Safety is a concern while traveling, but has to be balanced with being open to new experiences.
Leaving the USA, friends and relatives expressed concern that the world can be a dangerous place, and we would be exposed to too much risk, though we found we often felt more safe outside the USA than within it. It was California where we witnessed a police chase, and Texas where my son was astonished to see someone carrying a handgun. Our closest encounter with the Ebola scare came when we had to travel through Dallas, TX on the way to a family event in Houston. It happened to be the month when there was an active Ebola case in Dallas, so upon LEAVING the US, we were subject to extra health screenings for Ebola before we could enter China and Singapore.
That is not to say our travel was entirely uneventful. Once or twice we got lost in a less than desirable area, and had to backtrack to a major road quickly. My husband was pick pocketed once, losing some cash. Our credit card was skimmed once, and it was a challenge to get a replacement card delivered to our small town in Greece. We were in the country of Australia when there was a terrorist shooting at a café, though we were hundreds of miles away from the event, and we had some uncomfortable moments in large crowds in India.
We had several strategies we followed to limit risk.
- As we were traveling with an elementary school child, we made sure he always had a laminated card in his shoes and in a pocket with his name and passport info, our passport and phone numbers, the address of our home apartment in that country and emergency contacts in the USA. We helped him memorize our phone numbers, and that he knew to ask for the US consulate. We always made sure we could all recite the address of our local “home.” My husband and I had similar laminated cards.
- On arrival in a new country, we talked about and rehearsed what to do if we became separated when in a crowd or boarding a vehicle. We had a plan for who would stay put and who would find the other if the door closed when boarding a train, for example, and set a meeting place in crowded locations. We learned a few key words in local language to ask for help and identified what the local police or security force uniforms looked like.
- Our key documents were photocopied and kept in multiple locations. We also had digital copies saved online that could be retrieved if needed.
- We tried to be aware of our surroundings, kept a close eye on our belongings, and researched our local city and country well before we arrived to know what was and wasn’t considered safe.
- We also had an emergency fund, separate from our traveling money, of about three months expenses. We did end up calling on this fund, though it wasn’t for medical care, as we feared. We unexpectedly had to return to the US for a family matter, and were most glad to have the emergency funds accessible quickly. Thankfully, we only needed the emergency fund once
- And on days we were moving from place to place, airport and train days, we all had a specific job, one person watches luggage, one person handles tickets and documents, and the third person navigates the airport or station, reading signs and determining where to go
Here are some safety strategies used by others traveling with kids: