Single Parent Travel – Emergency Plans & Preparations

Single Parent Travel – Emergency Plans & Preparations
March 14, 2013 Lainie Liberti

What happens if an emergency occurs while you are traveling?

What happens, if you are a single parent family and you are in foreign lands and an emergency happens?

What if something happens if you, and you become incapacitated, unconscious or missing? Is your child  ready? It’s not a pleasant topic, but it should be discussed. I am sharing with you in this post how my son and I face this very unpleasant topic. But instead of ignoring it, we talk about it, review our plan, then move on. It puts both of us at ease and we can get back to living in the moment and enjoying our lives.

Travel Safety

This post is not a general safety post, as we always suggest you follow the rules of safety and common sense while traveling. For more general saftey tips, read this Lonely Planet article,  Top tips for safe travel.

As a single parent traveler, this is one of those raw realities, I’ve had to think about, consider and prepare for with my son. I have written this post from our perspective, and keep in mind if you apply any of our strategies to your own situation, please make sure you consider age-appropriate solutions for your child and get creative with your plans should you have multiple children. For regular readers of our blog, you will know Miro and I talk a lot about being safe in the world, overcoming your fears and adapting the philosophy of safety and trust. However, I can’t just bury my head in the sand when it comes to my son’s safety which is my sole responsibility.

Finally, whenever Miro and I speak about these things, and every six months or so, I remind him of our family’s preparations, we follow up our conversations with a reminder that we continue to experience the world as a safe place.

Wasn’t it Benjamin Franklin who once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”?

Single Parent Travel Emergency Preparation Check List

1. Problem vs. Emergency

Miro and I have talked about  the difference between a problem and an emergency. Seems simple enough, but understanding when to act is critical to dealing with an emergency.  As Miro gets older, this distinction is understood, however, it was the first step of our emergency preparedness when we first started traveling four years ago.  Miro understood that “a problem” was something that he need help with, but did not require emergency services. In contrast, an emergency is a situation that requires immediate assistance from another person, usually in the form of an official from the police or medical professional.

2. Define what works / doesn’t work for your family while traveling

You know your child(ren) better anyone, so it’s really your responsibility to anticipate where there might be problems based on the personality of your own child(ren) and your family dynamics. What works at home, might not work while you are traveling.  I know this seems like common sense, but we had a real concern in our family, especially when Miro was younger. Together  Miro and I  both LOVED to play “hide and seek”. At home, we’d break into spontaneous games, sometimes I’d hide in the pantry of our kitchen and Miro would manage to fit into the smallest cubby holes around our house. Many times we would not plan or announce a game of “hide and seek’ we’d just end up doing it.

One time, Miro spent the weekend at his grandparents and he spent about two hours under the dining room table while his Grandma and Grandpa freaked out, ran up and down the neighborhood in a panic, while Miro stayed there giggling and being so clever. (I thought it was funny after I heard the story, sorry about that Dad!) So this was something Miro and I had to talk about before we set out on our travels and became conscious and aware that that could no longer be a part of our interaction while we were traveling.  As a parent, we have to anticipate what might not work outside the comfort of our own homes and bring it up so there is now an awareness between both you and the child(ren).

3. Becoming separated in public

Should this happen to Miro and I while we are out and about, we’ve established a few strategies to help. First, we have a special call, sort of a bird call “caw caw”, that we use to find each other. If that doesn’t work, we  both know to stay in one place, or sit down with the vantage point of that place. If both of us are walking around trying to find each other, we know we’ll keep crossing paths. The plan is to go back to the last place we were together and stay there. And as a last resort, Miro and I will both try to find someone to ask for help.  There are two types of help to ask for. When Miro was younger, he understood the best thing to do was to find another mother with kids in his immediate surrounding and ask then for help.  Now he knows to contact an official, a shop owner, a manger of a hotel, a policeman and in extreme cases an embassy official. Again, common sense prevails and talking about it before hand is imperative  In our case, this has never happened.

However, I’ve read stories of families being separated on the train, lost in amusement parks and other scary situations, all coming to safe outcomes. However, without having a prior conversation with their children before hand, these situations could have been a lot more stressful for both parities.

4. In the event of a medical emergency…

As mentioned in #1 above, define the difference between a problem and an emergency. Miro and I have discussed that if the following should occur, they should be considered serious and treated as an “emergency”:

  • If either one of us is unconscious
  • If either one of us in excruciating pain
  • If either one of us bleeding
  • If either one of us is having seizures

Miro knows to act fast, and get help should any of those things happen to me.If we are “home”, he will call one of our contacts in our phone including our land-lords, our local friends, and contacts and  ask for help. If that doesn’t  work, Miro will need to call the nearest hospital.

Last, he will need to contact our family back in the states via skype in order to tell them what is going on.  Miro knows that asking for help is the best way to deal with any emergency so being prepared as to who to contact first is of vital importance.

5. Preparations

One of the ways Miro and I prepared for an emergency was to role play how to handle the situation if I became suddenly sick or injured. We talked about  the signs, fears, got clear about defining if  there really is an emergency as we stated above.

My son:

  • Knows passwords to my email, skype, facebook
  • Knows our ATM password and bank login details online
  • Knows where our passports, extra atm and emergency contacts are
  • Knows to contact his Grandmother and / or Grandfather (my parents) should anything happen to me
  • Has his own cell phone with contacts pre programmed in our country
  • Knows how to reach the American Embassy in our current country
  • Knows to contact the police

We sincerely hope you will (nor I) will ever need to put any of these things into practice, but again, being prepared provides such a sense of  serenity.

I asked other traveling parents, many of whom are single parent travelers to share their thoughts about single parent travel emergency preparations. Here’s what they offered: 

Hannah Lewis 

I’ve bought some cheap wristbands, like they use in nightclubs etc and will write my contact number and hotel on and pop them on my daughters wrist, so if anything goes wrong I will be able to be contacted. I have considered a wrist strap, but not sure whether its necessary.

Theodora Sutcliffe says: Safety planning evolves as your child grows. Zac’s always known to approach uniformed officers or mums with kids or go to a shop if he’s lost, to go to the management of the place where we are staying if there’s a problem, how to contact his dad and his grandparents and that the British consulate will always look after him.

He now also knows our travel insurer’s details. We had a scare when I was concussed in rural Egypt and I realized it was important for him to know that too. I’d say that children knowing who to turn to other than you is absolutely critical: they also need to know how to access them, i.e., not just have the numbers but know how to make a phone call and who can help them make a phone call if they can’t.

Another thing that’s important is for your child to be able to recognize if something’s wrong — if you’re unconscious, fitting, paralyzed, whatever it may be….

Jenni O’Connor says:  I generally think that having an ongoing discussion about “what if?” is the best way to go but our situation was a bit unique in that my daughter was not ready for an immense amount of stress related to the “what if?” if something happened to me as she was very best processing other things. So, for the first month of our travels I did what I consider a lot of “secret preparations” with her, just in case. I taught her immediately how to take care of herself. This included doing her own hand washing, making her own food, walking to the grocery store on her own, buying her own metro ticket (even when I was standing right there), letting her venture out on her own with Indian friends etc. I think most traveling kids can benefit from these things but she had never had this responsibility/freedom before and yet it was essential that I give it to her, just in case she had to take care of herself for a few days or more if something happened to me. Coddling her was going to do absolutely no good if she found herself alone and needing to depend on herself.

I do think that these mundane preparations can get overlooked. Having a cell phone your kid has access to, making sure they know who to contact in an emergency, showing them local places to go for help, making sure a friend of family member at hoe has all your travel info and a copy of your passport, and teaching them basic travel safety are good things to do but what happens if your kid is on their own for a few days or more because no one can get to them? Knowing how to basically take care of themselves is invaluable in an emergency situation.

Another thing is teaching your kid how to trust their gut. This is incredibly important if a kid finds themselves alone for even an hour. To really teach kids how to listen to their own instincts we should ideally create an environment where they can say “no” respectfully to *anything* if they do not feel right about it for whatever reason- even a hug from grandma!

Karen Zimmermann says:  I am traveling alone with my 6 yr old daughter. Emergency contact details need to be with the child and a good insurance that transports you plus the child back home if things are really bad. Always connecting with other families in the area you are in to have a local point of contact in case something happens. I try to connect to as many people as possible.

Talon Windwalker says:  My son has a contact list on his computer and knows how to use my phone to look them up as well. I’ve instructed him to get a police officer, hotel staff, or hospital staff to help him make the call and the people he should call if there’s a problem. I also have an “in case of emergency” note on my phone so if an official is looking through my phone they should spot that list. I have also done a paper list and had it laminated. He has it in his suitcase. He also knows where I store our passports in case there’s a need to access that.

One of the biggest things, though, is not to worry. Prepare, but don’t focus too much on it. I believe that what we put our thoughts toward eventually manifests, and I don’t want to see too many thoughts in the direction of something happening. So he’s prepared, but I focus on that he’ll never need that preparation.

Nancy Sathre-Vogel says:  We made sure our kids knew Grandma’s phone number and that would be our go-to if/when something happened. If anything happened, they were to call Grandma and she would coordinate whatever needed to happen.

I think kids need to have a basic idea what to do, but there is a fine line between preparation and paranoia. nearly all the things we worry about will never happen and we need to make sure our kids understand that.

Melissa Banigan says:   Home is easy: Anevay knows who to call, how to call, where to go for information, and how to deal with situations in public. She knows how to deal with creepy people and how to avoid them (she was tested about a month ago in the subway station and held her own). Away from home is much the same, but it’s made more difficult without the luxury of speaking the same language. My girl knows, at the very least, how to ask to use a phone and tell people, “I’m fine, but my mom needs help.” (The “I’m fine” part is, I think, a big part of telling people not to take advantage of a sit Anyway: to not take advantage of a situation in which they might see a “kid” in charge, and also to empower my girl) Anyway, Anevay also has numbers on her while we travel so that if something happened to me, she wouldn’t have to get nervous trying to remember a number. Also, because my worst nightmare doesn’t involve something happening to me, but to HER, we’ve also talked openly about sexual crimes and what to do if anything were ever to happen. I think this last item isn’t talked about enough, but happens far too often. It’s one of the most under-reported crimes. Oh, and not to go on and on (which I’m now doing), but I think Theodora’s right: knowing what to do if you find your parent unconscious, in an accident, or even not there when you wake up (this happened to someone I knew!) is important. And yes, WHO to get help from is pretty important, too, although sometimes it’s hard to anticipate how this sort of thing will play out.

Joy Clein says:  We  have phone numbers of family and friends in my sons Skype account, with pre-paid credit so they can call the people without accounts, in the case of an emergency.

Jessica Bowers says:   Just as an encouragement to those of you with little ones-do not underestimate your kids ability to learn what to do if they are lost. We have had some experience with losing kids while traveling, but most recently my three year old was temporarily lost at Legoland. We had been telling him what to do if he was lost, but he is three and I didn’t really expect any of it to stick. However, when we realized he wasn’t with us when we left a show, we turned quickly back and found him standing exactly where he had become lost. He was holding onto a rail and loudly asking “Can someone help me find my mom?” He had totally picked up on the skills we had been teaching him and put them into practice, and I was very glad I didn’t assume he was too little to learn.


  1. Alice 11 years ago

    Thanks for writing this Lainie! I hadn’t even thought about it for our trip to USA in April… I definitely have now! I’ll be implementing some of these tips! xxx

  2. Laurel 11 years ago

    Really great thoughts on this. I loved reading through everyone else’s ideas too. There were many things that I never even thought of. So scary to think if something should happen, but your right about the ounce of prevention. Thanks for posting!

  3. Shell 11 years ago

    This is damn genius, and the article that needed to be published years ago. Legitimate advice on not underestimating kids in emergencies. Swoon. I just found your blog and I am already in love with it.

  4. Tiphanya 11 years ago

    Thanks for this post. Single parent travelling seems to think and talk about it (I already read another post on the subject). And I think non-single parent should do too. It’s not because I plan to travel with my fiancé that we will be together all the time, that my daughter won’t lost herself.

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