Family Travels and Unaccompanied Children

There’s something rather nice about returning home from travelling, even if home is in a foreign country. It’s a feeling of having survived a mission during which so much could have gone wrong.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, getting out of the door is something I find especially stressful. The night before we left on our trip I erased our booking details from my computer without printing a copy, which caused stress levels to go through the roof.

This alone would have been enough to cause a sleepless night, but anxiety levels increased after receiving a frantic text from a friend. She had left town the day before us and driven from The Hague down to Calais to catch the cross-channel ferry. On arrival at the port she discovered her eldest daughter had forgotten her passport.

She had to schedule a later sailing and drive back home (three hours each way on a good run) to collect the forgotten passport. I assume with much venting en route.

Now, mothers with younger children will roll their eyes at my friend for not having taken control of the passport in the first place. All I can say to these mothers is, ‘you wait’.

There comes a time when children have to take responsibility for themselves. In this case, the young adult in question will be going to university in a few months, in a different country to the one in which she and her family are currently living. She will have a lot more to worry about than her passport.

I imagine her mother asked at least ten times, ‘You have your passport, right?’ to which the default response would have been,

‘Yeh – of course I have. It’s here, exactly where it was the last time you asked,’ accompanied by much eye-rolling and deep sighs. Sometime between then and leaving the house it would have been put down for a second and forgotten.

At some point you have to make sure they are responsible, if not totally for themselves, then at least for something beyond their iPod or 3D-DS.

In our family we would hand younger children their passports prior to going through passport control and collect them in immediately afterwards. This so they could experience what to do and how to behave, without the responsibility of looking after passports for the entire trip.

Joe and Missy have travelled trans-Atlantic together, and solo, from Missy being aged nine, usually with passports in a clear plastic cover hanging from a lanyard around their necks and this always worked well.

On these flights they travelled as ‘Unaccompanied Minors‘ and were in the care of the airline, but were expected to be responsible too. Their travel was complicated as they had two flights to get to Europe – New Orleans, our then home, has no direct international flights to anywhere.

During one flight through Newark Airport (New York) I received a phone call from Joe – the children had extensive training in collect calls in the days before we all had cell phones – who had managed to escape Airline Custody and was shopping in the airport on his own and did I need anything picking up? I managed to remain calm.

‘No, but thank you for asking darling. Why are you shopping on your own and where exactly is your sister right now?’

‘Oh, she’s fine. She’s met some nice girls her age who are flying to Paris. They managed to break out too and have gone to MacDonald’s. I’m meeting up with them later after I’ve had a look around.’ He sounded very bright as if he was having a fabulous time. ‘Although you know, Mom, I really think you should make a complaint to the airline, they really don’t seem to be making too much effort to keep an eye on us.’

He promised to go and find Missy immediately and take all the girls back to Airline Prison and stay there. He was twelve, she was ten. They told me afterwards the stewardesses were furious when they all got back – I can only hope those responsible realised the enormity of ‘what might have happened’ and such jail-breaks never occurred again.

I can look back now without wanting to throw up, call the police or sue the airline – at the time I was beside myself at the thought of them wandering around a major airport on their own. That was the last time they flew completely alone – we made sure they travelled with a family member or people we knew after that. Part of me is blown away by their being so fearless and brave – if you can overlook the danger they were open to, which of course I can’t, and may be partly responsible for my recurring nightmares.

We also had friends whose 18-year-old son took a direct flight from the USA to Germany, parents putting him on the plane at one end and family meeting him off at the other. Somehow during the flight he lost his passport and, on arrival, was held by the German immigration services for six hours until they could resolve the situation.

Meanwhile parents and family were frantic wondering how he could have dissappeared, with no information passed to them by anyone for the whole six hours.

Having also misplaced his cell-phone on the flight the young man was unable to tell the authorities the name of the family members meeting him or where he would be staying whilst in the country. I can see the powers that be would have found the story a tad dubious. We are amazed he could remember his own name.

Why the authorities didn’t venture into the arrivals hall and ask if anyone was looking for an eighteen-year-old arriving from the States we never discovered, we can only assume they found the situation beyond belief. Obviously they were not the parents of teens.

We are relieved to be home safely with no major incidents, although there was a slight problem on the ferry to Hull. A blocked toilet on deck ten caused awful problems for many people, if the resulting public announcements throughout the evening were anything to go by.

There was also a considerable delay in disembarking, which we assumed was due to increased security for the Royal Wedding later this week. We sat on the tarmac of a fenced parking lot for over an hour. Harry mused that our situation was like that of a fish floating in a plastic bag acclimatizing to a new aquarium. We did begin to wonder if he had a point.

It turned out we were not being acclimated to England at all, but the ‘dirty bomb scanner’ had malfunctioned and was being replaced.

All-in-all a safe and stress-free trip, what more could we ask?

We’re unpacked, the laundry’s in the washing machine and we’re going to sit down and have a nice cup of tea… before the Captain re-packs his suitcase and heads off the States…

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
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6 Responses to Family Travels and Unaccompanied Children

  1. Parents of teens can definitely relate! You do your best, teaching them, explaining things to them, showing them, modeling behavior, and at the end of the day they still have to ‘learn’ it for themselves. As someone whose teen son has ‘lost’ two pairs of (expensive) running shoes in on school year (likely on public transportation), I feel the pain. You’d think at some point the authorities would’ve figured out that the 18 year old they were holding wasn’t quite up to ‘spy/terrorist’ standards!!

  2. Jane says:

    Delightful 🙂

    Now sitting here reminsicing about r, c & p’s various traveling adventures…

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