Probably the biggest fear that travelers have is getting lost or separated from their group in a foreign country. If you’re a parent traveling with children, the thought of this can be even more stressful. Never fear, for after years of traveling in some of Asia’s most crowded and confusing cities, I’ve got several plans that have really worked for us:
1) Grab some maps.
Most airports stock free tourist maps in the Arrivals area. Pick up a few for the group, and be sure to circle the hotel/place of lodging on the maps.
2) Get a card.
Upon hotel check-in, make sure that everyone in your group/family gets a business card with the hotel’s address and phone number printed on it. These are usually displayed on the front desk, if not, ask for them. Carrying these insures that you can always find your way back to your lodging. Also great for directing taxi drivers if there’s a language barrier.
3) Take a picture.
More than ever, travelers are opting to book into Airbnb or other sorts of home-based stays. We recently did this on a trip to Shanghai. Since there were no hotel business cards, (as in point 1), we all used our cell phones to photograph the street signage and number for our place.
With children, it’s a great idea to put the address and also your cell contact numbers onto a small note. Tuck the paper into their pocket, and explain that if they do get separated from you, to stay put, you’ll be looking for them. God forbid this ever happens, but it’s good to have this plan in place.
4) Using the subway.
Navigating mass-transit can be tricky, especially if you’re traveling as a group, and during busy commuting periods. It’s very easy to become separated when boarding, if the carriages are full. As this particular situation has actually happened to us, we devised this plan:
* If anyone is left on the platform, (if the carriage doors close), then the ones left behind should stay put.
* At the next stop, the group/family should exit their carriage, and catch a train going back in the opposite direction.
* Collect the individual(s) that were left behind, and attempt to all board together again.
I know this seems like a crazy scenario, but it happened to us not once but twice over the years. Once, in Singapore, our two young kids were actually pushed out of an overstuffed train carriage! Luckily, we had already devised the above plan, so they knew to wait for us, and not panic.
5) In a crowded venue.
Large museums, vast historic sites, concerts, fairs, outdoor markets…all of these are prime areas to lose track of each other. So, upon entering, choose a central spot where a person should go if they are separated from the group. A distinctive storefront, bench, tree, light pole, flag post, sign…whatever. It really doesn’t matter, as long as everyone agrees that is the meeting point.
If a venue is very large and/or crowded, (like when we recently visited The Forbidden City), then stop along the way and choose a new meeting point. That way, if one person does get separated, the whole group does not need to backtrack all the way to the beginning.
6) Plan of attack.
Prior to the day’s touring or events, hold a short “meeting” of your group/family, to discuss the plan for the day, which modes of transport will be used, station names, and so on. Review all of this on a map, so that everyone has a bit of a visual orientation. Pre-planning can go a very long way in avoiding problems.
Finally, it’s very unlikely that these sorts of scenarios will occur. However, if something unfortunate does arise, it’s good to have these plans in place. At the very least they will give you a little peace of mind, because while travel is fun, it can also be stressful.
Happy – and safe – travels!