the river running through Bangkok, and he’s alive and well!)

RELATED: 17 Temper Tantrums Your Kid Will Have While Traveling

Bring a carrier and/or leash

My kid had three leashes. He’s a toddler, and while we never take our eyes off of him, I can’t carry him everywhere and he would rather scream at the top of his lungs than be in a stroller all day. I purchased a couple of “Mommy’s Keepers” harnesses before leaving, and after showing his resentment a few times, he now happily puts it on because it means freedom.

Take swimming classes

The leading cause of death and injury among many tourists is drowning, and it’s often preventable. Make sure your kid knows how to get out of water safely. If you have multiple kids or one really fast one, also consider bringing floaties.

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