Making travel a part of my children’s lives was one of the best things I could have ever done for them.

At first the thought of sending my teenagers to another country, out of my reach and care, was terrifying. Safety was a huge concern of mine, and I wondered if they would be able to keep my child safe?

I wanted a travel experience for them, but I also was not willing to send them with just anyone. It wasn’t until I found the right youth travel program that I learned that safe, meaningful travel was not only possible for my kids, it was life-changing!

I spent hours on the internet reading through pages of FAQs, safety protocols, and the About Us sections. I talked with friends who had sent their children on international trips, and I contacted and spoke to several program directors of different international travel organizations.

After all of that research, the organization that impressed me most and met all of my requirements was a program called Travel For Youth, based out of northern Utah.

They checked off my boxes for safety, quality, and purpose. They proved they could create the change and experience for my children that I was hoping for.

Through my vetting and research, I learned several things that make a program most effective.

Here are three critical things to look for when selecting the best youth travel and humanitarian program for your children.

1. LOOK FOR PROGRAMS WITH ROBUST SAFETY STANDARDS

Nothing was more important to me than my son and daughter’s safety.

Find an organization that goes the extra mile in keeping your child safe. Be aware of how they screen and hire trip leaders, what their international safety protocols are in the case of emergencies, and what measures they have in place to protect from and prevent possible unforeseen issues.

Ask about the type of housing they stay in, how they choose and vet the areas your child will be visiting, and the activities they will take part in.

It is also helpful to ask what types of insurance are included with your trip purchase. This one is not a dealbreaker, but it is good to anticipate the additional cost in case you need to purchase it from a private travel insurance agency.

2. LOOK FOR PROGRAMS THAT ARE GOOD FOR THE HOST COMMUNITY

This one is so critical.

Sometimes, humanitarian “help” can do more harm than good for the local community. Find a program that has done their research and participates in projects that are sustainable and actually needed.

Some programs focus on a singular, one-time construction project. Others host different education or farming campaigns in the local community. Some organizations focus their volunteer work on a specific cause or social issues, such as human trafficking, refugee relief, or women’s equality.

Whichever you choose, find the organization that supports and utilizes the local resources already in place. Make sure they use local guides, local organizations, and are in line with local customs and social expectations. This kind of aid is shown to be more effective and sustainable in the long run.

I don’t know that any organization can do it perfectly, but to me, a program that supports and prioritizes the local community is participating in a much more sustainable way of providing relief.

3. LOOK FOR PROGRAMS THAT WILL BUILD AND CHANGE YOUR TEEN

Travel is a big investment. Take the time to choose a program that will create a life-changing experience for your teen.

In my experience, teen travel organizations with purposeful, intentional itineraries get the best results.

Don’t be afraid to ask what outcomes the itinerary is designed to produce. Be wary of programs that provide a lot of unsupervised downtimes.

My friend’s teenage sister took a trip to Europe and the chaperone dropped them off at the town square in the morning and picked them up that evening. Downtime can be important in travel, but even that needs to be intentional (and supervised!).

Trip leaders also play a significant role in the experience of your child. Don’t be afraid to ask how they screen, select and train your child’s chaperones or trip leaders.

Opportunities for personal preparation before the trip is also important to consider.

I found that my kids had a much more meaningful time when they had put time into preparing before they ever boarded the plane.

What resources do they have available to your teen to prepare them for their experience? How are they educating them about the project or cause they will become involved in? How much, or how little, preparation is expected beforehand?

Travel can be life-changing.

As stressful as it was to find the right program, get my teens ready for the trip, and send them off into the great big world without me: it was totally worth it.

They came back more confident, less entitled, and ready to make a difference in the world. All three of us agreed, we would do it again in a heartbeat!

For more details on Travel For Youth trips, go to travelforyouth.org. Travel For Youth runs safe youth humanitarian and adventure travel trips all over the globe.