Traveling by its nature involves getting out of your comfort zone. A travel enthusiast might even say it is the number one reason she travels – to get out of the mundane. While it might be on your list to expose your children to new experiences and let them face their fears of the unknown, you probably also want to understand the risks and mitigate any real dangers. From vaccines to where to store your passport, this is my best advice.
1. Dress Appropriately
Maybe this doesn’t seem like a safety tip but if your feet hurt while chasing your toddler through an airport, you will soon deplete the energy you need to be observant and make smart decisions. “Travel days,” as I call it when you are moving locations, are more stressful, so pick comfortable shoes,cloths and purses (long strap, cross body, zipper closure) that will serve you well. I avoid yoga pants because they lack pockets. The ability to stuff money or a cell phone in your pocket quickly is important to a parent keeping track of kids. Luckily for us, there are an increasing number of more fashionable travel outfits with zippered or snap closed pockets. Check out one of my favorite travel skirts. No more cargo pants!
Dress the kids in bright easily recognizable shirts or outfits for travel days. This will serve to make them visible in a crowd and, in the event you need to give a description of them to airport security, you will remember what they are wearing. We use Bronco jerseys. The kids also like that everyone asks them about Colorado.
If you are reading a travel blog then you probably already know this, but it is worth repeating. Even domestic travel destinations (think Chicago or New Orleans) have neighborhoods worth avoiding. Your travel consultant will steer you clear of bad neighborhoods for lodgings but you should consider asking him/her where they are and maybe do a quick Google search of the areas you are interested in sight-seeing. Internationally, there are cities like Tokyo that are incredibly safe and then there are places like Kabul that I will not be visiting anytime soon, with or without kids. It doesn’t take a huge time investment and it will help you navigate with confidence. Buenos Aires has a neighborhood called La Boca. It is unique and worth seeing but knowing that it is less safe at night and the surrounding areas can be rough will inform your decisions about when to visit.
The CDC website is full of information you need to make decisions for your family about the health risks of certain countries. Check your specific desired destination before booking anything. Pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems may need more vaccines so check with your health care provider. Make sure vaccines you have gotten previously are up-to-date. Some countries will require proof of vaccination before you can get visas or at immigration control. Be sure to get your vaccines at least 4-6 weeks in advance of your trip because some require more then one dose and it takes time for the full protection of the vaccine to take effect. Some vaccines are not recommended for children under certain ages, again check with the CDC.
4. Carrying Travel Documents
Passports and travel documents should be carried by anyone old enough to go to the bathroom by themselves. A cautionary tale from a client – she went to the bathroom on her own leaving her passport with her husband. She took a wrong turn in the Bogota International Airport and ended up on the other side of immigration. Not all countries have strict immigration control and you may not even know you have wandered through the wrong door. The client ended up paging her husband to bring the whole family out and re-enter through security together. Good thing the husband was paying attention.
My grandparents traveled with large sums of cash on them. Times have changed but it is still important to have some local cash. Some countries you have to pay for public toilets and in South American businesses seem to rarely have the ability to break large bills so you end up carrying lots of coins and bills to pay for food or taxi rides. I like to carry cash in different locations on my body. Some in zipper pockets, some in my hidden belly pack (for pickpocket areas) and some in what ever bag I am using. When possible, I use my credit card and keep an eye on the charges online.
6. Hotel Storage
You probably don’t want to take all you passports and cash with you on every excursion. If you are whitewater rafting you might even leave your mobile phone behind (withdrawal symptoms are normal). Use the in-room hotel safe or ask the front desk if they have a strong box storage. Travel to rural or developing areas might mean neither of those options is available. On those trips, you can take a metal mesh bag that will lock to the bed frame with any valuables inside.
7. Follow Your Instincts
Your instincts are your mind’s way of trying to protect you. If a situation doesn’t feel right, get out. Especially with your kids, your highest priority is them, not saving money or being polite to strangers. Maybe your are wrong, but maybe you are right. Even on a trip where the environment is controlled like a cruise or resort, give yourself permission to act on those judgements that best protect your family. Talk to your spouse or partner about it.
If you have any favorite family travel safety tips, feel free to add them in the comments. I learned almost everything I know from other parents.