“C’mon Mom, puhleeeeeeeeeease?”
Preparing parents for your trip abroad is a delicate conversation: part reassurance, part sales-pitch, part research dump. If your loved ones are sweating letting their precious baby live on another continent, you’re not alone.
For full disclosure, I’m 27 and my parents still get nervous every time I whip out my passport. They are well-traveled around the States, but the idea of their full-grown daughter going to a place they have never been before and where they (and I) don’t know a soul gives them the willies.
Together, we can convince them that we are capable, resourceful adults and we are going to be fine. Watch out world!
Let’s run through the tough questions that are bound to pop up in these crucial conversations.
What About Safety?
First, let’s talk about danger.
Expect this to be the first thing they’ll ask. Yes, bad things happen in other countries. Bad things happen right here at home too. In 2014, there were 741,291 reported assaults in the US compared to 1,197,243 in all 43 countries in Europe according to stats from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Good ol’ America is also #10 in most murders by country. Not something we’re bragging about on tank tops and trucker hats. #Merica
Your parents expect you to make good choices on home soil, and same applies for your trip. No shady places, no shady substances, and stranger danger is on high alert. Reassure them with your well-behaved track record (assuming you have one). Why would you stop being a responsible adult as soon as you cross the border?
Also, make sure your parents don’t watch Taken. Trust me.
Do Your Research
You know the safety question is coming like a low, slow pitch right over the plate- so do your homework. Look up the stats for the country you’re visiting and the city in which you’ll be living. Don’t tell them, “I’ll be fine.” Show them.
Take some time to read the local news online for your destination so you’re aware of what’s going down. Newspapers (online, it’s not 1992) are chock-full of hot tips on cool local culture too. Monthly wine walk? Free movies in the park? Parades? Yes please.
The State Department website is a traveler’s best friend. Okay, so now that you’ve added that bookmark, poke around. Read about the current relationship between the US and Argentina. Not only can you learn how to get a passport, but also check up on whether you need a particular visa to get into China, or pay fees to get into or out of Costa Rica.
Make a Contact Sheet for Your Trip.
Include the address and phone numbers of the places you’re staying. I save mine in Google Drive or Evernote so I can access it from anywhere. Your family might appreciate contact info for any travel companions and the embassy as well. Just in case. I’ve never actually called an embassy, neither have my parents. If you lose your passport, you’ll need to call the embassy.
Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This will let the embassy know you’re in town too.
The American Gap Association has a long list of tips for traveling safety and what to do if you break your leg or lose your purse. They suggest checking out the Centers for Disease Control to see if vaccinations, medications or medical precautions are recommended for different regions of the world.
- What if all your stuff gets stolen and you’re all alone in a foreign country with nothing?
- What if you run out of money?
- What if something happens to you?
- What if…?
Parents have a natural gift for worrying about worst case scenarios. This part of their programming is rooted in deep love and the fact that they’ve always been your safety net. They find comfort in the idea that they can swoop in and help, but being on the other side of the globe makes that harder.
Before they start wrapping you in bubble wrap, show ‘em what you’re made of with some preparation.
Back it Up & be Ready
Demonstrate that you’re thinking ahead and you’re ready for things to go wrong by covering a few bases ahead of time. For starters, take a couple of photos of your passport. Keep them handy by emailing them to yourself. Also save them in your Google Drive or Evernote. If something happens to your passport, you’ll have copies on hand when you get to your embassy.
Now let’s talk cash. Find a debit or credit card without foreign ATM or transaction fees. If you have one, keep a backup card somewhere else besides on your person, maybe in the bottom of your suitcase or at the place where you’re staying. If one goes missing, cancel it and then you’ll still have one, no worries. Also, carry some old fashioned American cash in a hiding space somewhere in your bag as another layer of back up.
Figure out the currency conversion and the rough cost of living. Here’s a cool calculator to help.
Speaking of money, let’s talk about a budget. Living abroad sounds expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Wow your mom and dad with a spreadsheet. Figure out how much your accommodation will cost, estimate the price food and some of the tourist activities on your to do list. Apply for scholarships; we have one! Build in a buffer, because things happen, and show them a total. Really blow their minds by keeping tracking of your expenditures as you go and coming in under budget. I dare you.
Health & Safety
Prepare for the possibility of bodily emergencies by putting together a first aid kit. Your parents might sleep a tiny bit better knowing you won’t be puking your guts out in a hostel bathroom after eating some funky produce.
Do the upfront research regarding which vaccinations you’ll need to get, figure out the schedule for getting them, and budget for them as well. Have this information ready for your parents and your family doctor.
Also, sign up for a first aid and CPR class before you go. Consider taking a self defense course as well. The more you can demonstrate that you’re being proactive about your own health and safety, the more likely your parents are to trust your ability to manage these things on your trip.
What, Exactly, Are You Doing?
“Funny you should ask…”
Show your parents that this adventure is important to you. Do the hard work up front of showing them where the value is in this trip for your education, your career, or your future life.
Explain how you plan to brush up on Spanish, earn class credit, or nail down a once-in-a-lifetime internship. Buy a guidebook if you want, make a list of things to do, find things that are off the beaten path in whatever city you’re hitting. Demonstrate your knowledge of the area you’re going to be traveling in by reading a book that’s set there and dig into travel blogs.
Invite your parents to come visit you while you’re gone. Promise them a week full of memories from an almost-local tour guide.
How Will We Keep in Touch?
Cue the violin music. The baby bird is flying the coop. This is the silliest sounding question to young people, but so real for parents: they will miss you. Even the coolest moms struggle with this one.
Create a Contact Plan
Think ahead about how often it will be reasonable for you to contact your family, what your contact options are, and then create a plan for keeping them from worrying about you.
Skype your family from across the living room to show how easy it is. The key is following through on this one. Figure out the time difference and put an appointment or two on the calendar to make sure it happens. By prioritizing their comfort with your security, you’ll buy yourself a great deal of freedom.
Cell plans for international usage are not as expensive as they once were. Listen to this podcast for a breakdown of the options. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my plan, through Sprint, offers free international texting and 2G data in some countries across the pond. I made a point to text my mom a selfie of me in front of something cool every day. T-Mobile has a top notch international plan for American users that includes over 140 countries with free unlimited data and texting. When you land, and your phone just works. That will make mom feel better.
The last gem of advice I’ve learned the hard way is to reach out once in awhile and say, “Hi,” when it’s unexpected. Tag your parents in a Facebook photo or send a quick email with your plans. The more they know, the less they worry.
The key to a successful conversation with your parents about your impending travel plans is preparation: The more bases you’ve covered ahead of time, the more likely they are to support your plans. Make sure you:
- Assess the safety of your destination and come to the table armed with facts
- Enroll in the STEP program & check the State Department websites
- Create a contact sheet and a contact plan for your family and close friends
- Make back up plans for worst case scenarios: lost passport, or financial emergency
- Take first aid and self defense classes, & pack a med kit
- Demonstrate the value of your trip, now and for your future
- Take your parents’ concerns seriously by anticipating and planning for them
Remind your parents that seeing the world is an important part of your education, and you would appreciate their support. Plus you’ll bring back sweet souvenirs all around.