Surviving schoolies: a guide for parents

Schoolies. For school leavers it’s the let-your-hair-down rite of passage keenly anticipated all year. For their parents, the very word is filled with dread – especially when it involves a foreign country.

Every November mums and dads across Australia find themselves asking, “Just how much common sense does my child possess?”

But, even for parents who can confidently answer “plenty”, first-time international travel can be a daunting challenge for kids fresh out of school. Combine peer pressure with cheap alcohol and/or drugs and there are enough pitfalls to bring any youthful high flyer crashing to earth.

Of course, those pitfalls are afoot at Australia’s schoolies hotspots, too.

So, having failed to convince their son or daughter to celebrate in Australia, what can parents do to ensure their child makes it home safe and healthy from what for most will be their first overseas trip alone?

Surprisingly, perhaps, the answer again is “plenty”.


Tip 1 – Give them a healthy head start to travel

You may not be able to give you child an injection of common sense or one for good luck, but you can make sure they’ve had the basic travel vaccines to protect them against the common infectious diseases to be found in tropical and sub-tropical developing countries.

Hepatitis A and B, and typhoid may be recommended for many of the popular schoolies destinations in Asia and the Pacific. A flu shot is advised for all travellers, and their immunisation status for polio, measles, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) should be checked in case a booster is required. If malaria is a risk, preventative medication should be considered.

Allowing 6 weeks before departure to make these medical preparations is the ideal, but even at the proverbial ‘last minute’ it’s possible to give young travellers effective protection. (It’s worth remembering that these vaccinations are not only effective but long-lasting. They’ll protect for future journeys, too.)  Call the Travelvax Australia advisory service (1300 360 164) for country-specific information and more good advice. You can also book a pre-travel consultation.


Tip 2 - Invest in travel insurance – it’s a must

Medicare does not cover medical expenses overseas and the cost of repatriating a sick or injured traveller from any overseas country can be ruinously expensive. These days, a bill of $100,000-plus is by no means uncommon.

In fact, in Asia (and much of the world), hospitals will not treat foreign visitors unless they have medical insurance* or someone guarantees payment for medical services. This usually falls to a family member back home (that’s you).

So, as a parting gift, invest in travel insurance with a reputable insurer like Covermore and be sure it includes cover for medical expenses and medical evacuation, as well as covering the theft of valuables, baggage damage and flight disruptions. (*Thailand and Bali have announced plans to impose a medical levy on inbound visitors.)


Tip 3 – Treat them to a travel first-aid kit

A travel first-aid kit is a must for treating the inevitable blisters, cuts and abrasions. Make it an early Christmas present.

Importantly, the kit should also include medication for self-treating common ailments like traveller’s diarrhoea and antibiotics for treating mild fevers. Your Travelvax doctor or GP can recommend medication that’s right for your child and their destination. (Travelvax Australia offers a range of first-aid kits developed for travellers. They also include medical sharps for emergencies.)

Again, a travel first-aid kit is an essential accessory your child can keep topping up and taking on future trips.


Other things to slip in their bag…

Insect repellent – Biting insects are more than annoying: In tropical regions mosquitoes transmit diseases like malaria, Japanese encephalitis, dengue fever and Chikungunya fever. One of the most basic things travellers (of any age) can do to protect their health is minimise insect bites by using an insect repellent containing an effective active ingredient, such as DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Applying repellent throughout the day protects against the day-time mosquito that spread Dengue fever and Chikungunya fever, while an application just before sunset safeguards travellers during the peak mozzie feeding time and for several hours into the evening. In budget accommodation, it’s also worth bringing your own permethrin-impregnated bed net to sleep under.

Sunscreen – The sun is fiercer in the tropics than it is in Australia. Sunscreen needs to be applied regularly.

Condoms – Unsafe sex can lead to sexually transmitted infections that may be life-long, even life-threatening.  Studies have consistently shown that 50-70% of casual sexual encounters during travel are unprotected, so young travellers should be encouraged to carry good quality condoms from Australia. It’s also worth reminding teens that blood-borne diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C can also be spread through tattoos and body-piercings


Finally, have THE TALK: “You’re on your own, baby”

Like most responsible parents, you probably tried to convince your child – especially those not quite 18 – to celebrate in Australia, where the laws and support network are familiar and help is at hand in an emergency.

But, a big part of the learning curve that comes with overseas travel is self-reliance and every traveller – regardless of their age – needs to know that the safety net they could normally rely on at home is suddenly gone when they step off the plane in a foreign country.

It often comes as a harsh lesson for young travellers that the assistance available to them from Australia’s consular officials overseas is very limited. They quickly learn that consular officials will not pay medical bills and can’t get them out of jail.

That said, young travellers should register their travel plans and contact details with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and put the number of the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra (+61 2 6261 3305) in their mobile or diary. In the event of trouble, they can at least get basic help and advice.

The department’s Smartraveller website has loads of excellent advice and information on the most popular schoolies destinations, including the smart things to do (and NOT do) when partying overseas. It’s well worth exploring.

Contact Travelvax Australia’s travel health advisory service (1300 360 164) for country-specific information and advice, including possible immunisations, for overseas travel. You can also make an appointment to have vaccinations completed in a consultation with a team of medical professionals experienced in travel medicine.