Mom feeling insecure about son's safety

q&a traveling alone

August 31, 2008|By McClatchy-Tribune

My 21-year-old son, who has never traveled alone, has bought a Eurail pass and will be heading across Europe, starting from Barcelona. I'd like him to travel with other Americans. Can you help?

Moms will always worry. But we're going to get you through this!

For advice (for your son) and peace of mind (for you), we consulted with two experts: Doug Lansky, who pretty much wrote the book on backpacking around the planet, and Amanda Webb of STA Travel, the world's largest student travel organization.

Lansky, who has traveled to 100 countries, reminds you to keep this trip in perspective.

"Your son isn't heading off to fight the drug cartels in the jungles of Colombia," Lansky e-mails from Sweden. "Europe with a Eurail pass is about as safe as independent travel gets.

"Traveling with a bunch of Americans isn't necessarily going to make him much safer, but it will make him stand out more and have a less cultural experience."

If your son stays in hostels, he is bound to meet others in his age range.

The Web site has user reviews of thousands of hostels worldwide. In Barcelona, for example, the top-rated HelloBCN Hostel offers 24-hour security, luggage storage, plus Wi-Fi and Internet access.

So he can check in and call, text or e-mail you to let you know he arrived OK before heading to the common area to make new friends.

Here is some safety advice for him:

* Pack light so you don't look like a target. "With less stuff and only a backpack (worn on your front in very crowded areas), you've got your hands free, are more mobile and have less to steal," says Lansky, author of Travel Survival for Rough Guides.

* Take along an international cell phone and a small first-aid kit with important phone numbers.

* Guard your stuff. "On overnight train rides, spoon with your backpack," Lansky says. Also, sleep with your passport pouch and take it to the shower with you at hostels.

* Don't carry too much cash. "Allow for taxi rides, food and souvenirs for the day, but always leave some behind safely secured at your hotel," Webb says.

* If, despite those efforts, everything gets stolen, don't worry, Mom. "You can use MoneyGram or Western Union to get cash to him within hours after he calls you collect," Lansky says. "And a new passport can be issued very quickly at U.S. embassies."

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