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Travel Lesson Learned: Heathrow Airport, London, England 1971

Although the following example of a “lesson learned” occurred 38 years ago, the same principle holds true:  If you are travelling with a young child, put a business card in their possession (pocket, shoe, etc.) or a personalized dog tag around their neck with contact information in case they get lost.

While travelling back to Saudi Arabia in 1971, my mom, brother and I had a layover at London’s Heathrow Airport.  There was an Irish Republican Army bomb scare at our terminal, and everybody was forced to evacuate the airport.  Upon return to the terminal (after all was deemed “safe”) we were told to collect our luggage for inspection, as all flights were cancelled for the day.  The lines were tremendous and havoc ensued.

My mom had to collect our luggage, find us a new flight back to Saudi and check-in accordingly.  Her hands were full with our overnight suitcases/carry-on bags, passports and tickets -- not to mention two children (ages 2 and 3).  She told my brother and me to hold onto her skirt while she handled the luggage, tickets and passports -- she was obviously preoccupied with arranging our travel logistics home.

The lines were crazy with people pushing, yelling and arguing.  Upon checking that her kids were still holding on to her skirt as directed, my mom realized that I was gone.  The crowding and pushing had caused me to break away from the safety of her “skirt tails.”  I was lost.

I don’t need to describe the psychological trauma of losing a child during a bomb scare in a foreign country, but this scenario could become a reality for anybody today – kids sometimes get lost.  Luckily, my mother found me within ten minutes…but I hate to think about the consequences had she not. 

My son has travelled abroad with us since he was six months old, and I ALWAYS place some form of identification on him – a business card with cell phone numbers, hotel addresses and email addresses.  Now that my son is older, I have instructed him that should he get “lost” he is to provide an adult (ideally in a police uniform) with his “identification” card so that the adult can contact us immediately.

Losing a child abroad can be more extreme than losing a child in your home country where the language, culture and surroundings are somewhat familiar.  Do yourself and your child a favor by providing them with a simple ID card or necklace to help them out of an emergency situation.

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