How to survive your childs Gap Year (A guest post by my mum!)

[Note from Jane] When I first went travelling at the tender age of 17, it was like a bolt out of the blue for my parents. I remember telling them almost continually about all the ideas and hopes for the future that I had, but I don’t think they really took me seriously until I finally came in with my ticket to Australia in hand. I actually hid it under my bed for 2 weeks before I got the courage to tell them! That’s how young I was, both in age and (lack) of maturity. Around 4.5 years later, just turned 22, with much more travel under my belt, and a registered business, my aspirations to be a digital nomad are no longer such a big deal to my parents. Finding out how hard it was for my mum however, was a real shock to me. I therefore thought it would be useful to share some tips and advice here on to any parents watching their children set off on their Gap Year abroad. However, as I am not a parent myself, I thought the best person to write this would be someone who has been through the experience, and so I decided to ask my mum! Today’s guest post is by Mary Meighan, mature student, and mum to one crazy backpacker (plus 3 ugly big brothers!) 😉

Hi. If you are reading this, chances are your teen / 20 something child has just announced that they are leaving work / college/ university and are off to travel the world. Once you realise they are serious the nightmare begins. In my case, my daughter, runawayjane, casually announced one day that she had quit her job, put art college on hold, and had bought a one way ticket to Australia.  Oh, and did I mention that she was only 17 and too young for an Australian work permit?  To add insult to injury, when I asked her why, she turned it back on me as only a teenager can, with “ It’s your fault mum. You always told us you can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be if you try hard enough.” How do you answer that?  Everyone else told her she was too young, unprepared, couldn’t afford it, off her head, etc. It got so bad I ended up defending her even though I was terrified for her.  So how did I survive? Do you remember when you prepared your child for big school?  What to do if they got bullied / make sure nobody stole their stuff, etc. Then you had to let them walk off through the school gates while you worried until they came home and said it was great. Backpacking is just a new big school with a lot more planning needed. The hardest part for me was to let her make the plans herself. Once we established that I was an observer who could drop a few hints but not take over, we were fine.

So what did I do?

First thing I did was make sure Jane had adequate, worldwide travel insurance.  After that I got her a credit card for emergencies on my account (she was too young at the time to get one of her own.)  My biggest worry however, was her vanishing without trace while I was too far away to help her. Thank goodness for the internet!  If they are travelling in major towns and cities there are plenty of internet cafes or some mobile phones allow emails. We arranged that she would send me an email when she was moving from her last address, with a note of the new address and an estimated timescale. The other good thing about emails is that you can write what you want to say without interruption or argument and the reader has the time to think about your message before jumping in with an argument. We had some fantastic email conversations while she was away. She also uploaded photos as she travelled so I got to see a bit of her journey.

But what if things go wrong?

Before they go, take a photocopy of their passport, travel insurance, etc. If they will let you, get internet access to their bank accounts. It’s not about being nosey. If they go missing you can pinpoint where and when the cards were used. If they drive, get them to take their driving license or a provisional for extra id. Otherwise they need to carry their passports to get into pubs, clubs, etc, and if they loose it then it can have many complications.  A moneybelt with some spare cash and a bank card is a good move too. If you have to send money in an emergency, the easiest way is by Western Union. You can do it online and it only takes a few minutes. There are branches all over the world and they will find one for you as close as possible to your child.

Is there a bright side to all the worrying?

There are a lot of positives from your child going travelling. They may still come to the bank of mum and dad, but having to think for themselves and make the effort to meet and greet complete strangers will give them a maturity that they will not get at home. As a mature student myself, I can see a massive difference in the students who move into university straight from home compared to the ones who have gone out and got a bit of life experience.  Be warned, though. Once the travel bug bites it can last a long time. 4 years on, having gone to art college in between travels, I am proud to say that my runawayjane has made a career for herself because of her adventures. I will never stop worrying about her when she travels, but then I would do that if she was on a night out back home in Edinburgh…

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