I Sent My Daughter to New Zealand as an Unaccompanied Minor

posted in: Large Family, Travel | 43

I sent my 15 year old daughter to New Zealand as an unaccompanied minor.

When Adalia first called and asked me to send 15 year old Kalina to New Zealand for a visit, my initial answer was…No Way. New Zealand is, quite literally, half a world away. I’ve watched Taken and Red Eye. Send my beautiful teen daughter on a plane alone?

Um, no.

Then Adalia responded and told me she could travel as an unaccompanied minor. I had no idea they even did that for international fights. After a little bit of research, we decided to take the plunge. Here are a few things we did to make sure she was as safe as possible.

1.We didn’t tell people she was going. 

A few friends and family knew she was traveling to New Zealand, but that’s all. Even then, aside from our parents, I didn’t tell people what dates she was traveling. We kept it vague on purpose.  I asked all of Ben’s family to feel free to post on social media while she was there, but no posts referring to her traveling home (such as, “saying goodbye to Kalina at the airport”). Obviously,  I didn’t want people to know she was traveling alone.

2. Pay the Unaccompanied Minor Fee

We paid around $100 for her to be an unaccompanied minor. Strangely enough, it was perfectly legal for us to put her on a plane, at age 15, and let her travel to New Zealand alone. CRAZY! We chose to pay the extra fee for her to have unaccompanied minor status. This meant we handed her over to the airline staff and they were in charge of her until they handed her off to Adalia in New Zealand. She was given a wrist band with a sensor that they scanned at each checkpoint. I got regular text updates on her…when she boarded the plane, when she landed, when she had met up with Adalia, etc. They were very thorough and it felt quite secure. They wouldn’t hand her off to Adalia until they had checked her ID to verify her identiy. Once she was handed over, we got our final text. 

3. Education.

Kalina has read Protecting the Gift and we talk a lot about keeping safe and staying safe. We knew as an unaccompanied minor that she would be monitored the entire time from leaving our arms to reaching Adalia’s. 

All in all, it felt very safe and secure. I worried very little about her and she had the time of her life in New Zealand. Ben and Adalia (not to mention Ben’s family) made it a priority to spoil her. We paid for her plane ticket and they paid for all of her adventures.

4. Non-stop flight

We made sure Kalina had a direct flight. She flew from Vancouver, BC directly to Auckland. This cost us a little extra money and was inconvenient (we had to cross a border just to get her on the plane) but felt like this lessened any risk significantly. There was no way she could get lost or miss a flight. 

Here’s what Kalina had to say:

My favorite part was definitely surfing. And just hanging out with Adalia, we went dress shopping, got our nails done, just sat around the house… we stayed up talking all night too. The plane ride there was miserable, but I was too excited to care. On the way back I had a whole row to myself, and managed to seep most of the time. When I left home, it was like 8 at night and when I got to New Zealand it was super early in the morning, and the flight was 14 hours. Then somehow, I wasn’t tired at all, and we hung out all day, got Gelato and played tennis, jumped off a cliff… and then the next morning, when I woke up I checked the time, and it was nine. I was like “Wow! I slept in!” and then I realized it was American time… so really it was super early. When we actually added it up, I had gone like thirty-eight hours without sleep… I was super exhausted the second day, but I ended up going to work with Ben. We rode horses on the ranch where Lord of the Rings was filmed. 

All in all, she had the time of her life. Her days were packed with adventure and girl time with Adalia. We have no regrets about sending her and would do it in the future with another child. Next summer she will be headed off with Teen Missions, but she is already a seasoned world traveler.

Would you ever consider sending your child as an unaccompanied minor? At what age and how far away?

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43 Responses

  1. Sure.. never thought of it as a problem..You put them on the flight and as long as someone is there to meet them.. it is all good..the direct flight is the key.. (heck as an adult I would not want to change planes)
    .. We have friends in the Army who send their younger kids.. 5-6 year olds home from Germany to Grandmom and Grandpops in the states for the summer.. no biggie.

    sue in Jersey

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Since this was the first time we have faced this situation, or even considered it, it was a big deal. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it in the future, however.

  2. I just booked a ticket for my 8-year-old to travel by herself to visit her grandparents. It’s only a one-hour flight (Chicago to Ohio), the fee I paid comes with the same handoff that you had, and she’s flown several times with us, so I’m feeling comfortable that all will be fine. On the flip side, my 12-year-old will be taking the same trip on his own this summer and we decided not to pay the fee for him. We can escort him to the gate and he has his own cell phone. Again, it’s just a one-hour flight so I’m hoping that all will be well.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I would do one hour without a second thought. I bet your kids have the time of their lives!

  3. I just, two nights ago, sent my 15 year old on a mission trip to Mexico. She is in a border town near San Diego. She went with about 30 others but no family. I know she is fine. But I still can’t sleep well at night.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      We have done similar with Teen Missions, of course…going alone was my hang up with this trip…but it worked out beautifully.

  4. Sent my 17 year old son alone to Uganda to visit his sister for 3 weeks. I had many of the same qualms as you, but figured he was mature enough to go alone. We didn’t even know about the unaccompanied minor thing, but being he’s a boy, I didn’t have the same fears. I’d have hesitated a lot more sending one of my daughters alone!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      How cool! Yes, the risks are slightly different for boys vs girls…statistics bear that out. I love that you sent him though. Kalina came back much more confident. This should make her trip to FL and Teen Missions next summer no big deal at all.

  5. How awesome for her. Glad it worked out. Love the airlines take such good care of minors.

  6. I traveled to the UK as an unaccompanied minor at age 12. Then, every summer after by myself, some years with my younger brother. That said, this was pre 9/11 and we traveled to the UK with our parents 1-2 a year growing up as well as internationally with the military. Anchorage to London was hell.

    I don’t know when I would allow that for my kids. Unaccompanied minors seem much safer than by ourselves which I’m sure would depend on the child. I remember at 13 I was nervous and by 14 I didn’t care. But we did take direct flights too.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I think it does make a big difference that you traveled that route with your parents. Kalina has no memory of the flight she took before this (she was an infant) so everything was completely new to her. Now that she has done it once, I would feel more comfortable with her doing it without being an unaccompanied minor.

  7. We haven’t come to that issue with our kids, but I would – as you did, with the security precautions. I traveled to Australia by myself as a 17yo… Seattle to LA, LA to Aukland (stopped in Hawaii), Aukland to Sydney, Sydney to Perth. Crazy! And back home, same way.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Wow, that’s quite a journey! Yes, we believe nothing can replace the experience of travel, but I believe the security precautions are a good thing.

  8. A few summers ago I sent several of my kids on vacation without me. There was a convention that my 15 year old son was dying to go to and my 17 year old daughter said she wished she could take him. We arranged for her 18 year old friend to go along because there had to be an adult to check into the hotel. It was in a state 10 hours away, but the drive was on the Interstate and it was straight through with no turns or exits. I arranged their room ahead of time at the resort where the convention was held. We spent quite a lot of time talking about what to expect during the trip and imagining a lot of, what if?, scenarios. They had such an amazing time and talked it up so much that we have gone back as a family for the past 3 years.
    I think that the ability to be in constant communication has really made a difference, for me at least, in feeling comfortable letting my kids do more without me. It’s harder to worry when your kid can give you a running commentary, pictures included, of their entire day.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      That’s amazing. So much of it is about the training, the prep ahead, etc. It is such a great way for our kids to learn and grow and even fail while they are still at home.

  9. Looks like the sisters had a blast! I’m definitely working to raise a daughter who could navigate a trip like that someday.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, they did. I am so glad they had that time together. It is something I am sure neither will ever forget.

  10. On a direct flight, with the same precautions you’ve mentioned here, I would have had no qualms about putting either of my kids on a plane. My daughter has made two study abroad trips as a college student–one completely on her own–and while I was a little nervous about her navigating the world, I knew it was time to put the common sense I’d taught her into action. Even in Bangladesh, she was her sensible self.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes. I wouldn’t hesitate at all about college age. Tilly will be traveling this fall, but she will be 18…which is a long way off from 15.

  11. I travelled every single Summer from the UK to the US and back again since I was 4 years old til I was 16. I hated flying as I got older cause I got sick and I definitely had some really crappy experiences with flight attendants but I was a spoiled brat and I always flew first class direct flights to NY. It never struck me as a weird thing to do and it wasn’t until years later when I mentioned it to people that they found it strange!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Wow, that’s a great story. I have no idea how old you were, but my parents used to leave me and my brothers in the car while they did shopping and errands. Things have definitely changed…

  12. I went to France twice at 15 and again at 17. I just went…I met up with a group there, but traveled from Cincinnati to NY, NY to Paris alone. I was fine.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Paris alone at 15? That’s amazing.

      • I suppose for full disclosure so you don’t think my parents meant to be neglectful, I should add that though I do wonder that they were okay with it regardless, they *thought* an acquaintance was going to “keep an eye” on me until I met my group. And…he did not. Even with the group, I had a lot of side adventures which I both treasure to this day, and shudder thinking that I would never ever want a child of mine to do, like riding the Paris metro at midnight with one other girl.
        Kalina’s adventure looked amazing and I am glad for her that she had that opportunity. Love the pictures, too. You should have shared an after pic of that side of lamb, lol. I bet it cooked up very delicious.

  13. Michelle

    I really doubt that I would send my child alone. He is a special needs kiddo and would freak out if he was by himself for that long. If I had a neurotypical child then I would definitely think about it for sure. So glad that you had a great experience.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, special needs are a whole different game….

  14. So rules have changed (a lot!) in the last 25 years, but there used to be no age limit on unaccompanied minors!
    My parents used to put my brother and I on a plane every year from the time we were 4 and 5 to go visit my grandparents in Florida (we live in Ontario, Canada).
    I remember we used to have to wear a badge around our necks, and we were always seated up front near the cabin crew. We were also the last ones to be let off the plane, and my grandparents were always waiting at the gate for us. So likely fairly secure, but looking back, it seems insane that they (my parents and the airline!) would allow us to travel unaccompanied that young!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I can’t imagine putting Apollo on a plane and expecting him to sit there without an adult…I mean, just the entertainment factor…I just had a friend who said she plans to send her five year old to Alaska alone. I imagine some kids would handle that better than others.

  15. Michelle

    Such a non-issue. She’s 15 – not a little kid anymore. She was never alone or without someone supervising her.

    You let your older daughter get engaged at 17 but have qualms about putting your younger daughter on a direct flight with full supervision at 15?!? Doesn’t make any sense.

    That said, I traveled alone frequently when I was younger. This was pre 9/11 so ppl weren’t as freaked out. At 16 I flew from my home country in Europe all the way to Australia by myself, with three stop-overs. It was only like the third time I flew and I didn’t speak English that well back then, but I managed. And this was before cell phones and wifi everywhere. My parents just assumed that I was fine until I called them from the other side of the globe some 35 hours later.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      It was a big deal because it was completely new territory for us. I think as a parent when you approach completely new scenarios it can be difficult to decide what to do.

      We have stuck teens of domestic flights (all the way from WA to FL with flight changes) with no hesitation, but an international flight, dealing with passports, customs, etc is a little more challenging. Having done it once, however, we would not hesitate to do it in the future. In fact, we plan to send several of the younger kids to Alaska next summer unaccompanied.

      At I will agree, pre 9/11 it was a different game entirely.

  16. I dont know if you are planning another post on this, but I am curious about some aspects of Kalina’s trip and how you managed it when she is one of 14 kids. Obviously you could never afford to send all the kids to visit Adalia at some time or another (or maybe you can, I don’t know your finances! haha), how did Kalina in particular wind up being the one picked to go g to go visit? Was there any specific reason? More generally, do you ever concern yourself with “fairness” amongst your kids in terms of these types of opportunities? Do you worry that if you let Kalina do something like this you’d have to create opportunities for your other kids to be “fair”? Or does it concern you at all that you spent all that money on Kalina so you must do the same for others? or does that kind of equity not concern you?
    My parents were big on there being no such thing as fairness between siblings- that parents do what is best for each kid and that doesnt necessarily mean that everyone gets the same thing. Curious how other families see it.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      This is a great question…and I should write a post on it.

      To answer your specific question, we sent Kalina because Adalia asked us to. She really wanted a chance to connect with Kalina because of her age. She and Ben wanted the opportunity to pour into her life at what they considered an important time in her life.

      As far as making things fair…no we don’t worry about that. Fair isn’t the way life works. A few years back Enoch went to Mexico with his grandparents and the next year Tilly went to Colombia with them. We jump at opportunities for each of our children as they come. Mordecai is going to summer camp this year because it is the right choice for him…

      • I always tell my kids (I only have two – one boy and one girl) that I am always fair. But that fair doesn’t mean equal. To me fair means meeting the needs (and wants) of my kids where they are. I figure it will all even out (financially, emotionally, etc.) in the end.

        • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

          Yes, this is so true! Fair and equal are not the same thing.

  17. I agree with Michelle – a non issue. I went to boarding school age 14, flew two hours home and back each break. Sometimes the flights were direct, sometimes they weren’t, and my parents never thought to register me as an unaccompanied minor. In the summer I flew between Europe and the US with several stop overs. Getting to the airport was a two hour train ride, alone. She is 15, she can take care of herself! I understand you love your children and want to keep them safe, but maybe it’s time to give them a little space to make mistakes, gain experience. She isn’t a child anymore, let her stretch her wings a little!

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I wouldn’t have thought twice about a two hour flight; a 14 hour flight is a different thing all together. But yes, she was certainly able to stretch her wings and grow. This was definitely the right decision.

  18. That took some courage, but you and your family seemed to have everything under control and planned very well. And from the pictures, it is an experience she will never forget. Great article.

  19. It *is* a really big deal when considering a trip like this for the first time (or even if you’ve sent one child, it’s a big deal for the next child for whom it is the first time). It’s easy for someone with practice (and no adverse experience) to say in hindsight that it was a no-brainer but good grief, when you don’t know…you don’t know! So, I applaud you for taking the step and designing the trip to have the least risk.

    I sent my oldest to Liberia, West Africa at 14 and, although she was with an adult, it was a very.big.deal. She had to take a lot of cash for her stay in Africa, so one thing I was most concerned about was the 24 hour layover in London. These were the days before widespread social media so I think I probably discussed details with an email group of close friends and family but wouldn’t have spread it far and wide what the flights were or that she was traveling with so much cash.

  20. I’d have no problem with this and am thrilled that you were able to do this for your daughter(s)! But my ease with it probably has to do with our situation, that my children have lived internationally their entire lives, my oldest daughter’s first flight being at the age of 6 weeks. (Obviously not unaccompanied! LOL) The first time she flew by herself was on one of our visits to the U.S., when she flew from California to New Mexico to visit a friend, changing planes in Las Vegas. She was 13, and I was a lot more nervous about that than I would have been about international flights, because security is SO much lower. Her first international flight without us was when she was 14, but only to Greece (from Cyprus), as part of a mission trip and with four other people, so not a big deal. And then when she was 15, she flew by herself to Costa Rica (and three months later back home). She’s nearly 19 now and has been in the U.S. since last November, and is coming home in 10 days. International flights, no problem, but she’s a bit nervous about some of the train journeys she’ll have during her four days in Germany on her way home, and she IS German and speaks German! (Just hasn’t lived in Germany since she was 11.)

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