Family Travel Safety Tips
Travel Safety is a primary concern of most parents as they take their children away from home - away from doors which can be locked, away from gated yards and stairwells, and away from near-by medical care.
I know when we travelled across Australia with our 2, 4 and 6 year old children, our parents were most anxious about travel safety. How would we keep their grandchildren safe? (...We were a little apprehensive ourselves, after all, it was hard enough keeping them safe within the confined boundaries of our home and yard!).
How would we go with cliffs, snakes, strangers and so on, not to mention the constant need for supervision. We would have no safe yard to just 'send them out to play' for a few minutes while we had a break.
Fortunately, to our parents great relief, we have brought their 3 grandchildren safely home to them after each of our adventures, (although not completely without incident - see below), so we'll share some of the things we have learnt about travel safety along the way.
Please note that this is not a comprehensive travel safety guide, simply some tips that we hope can help others to keep their children safe.
Travel Safety: In the Car
1. Seatbelts. Legally, and morally, for your childrens' safety, seatbelts must ALWAYS be worn. This was highlighted to us when we happened upon an accident on a recent trip. 4 children (and their parents) walked away from a 4WD which flipped and rolled while overtaking a truck. Fortunately all were wearing seatbelts, and received only very minor injuries.
Try teaching this song to your small children (to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star):
"Twinkle twinkle little star,
I wear my seatbelt in the car.
If my Mum & Dad forget,
I remind them it's not done up yet.
Twinkle twinkle little star,
I wear my seatbelt in the car."
2. Carseats. Legally, there is a minimum age and weight below which children MUST be seated in an approved carseat. Consider using these seats for longer than that minimum age / weight because they offer increased protection if an accident occurs.
Be careful of booster seats and where the seatbelt lies - is the seatbelt positioned across the child's neck or chest? Although carseats can be expensive, for us, it is a non-negotiable item of expenditure. What price your child's travel safety??
TIP: Parent Sanity Saver: In the past we've found that the minute we take off in the car, we immediately receive requests, and usually from more than one child at once: "Can you please turn the radio up?" "Can we change the CD?" "Where are my sunglasses?" And often the standard: "I'm hungry".
So in response to the distraction and kafuffle that this causes, we now have a "5 minute rule". This gives a 5 minute settling in period where no one is allowed to ask for anything. This aids in minimising distractions for the driver (and assists in keeping the sanity of everyone!)
Travel Safety: The Sun
Sunburn is painful and can result in both short and long-term damage to your body. Some suggested precautions (for you and your children):
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat or a legionnaires cap (to protect your face and neck). Hats with toggle ties are a good idea so that they don't keep blowing off on windy days.
- Concentrate your outdoor time to before 10am and after 3pm when the sun is not beating down so fiercely.
- If you must be in the sun, cover up as much as possible:
- Long-sleeved cotton shirts or long-sleeved rash vests (in the water).
- Use board shorts rather than bikini bottoms or speedos.
- Seek out shaded areas or use an umbrella or shade tent when possible.
- Use sunscreen or zinc cream (and remember to re-apply regularly - especially after swimming).
Travel Safety: The Water
Be extra vigilant in supervising children around water. Accidents, including drowning, can happen extremely fast.
Travel Safety: The Beach
- Investigate possible dangers specific to the beach or area you are in. For example, crocodiles, box jellyfish, bluebottles, sharks. In many parts of Australia it is dangerous to swim at beaches at certain times of the year.
- If the beach is patrolled, swim between the flags.
- Carefully assess the conditions and your child's abilities. Does the sand drop away leaving deep water? Are the waves large and breaking? Could I save myself or my child if there is problem or are there others who could?
- Check for dangerous currents and rips, and beware of rocks hidden below the water surface.
Travel Safety: Rivers and Waterholes
- A major danger of rivers and waterholes is that you usually cannot see far below the water surface.
- Never dive into a river or waterhole before carefully checking for submerged trees or other objects, and always check the depth.
- Consider using secure bouyancy vests with any children who are not strong swimmers. If a child happens to go under the water for any reason, they are extremely difficult to locate quickly in murky water. Is it worth the risk?
- Check for currents, rivers can be deceptively fast flowing.
- Some waterholes and rivers can be extremely cold. Cold water can cause the bloodflow in your body to slow, and your limbs and brain to not respond how they normally would. Be careful of swimming far from land in these cold conditions.
Travel Safety: In the Bush and Bushwalking
Most of the risks associated with spending time in the bush and bushwalking can be minimised by thoughtful preparation. Some tips to help keep you safe:
- Always tell someone where you are going and when you will return (someone you trust to follow up on you if you didn't return as planned!)
- Be careful of temperature differences between where you are leaving from, and your destination.
We were caught out the day we climbed Mt. Kosciuszko - leaving Thredbo on a beautiful, sunny morning in February, and reaching the peak of Kosciuszko where it was sleeting and around zero degrees.
With virtually no rain protection and nowhere near enough warm clothing, we only managed a quick photo at the top, followed by a very rapid descent. (Luckily the sun came back out about 30 minutes later so we could dry out, and the children could stop complaining!)
So, be prepared with clothing suitable for all possibilities, including being stuck overnight.
- In hot climates, try to walk early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Short walks could be attempted in mid-late afternoon.
- Obviously, carry plenty of water - much more than you would normally drink. Coast dwellers are often quite surprised just how much extra water your body requires in the low humidity environment of outback Australia.
Children can carry a drink bottle attached to a lanyard around their neck or attached to a special belt. (This is useful to encourage them to drink whenever they are thirsty, and is essential if they happen to be separated from you for any reason).
- Another useful item for children to carry in the bush is a whistle. It doesn't cost or weigh very much, but can be a lifesaver if they become separated from you or require your attention in a hurry.
- Carry plenty of snacks and a suitably stocked first aid kit.
- To scare snakes away, clap your hands or sing as you move along the path. They are as happy to avoid you as you are them!
- When walking along a cliff top or at the edge of a precipice, consider using some sort of leash on small children or on children who you aren't confident will obey your verbal warnings. I know it's not a real good look, but the alternative could be extremely devastating.
Travel Safety: In Public and / or Crowded Places
The general types of warnings given to children in a home environment should be gone over with children in the travelling environment.
Age appropriate warnings on topics such as strangers (or "unknown people"), sexual predators (inappropriate touching etc), and kidnapping, could be given.
Some other ideas:
- We make a habit of always accompanying our children to public toilets (even if it is the 10th time that day!). Perhaps older children could go in pairs.
- In campgrounds/caravan parks etc, we have a rule that our children do not go inside other peoples caravans or tents.
- Young children are not to go anywhere that we cannot physically see them. Older children could be given some extra freedom, and not go further than 'calling' distance.
One of the greatest risks in public or crowded places is children becoming separated from their parents. Obviously, it is better that this not occur, but these ideas could help 'just in case':
- As soon as your child is old enough, teach them their full name and phone number (preferably mobile phone).
- Have small children wear a whistle around their necks on the days when you know you will be in crowds. This could then be blown if you become separated.
- Make a mental note of what your children are wearing, so if they do become lost you will have a good description of them.
- For young children, write your mobile phone number on their arm in texta, then if someone finds them they can contact you immediately. I've seen plenty of parents do this with their children at theme parks.
- For older children, decide on a meeting place if you become separated. For example, at the entrance to an attraction, the front of a particular shop, back at the car. whatever place seems logical at the time.
Travel Safety: Conclusion
Keeping children safe as you travel is hard work. It requires constant vigilance and assessment of your new surroundings. Truly, a small lapse in attention can lead to disaster. So please, keep watching over your children, and protect them with all of the strength and wisdom you possess - they're worth it!.
Now, a confession. In the introduction to this page, I mentioned that our travels have not been without medical incident. So far, we have had three trips to hospital during our Australian adventures (one for each child, so none of them feel left out!):
1. Our youngest with an infected toe. A small cut soon became infected and required lancing at Paraburdoo Hospital (in the Pilbara region);
2. Our middle child developed severe croup around midnight in Broome, so we visited Broome Hospital (sorry to anyone we woke up as we drove off from our crowded campsite with a 'barking' child in the still of the night!)
3. Our eldest was checked for eye damage at Kununurra Hospital after being scratched in the eye by a stick. (He was holding a stick on a bushwalk, and he was bumped by another walker's backpack and the stick went into his eye).
Fortunately none of these incidents required much more than a few minutes in the hospital, although the Kunanurra one required an untimely 3hr round trip drive from El Questro Station! All these hospitals were wonderful, and only too happy to accept travellers.
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