What to do if you get separated while traveling

Every parent’s worst nightmare is getting separated from their children while traveling, whether it’s losing them in a crowd or having them run off toward something shiny. And as much as we travel, and as much as we know we need to have a plan, even we forget sometimes. Which prompted this story as a reminder of simple precautions to take should you and your children lose sight of each other.

Thankfully, we didn’t actually get separated in this story. But the subway tried its best.

The Doors Will Not Reopen.

We were in Paris and getting on the Metro first thing one morning. The train was already in the station and our children (13 and 10) just jumped on the subway car before we (the parents) could get inside…properly, that is.

I got an arm and a leg in just as the doors closed on me. My husband was behind and grabbed the doors Superman style to pry them apart so we could get in. It wasn’t easy, and we are pretty strong, so there was a bit of a struggle as we freaked out that we may not see our children again if we couldn’t get the doors to open for us. The children looked on in shock, and the Parisian’s gasped in their beautiful French way (though none got up to help…) What seemed like a 5 minute struggle was probably just 20 seconds before we could get the door open, jump in, and settle into our seats. We immediately derided ourselves for not having made a plan beforehand. If we had just taken a minute of our day to say: “If we get separated on the Subway, simply get off at the next station. We will meet you there.”

Public transportation is a great way to see a city, just remember to have a plan in case you get separated!

How to keep it (and everyone) together

Here’s our short list of things we’ve done to help us quickly and safely reunite should we be separated. Or, at least, things that have worked for us whether we were simply taking our kids to the fair or Disney, or hustling through a busy train station in a foreign country.

  • Everyone keeps a business card from the hotel in their bag or in their pocket. It’s an easy way to get back to the hotel if you don’t speak the language – just show a taxi driver the card.
  • If you have cellular service, write your phone number on your kids’ arms with a Sharpie. Make sure you write your number in with its country code. For example, the country code for a U.S. phone number is +1. So you’d write your number like this: +1-222-333-4444. Do NOT write your name or theirs, you don’t want a stranger being able to call your kid by their name or pretend they know you.
  • If you’re abroad, get a local SIM card for everyone’s phones so you can actually contact each other in the event someone gets lost. You only need data and a messaging app like Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, etc. (this doesn’t help with small children that don’t carry phones and can be complicated when there are technical difficulties, but that’s another post!)
  • Play the “what if” game and talk about what to do if something happens. Ask them, “What if we are in a store and you can’t find me?” Get your kids’ ideas about what to do – if they’re a part of figuring out what to do they’ll be more likely to remember what to do.
  • Set a meeting spot that everyone knows how to find, and go there if anyone gets lost. “If we get separated, meet at the Ferris Wheel / Front Door / 7-11 inside the train station.”
  • As a last resort, but not necessarily one that should be delayed, contact local authorities, store managers, or whomever is in a position to help. Here’s a list of emergency numbers (like 911 for the U.S.) for other countries.

It’s easy to get complacent after many prior successful travels with kids, but it’s a good thing to remind them each trip about safety precautions. Just ignore their eyerolls and I knoooooooow mom’s. So, have a plan and enjoy the trip!

BTW, there are red buttons on the inside of the Paris Metro car doors that, in the event the doors shut on you (or anyone else), can be pressed to open the doors. It only took us three days of riding the subway to figure that out!

What does your family do? Share your tips in the comments!

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