Is it safe for parents to travel without their kids?

By: Linda C. Brinson
It’s okay. You can have a great vacation and leave the kids at home -- with a little planning, of course.
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Nothing in life is certain, but with good preparation, most kids that stay home as mom and dad travel can be as safe as they would if their parents were with them.

Whatever their ages, the kids must be able to handle the parents' absence emotionally and physically. Children are individuals; parents must make informed judgments.


Parents should prepare children for their absence by talking with them about where they are going, why and for how long. They should make sure the kids understand the rules of the home. They should talk about basic safety precautions such as what to do if there's a fire or medical emergency, and how to call 911.

Choosing a caregiver is crucial. Younger children are usually better off with a person they're used to, maybe a close relative or regular babysitter. Before the parents leave, older children should at least meet the caregiver and understand that he or she will be in charge.

Toddlers and young children may be better off dealing with a caregiver in their family home. Older teenagers may want to stay at home, and they may balk at having any supervision at all. Most parents will want to have a close neighbor, relative or other responsible adult at least checking on teens regularly, especially at night.

Letting children attend sleepaway camp while the parents travel can work well. Most reputable camps know how to deal with homesick kids, but if you have any doubts, you might not want to go far away the first time your child heads to camp.

If the kids will be staying in the home, make sure it's well-stocked with first-aid supplies, over-the-counter medications, flashlights, batteries and other essentials. Let the caretaker know about any quirks with appliances, alarm systems and the like.

Making sure the caregiver has everything he or she needs is crucial. Parents should arrange to check in by phone -- daily if possible.

Traveling without the kids can be scary. It requires a lot of preparation, but the rewards can be great. To find out more, keep reading.


Benefits for Parents Traveling Without Their Kids

Family trips can be great fun, but traveling with the kids can be challenging. Mom and Dad may return from the trip exhausted, feeling that they need a real vacation before plunging back into their daily routine.

Many parents are afraid to leave their children while they travel. They may feel guilty, but careful preparation can help calm those fears. What's more, consideration of the benefits of kid-free travel ought to help parents get past the guilt. Modern family life is hectic and stressful. A cruise or other romantic getaway can do wonders for a couple. If parents feel overwhelmed by the demands of raising children, a few days apart can restore perspective.


Money matters, too. Parents may be able to swing a rare pricey trip for two. But if they throw in food, rooms, transportation and admission tickets for the kids, the price tag will soar. If the children aren't old enough to appreciate the destination or are teenagers who'd rather be with their friends, taking them along may be like throwing money away. It may be better to take a break from parenting and bring the kids a souvenir from your trip.

Single parents may debate whether to take the kids when traveling for business. Even if businesses provide childcare, having children along may end up being a distraction. Leaving the kids safely at home can free the parent to concentrate on business. And the single parent might enjoy the social opportunities that a few child-free days can provide.

Parents might consider leaving older teenagers home as a trial run. Teens old enough to drive often prefer not to go on family trips. They may not want to miss jobs, sports or other activities. Leaving teens home while parents travel can be a step toward their independence. In many cases, these teens will soon be off to college or otherwise away from home. Being home without parents for a few days may be a useful first step. Few states have laws specifying at what age teens can be left overnight, but common sense should rule.

Do teens need supervision? Many teens balk at the idea of a sitter, but they may accept a relative or family friend staying with them. Having a responsible neighbor or other adult check in a couple of times each day may be a reasonable alternative.

Besides unsupervised teens, what are the other perils of leaving the kids at home? Find out on the next page.


Problems with Parents Traveling Without Their Kids

It's only normal for traveling parents to worry about leaving their kids. Nightmare visions of a young Macaulay Culkin as frantic Kevin McCallister in the movie "Home Alone" come to mind. But Kevin was left home by mistake. Parents who have the chance to plan should be able to keep their kids as safe as they'd be at home.

Parents worry that their kids will get upset at the thought of being left alone. If a little one has separation anxiety, it might be better to wait until that phase is over before you travel. Choosing a sitter the child knows well and having the child stay at home might solve the problem. In the meantime, make sure the kids know your plans, especially when you'll return. Arrange daily phone conversations with them while you're gone. Be prepared for children to feel resentful when you return. In fact, they may misbehave until they settle back into the normal routine.


Choosing the right caregiver arrangement is essential. If you've chosen someone you can trust and given that person all the necessary information and resources, things should be fine. A fire, medical emergency or other disaster can happen no matter who's in charge -- including the parents. The best protection is preparation.

In fact, once they've prepared the kids for their departure, traveling parents need to focus on themselves. It's not just the stay-at-homes who might run into danger. Disasters can happen to the traveling parents as well.

Just in case, parents should prepare for the worst. They should talk with a lawyer and have wills in place that name a willing personal guardian for their children. It's also a good idea to name an alternate, just in case. The guardian should be chosen with careful thought about his or her ability to raise your children as you would want.

Parents may name another person as financial guardian. In any case, parents should make sure that they will leave adequate life insurance or other resources to provide for their children.

Lastly, parents also should arrange for situations in which they might return from a trip later than expected. If the caregiver wouldn't be able to continue for an extended time, the parents should have someone else reliable ready to step in. If they've decided to leave teenagers alone for a few days, they should have some other arrangement in place in case of a delayed return.

Traveling without the kids requires some thought and preparation, but it can be done. Bon voyage!


Lots More Information

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  • Kendrick, Carleton. "Teens Home Alone." (May 10, 2010)
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