How To Prevent Your Kids From Getting Lost (And Other Travel Safety Tips)

Despite my best intentions, I make mistakes. In most cases the mistakes are minor, like forgetting to remind my kids to brush their teeth before bed. But other times, the mistakes can be serious, like leaving my five-year-old son stranded at a bus stop in Rome, and having him experience getting lost.

In travel, unexpected things can arise. And sometimes they’re not always positive ones. In the last eleven months, we’ve dealt with some pretty scary situations.

In Mexico City, my husband almost had carbon monoxide poisoning. Another time, in Puerto Angel, my daughter fell down the stairs in the middle of the night and had to get stitches on her head. And now here in Italy, we had a lost child in Rome!

This post was updated on May 27, 2020.

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Walking in Parma, Italy (June 2019)

Our child's experience getting lost in Rome

This happened during the end of a busy day of sight-seeing in Rome. Waiting at a crowded bus stop near Trevi Fountain, my husband and I were keen to return to our Airbnb and rest for the night. When the bus arrived, we all hurried onboard, following the flow of passengers onto the bus. The doors closed, and off we went.

Once onboard, I looked around to make sure my kids were close to us. I was holding my daughter’s hand, but I didn’t see my son.

“Where is he?” I asked my husband, looking around quickly. Neither my husband nor I saw him on the bus. We had left him at the bus stop!

The bus was already about a block away. We knew we had to act quickly. My husband, daughter, and I hurried to the front of the bus, and asked the bus driver, in our broken Italian, to open the door. The three of us rushed onto the sidewalk and raced back to the bus stop where we had been waiting just minutes before.

Standing there at the bus stop was my son, crying his eyes out. An Italian woman was trying to console him. We immediately picked him up in our arms, apologizing to him for leaving him there. And we thanked the woman profusely for keeping him company.

Having a lost child is scary, and we’re thankful that the situation hadn’t been worse.  

Our kids riding the bus in Rome (May 2019)

Children getting lost during travel

It’s not always possible to predict what will happen. But it is possible to prepare. There were a series of things my husband and I could have done to keep our son from getting lost, but in the hecticness of that moment, we forgot many of them.

A lot of parents think kidnapping is an issue when you travel. But in all honestly, the likeliness of that happening to your child while you’re traveling is slim. Most kidnappings happen close to home, by people that know the child, rather than strangers.

The more common concern for parent is experiencing your child getting lost. This can often happen in busy situations, when there is a lot of people. And it is compounded when you’re in an unfamiliar environment.

Either you or your child ends up getting lost amidst a sea of people, and before you know it, the two of you are separated. It’s happened to every parent at least once in their lives.

Posing for a photo near the Colosseum (May 2019)

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What to do when you experience your children getting lost

Travel safety for kids is an important matter. If your child ends up getting lost, stay calm and think with a clear head. Retrace your steps, like we did. If you travel with a partner, and you have multiple kids, have one parent look for the lost child while the other parent stays put with their siblings.

Before traveling to a new country, research the emergency phone numbers for that country. In Mexico, as in the United States, the emergency number is 9-1-1. However, in Europe, the emergency phone number is 1-1-2 or 1-1-3. If you’re traveling to a country where English is not spoken, research what the word for “police” is in that country.

One of the travel safety tips I’ve heard is to take at least one photo of your child each day when you travel. That way you know what that child is wearing on that particular day, and you have a photo to show the police.

Other parents dress their kids in specific colors each day. That way they can identify what color clothes their lost child was wearing. Still, other parents carry walkie-talkies for their kids. In any case, it’s up to you, as the parent, to figure out the best precautions to take to prevent your child from getting lost.

A man walking with a kid preventing him from getting lost
Walking through the Vatican City (May 2019)

Other travel safety tips for families

Practicing travel safety for kids isn’t as difficult as you might think. There are a few other simple things that you can do ahead of time to keep your kids safe during travel, and to help them avoid getting lost. Here are some more of our travel safety tips for families.

1. Have a game plan

The best tip for travel safety for kids is to have a game plan. Before your trip, sit down with your kids and make sure they know what they need to do if they end up getting lost. We advise our kids to stay put. And if our kids see someone in a police uniform, we advise our kids to tell them that they are lost. We also talk with our kids about what they should do if we get separated in public transportation, like what happened with us on the bus in Rome.

Man at a subway standing next to kids to prevent them from getting lost
Waiting for the metro in Rome (May 2019)

2. Agree on a safe word

One of our other travel safety tips is to have a safe word. We have a special word that is meaningful to our family, that we’ll say to our kids if there’s an emergency. They know that if we say that word, they need to come with us, no questions asked, and follow our directions. They also know that if a grown-up they don’t know comes up to them when they’re alone and says that they know us, the grown-ups need to say the safe word first. This is something we try and reinforce and practice with our kids whenever we can.

Exploring the Colosseum (May 2019)

3. Make sure your kids know your full names

Another thing that I’ve reinforced with my kids, ever since they could talk, is knowing our full names. This way, they can go up to a police officer and identify who their parents are. When your children get older, you can also have them memorize your phone numbers. But if they’re young, just knowing your full name is helpful. We always try and make it into a game, asking them what their name is, and then asking them what our name is. That way, our kids won’t know that we’re actually drilling them.

Posing at the Trevi Fountain (May 2019)

4. Keep a head count

I used to work in child care, and one of the things we did to keep the kids we were responsible for from getting lost was to constantly keep a head count. As a parent, this is now one of my most important travel safety tips. Just like I’m always counting my bags when I travel, I also count my kids. For me, it’s pretty simple since I have two, but this is especially important if you have three, four, five, or more kids that you travel with.  

Man walking in the Vatican holding a kid's hand to prevent him from getting lost
Using the buddy system in crowded areas (May 2019)

Preventing your kids from getting lost in the future

Making sure you practice travel safety for kids is important to keep your kids from getting lost when you travel. And having a game plan when you do have a lost child is doubly important. Make sure you practice your plan and any prevention procedures you may have with your kids. They’re just as responsible for their safety as you are.

Have you lost a child during travel? Share your experience, as well as your tips for travel safety, in the comments below.

Are you itching to dive into a big family travel adventure? Use my ebook, Hey Kids, Let’s Go Travel! as a resource for tools, advice, and action steps for planning your trip.

How To Prevent Your Kids From Getting Lost (And Other Travel Safety Tips) | The Wandering Daughter |

Tips for practicing travel safety for kids. How to avoid your child getting lost when you travel.
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