How to Stay Calm When Your Child Is Traveling, According to TripSavvy Parents

Pro tip: Avoid watching "Taken" at all costs

Illustration of text message between mom and child

We’re celebrating the joy of solo travel. Let us inspire your next adventure with features about why 2021 is the ultimate year for a solo trip and how traveling alone can actually come with amazing perks. Then, read personal features from writers who have traversed the globe alone, from hiking the Appalachian Trail, to riding rollercoasters, and finding themselves while discovering new places. Whether you’ve taken a solo trip or you’re considering it, learn why a trip for one should be on your bucket list.

For many parents, the thought of their child traveling alone—especially for the first time—brings up a complex mix of emotions. Fear, anxiety, excitement, pride, you name it. Even seasoned travelers who have explored the world on their own can't help but worry when it's time for their kids to travel on their own. But it doesn't have to be that way. As a team of travel pros, the parents of Team TripSavvy have a lot of experience with solo traveling kids—here's what they had to say about staying calm while your child is off on their own. (The first tip is to avoid watching "Taken" at all costs, trust us.)

Editor Ellie Storck with her parents

Courtesy of Ellie Storck

Sharing My Location Gives My Traveler Parents Peace of Mind

My parents both got a taste for solo travel via epic cross-country road trips in the 1970s, which explains why I love them—the '70s, road trips, and my parents—so much. 

“My first really impactful solo experience was in 1975, the year after I graduated from high school,” my dad said with a grin. “I took a gap year and worked and did various things. And one of the things I did was get on a train to cross the country to San Francisco to visit my sister." Starting in New York, he spent three days crossing the country on his own. "It was a lot of fun because there were a lot of young people on the train and we all kind of glommed together into a unit. We took over the viewing car, which was double-decked, and sat on the top deck with all the views, and we just camped out there—slept there, ate there, hung out, played music.” 

My mom’s first solo trip was more of the explore-the-wild-west ilk. “I never was traveling alone until college when I went to Windham in Putney, Vermont,” she told me. “When I was done with college and moved home to Annapolis, I drove with a friend through Colorado and to the southwest. We stayed with friends here and there as we drove. We had to drive through the desert at night, so the car didn’t overheat.”

Even though they have considerable experience, as a woman traveling around the world on my own, it comes as no surprise that my parents get nervous. “I never worried about you doing well with decision making,” said my mom, “but rather running into someone who would take advantage of you.” My dad had similar concerns a la Liam Neeson’s "Taken:" "As a father, I imagined all the worst-case scenarios. But I knew that I had a lot of confidence in you, so I wasn’t that worried beyond the usual stuff.”

He and I reminisced about when we figured out how to use the location sharing settings on our phones when I traveled to Japan alone two years ago. That technology made it simple for them to know where I was at all times, and it was pretty funny getting a text from him saying, “Oh, wow, you’re at the base of Mount Fuji!” —Ellie Nan Storck, hotel editor

Photo of editor Astrid Taran as a child with her mother

Courtesy of Astrid Taran

I Send My Mom Selfies From My Location

My mom was a prolific traveler throughout her twenties, so she’s always encouraged me to travel as much as possible. But when I started traveling solo, she definitely had some reservations. “I need to be able to contact you at all times,” I remember her telling me before one of my first solo trips. “So make sure to answer my texts immediately.” Like many parents, my mom is constantly concerned about my whereabouts. Add in the potential factor of me being in a different country—let alone a country where I didn’t speak the native tongue—and she was more than a little antsy. When I asked her why she needed constant text updates from me, she replied, “So I can make sure you’re alive.”

In 2005, 18-year-old American teenager Natalee Holloway disappeared on a high school trip to Aruba. You couldn’t turn a television on or open a newspaper and not hear about it. At the time, I was a young teenager myself and had already been bitten hard by the travel bug. Natalee’s disappearance and its subsequent international news coverage was a dark shadow cast upon millions of American teens. I remember a group of parents protesting a high school class trip to Italy that spring, terrified to let their children out of sight. Before heading off on weekend road trips with friends, my mom would ask me to write down the name of where I’d be staying and make me promise to call promptly upon my arrival. 

These days, things have changed. I have a cell phone, which is constantly at my side. “The digital age has its benefits,” my mom conceded. When she traveled through Europe in the ‘80s, she wrote letters home every week, dropping them off at the consulate. “I would send my mother photos of all the places I’d been,” she said. It took me a second to realize she meant physical photos. “So she would know I’m okay.” Today, I’m able to send my mom a selfie from my location in a matter of seconds—no need to wait for photos to develop. It’s the least I can do to grant her peace of mind. —Astrid Taran, senior audience editor

Photo of editor Taylor McIntyre with her parents

Courtesy of Taylor McIntyre

Regularly Scheduled Contact Is a Must for My Parents

I took my first solo trip right after college, where I backpacked for a year, on my own, through 30 different countries in Europe. That was the first time I left the country, save for a quick road trip to Canada with my friend. Before the trip, I remember my parents being visibly nervous but trying to put on a brave face that would often break as I hopped from one country to the next. 

"We were nervous and frightened the whole time," my mom said. Of course, my dad referenced "Taken" and how, if I were put in danger, he was no Liam Neeson. I asked if they didn’t want me to do that trip. My dad paused. "No, no. I always raised you to be independent and to live out your dreams. I wanted you to do it," he said, "but I was nervous for you.”

Even now, they still get nervous when I travel, but, according to them, it’s a parent thing, and one day, I will understand. “As a parent, you always have that feeling. Even when your brother goes out driving somewhere, it’s just a parent thing.” 

My mom said what helped her keep it together during that year was hearing from me, whether that was a long-distance call or a post on Facebook. Her advice for other parents in her shoes?  “Make sure they have an international phone plan and set up regularly scheduled contact.” As for my dad, his sage words were, "Don't travel alone. Get a buddy." —Taylor McIntyre, visual editor

Photo of editor Sherri Gardner with her father

Courtesy of Sherri Gardner

I Establish Codewords in Case I Need to Subtly Ask for Help

Much like me, my parents are worriers. Like the kind of worry where if I take too long to respond to a text or miss a phone call without advance warning, my parents assume I'm incapacitated. So when I left out on my first solo trip in South Korea, I needed to send my flight itinerary and hotel reservation as well as call them at least once a day, every day. And even then, my parents, especially my dad, found it difficult to relax completely until I was back home.

I was surprised to learn that he was worried even when we traveled together. As a disclaimer, he did confess to watching "Taken" dozens of times in the two years between the film's release and our first international trip and it definitely didn't help that we were going to Paris, where the movie was set. While walking the streets of Paris he "kept looking around like 'No one's gonna snatch my baby.'"

When asked what advice he has for worried parents, he says "number one is to set out your safe words so that kids can let their parents know that something's wrong without saying outright that something is wrong. It's also important to understand why they want to go where they want to go." This desire to understand manifested itself as intense interrogations about what neighborhoods would I be exploring, had I researched crime rates, where I would be staying, what is it like for single women there, what would I do if I lost my passport, and so on, and so on. It was frustrating for me but these conversations gave whenever him peace of mind that I did my due diligence.

But his most important tip for soothing parental anxiety? "Give them experiences when they're younger. I don't think I could've survived you going to Korea if we hadn't done Paris and if you hadn't gone to Cuba or studied in London. Each individual trip along the way builds up experience that you can use when you go on the next one." —Sherri Gardner, associate editor

Photo of editor Laura Ratliff as a child with her father

Courtesy of Laura Ratliff

My Parents Are More Afraid of My Everyday Life—Go Figure

When I first wanted to ask my parents about their thoughts on this story, I couldn't get ahold of them for three days. Odd perhaps to some, but to me, this was entirely normal.

You see, almost two years ago, my parents retired, sold their suburban home in Dallas, and bought a 37' RV that would become their new home. Since then, they've traversed the country, rarely spending more than a week or two in one place, except during peak pandemic, where they stayed put in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Perhaps their largely off-grid travels are simply a way to get back at me for jet-setting throughout my late teens and 20s? Not so, said my dad. "Honestly, I worried the most about you when you moved to New York City," he admitted. That move—which occurred over a decade ago—has been followed by more than 400,000 miles of travel, much of it solo, that clearly hasn't bothered them a bit. (And, no, he no longer worries about my life in New York City, although he does worry about me driving the car I purchased last year instead of walking or taking the subway.)

The only other time he admitted to worrying when I was on the road? "It's kind of corny," he said, "but when you went to Paris when you were 15. It was just after Sept. 11, and the whole world seemed a little in flux... But I knew you would go and be fine." Little did he know that even I, the brave, smug teen, was a little nervous on that trip too, but of course, I never would've admitted it at the time. —Laura Ratliff, senior editorial director