How to wave them off with a smile: advice for parents and grandparents sending kids off on a gap year.
Legions of parents and grandparents will wave their kids and grandkids goodbye this year as they set off on their gap years to find themselves, have a little fun after the stress of exams or university and see the world in all its wondrous glory.
It’s understandable that, as parents, you should be worried about them.
But rather than wibble and wail that your little babies are leaving home, get involved and help them to make it the trip of their lives. The more you support and encourage them, the better travelling will be for them and the more confident you’ll be when you wave them off that they will come home safe and well.
Don’t worry about their future
Taking time out to travel is a really enriching experience. So if you worry that they will miss out on a chance at a career, happiness or university, don’t. The world is a mixed up place these days. Long term careers are a thing of the past. There is no such thing as a secure career path. That means they won’t miss out. Besides, it’s only a year.
They might even find something when they are away that lights their fire and sets them off on a much more exciting and rewarding course than working at the local bank.
Make sure they are properly insured
This really is vital. Don’t let them go unprepared and underinsured. Even if you disapprove of their plans or are unhappy about them leaving, make sure they don’t go underinsured. Why? Apart from making sure their gadgets and gear are covered, a good policy will protect them from big medical bills if they need medical treatment abroad. And, God forbid, if they have to be airlifted home, a good policy will cover it.
Worst case scenario sees you remortgaging the house to pay for their repatriation. Of course there’s no question you would do it, but, for the sake of a few pounds on a travel policy, you won’t ever have to.
If you miss them, meet them half way
When she was in her twenties, Claire went to live in Hong Kong. Her mother missed her like hell, so, after a few months she went out to visit. Both of them really enjoyed it. Claire didn’t miss home so much and her mother felt reassured because she knew everything was alright and she could visualise where Claire was and who she was with. It worked out for everybody. Consider it if you can. What an adventure for everyone!
They are going anyway, so give your blessing
Nobody wants to dwell on what might have been. So, if they have the chance, let them go. It’d be a tragedy for them to wake up in 20 years time to find they wish they’d done more. That’s when wanderlust is dangerous because it threatens the status quo. So let them go with your blessing, and while you are still friends, even if you are uncomfortable with it. They are going to go at some point, so make it now and make it happy.
Learn how to stay in touch
Travelling doesn’t mean being cut off any more. The internet makes the world a very small place. You can text, email, skype and face time. You can keep up on facebook, instagram and all manner of social networking sites, which means that you are only ever a click away. If you don’t know how to keep up with these things, take a course! Often they are free for older people.
Set rules but give them room
You might be tempted to comment on each and every selfie they post from around the world but sometimes it pays to keep your distance. Set some boundaries and rules for communication so that they - and you - know when is right to stay in touch. Talk on Thursdays or at set points in the trip. Kids often travel to get away from home and try a new way of living, and with today’s technology it’s easy to be stifling, even from 3000 miles away.
Draw up a rucksack checklist
Depending on where they are going it may be useful to make sure they have a few vital bits and pieces.
- If they take medication make sure they have a copy of their prescription and enough medication to last until they can guarantee to get more.
- If they are going somewhere where healthcare is an issue, make sure they have clean needles and sutures in case they need jabs or medical attention of any kind.
- Pack a good first aid kit that includes any prophylactics (malaria tablets for example) they need, rehydration sachets in case they get ill, water purification tablets and plenty of mozzie cream and antiseptic.
- Make sure they have a list of numbers and places they can get help.
- Don’t let them travel too heavy. Keeping it light is the way to go.
Help them with their paperwork and jabs
The more preparation that your kids do for their trip, the smoother it’ll go. That doesn’t mean you have to plan an itinerary for each day. Help them to make sure their passport is valid for long enough. Check where they are going and if they need visas or inoculations. Make sure finances are solid enough to see them through.
Help them with their research
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office Know Before You Go website is really useful for finding out about places they are going. It includes information about inoculations, visas, threats from terrorism, security and local customs. All vital stuff to know.
Also, our Quick Guides provide a little bit of practical knowledge for a selection of popular destinations.
Be prepared to help them out – but only if necessary
Don’t tell them about it, but be prepared to help them out if they need it. So make a note of their bank account and credit card details and keep them safe in case something happens and you need to mail over some cash. Just don’t let them know that it’s free money or they’ll turn to Bank of Mum and Dad at the first sniff of a bargain!
Be open about everything
Of course you will have worries about letting them go away. But you can make it easier for them by talking about where they are going, who they are going with, what they plan to do and how they propose they will manage their finances. Chat about it. Talk about setting daily limits for spending, where they will stay, what will happen in an emergency. Be open about everything.
Make sure their travel cover will include everything
When you are helping them to choose travel cover, don’t forget to take into account the types of things they might be doing. If they go bungee jumping in New Zealand, hire a scooter in Bali or raft down the Amazon, make sure it’s covered. World First’s Backpacker cover includes over 75 sports and activities free. And if an activity is not on the list, an upgrade to include it is cheap and easy.
Remind them about alcohol and insurance
If they want to drink then you can’t really stop them. But do make sure they know that their travel insurance is likely to be invalid if something happens when they are drunk.
Remind them to be aware of local customs concerning drugs and alcohol too. Penalties for drug use – and even alcohol consumption - in some countries can be very severe.
Finally….leave a loving note in their rucksack
Don’t imagine for a moment that you are the only one who is feeling a bit sad. They will be excited but, at some point, the enormity of stepping on a plane will hit them. That’s when the little note you leave in their rucksack saying how proud you are of them and how much you love them will do its good work.