Surviving Overseas Trips with Children
Traveling with toddlers can be a challenge even under the best circumstances. When you are traveling internationally there are frequently surprises that you never considered. I discovered this when our family took an excursion up the Amazon River in Peru with our children, including our 18 month old son. While watching my son with his pacifier in his mouth, fish for piranhas with his a stick with a string and raw chicken, , I realized that I had certainly not thought out all the possible consequences of a toddler on an adventure of this type! With a little forethought and planning you can be prepared to have a great family trip with less culture shock that includes your young ones.
First, bring your child’s car seat with you! Car seats are still a growing concept in South America and are not readily available in all areas. The land transportation that you use, trains, buses, taxis etc., may or may not have seat belts so think ahead on how you are going to handle those situations. Children who are accustomed to using car seats often feel insecure when they do not have them in a moving vehicle.
A pacifier is a great protection for traveling infants and toddlers. Keeping something in the child’s mouth does protect him from other foreign objects being inserted by the toddler. There have been studies that suggest that children that use pacifiers are actually exposed to less bacteria and viruses. This is essential in a totally new environment. A bottle of water is also necessary to wash off the pacifier should it drop or get dirty. Safe, bottled water is generally available everywhere but it is good to have one on hand to avoid the temptation to drink tap water.
If your child is walking or cruising around furniture a good pair of insulating shoes is crucial. These may be tennis shoe type or a sandal. In much of Latin America many of the buildings and homes are not electrically grounded. It is possible to receive an electric shock by touching the clothes dryer, the electric stove, or even walking through a doorway that was outlined by Christmas lights! Wearing shoes can help prevent an unpleasant jolt especially in countries with 220 volt power. Imagine a shock with twice the power of the 110 volts that we use in the North America!
In this age of technology it is common when traveling with young children to carry many electric devices to keep them entertained. If you are traveling with electric equipment or toys that require a power source check to see if the item has dual voltage. This would be indicated somewhere on the device. A video player, mp3 device or baby monitor that is not compatible with 220 volt electricity will create an unpleasant display of sparks and smoke if plugged directly into a South American socket. To solve the voltage disparity problem you will need a transformer of some sort that will change the current output to meet your equipment’s voltage. As plugs and sockets vary in sizes, shapes, holes, etc. from country to country you may also need a plug adapter. These are often sold in sets in the travel section and provide options if you are traveling to more than one country.
Prepare yourself to be more alert to your new surroundings on the trip. Most places in South America are not child-proofed like your home. When we arrived at the rainforest lodge I was amazed to see that all of the lodge including the rooms, restaurant and common areas were all elevated. In rainy season you can take a boat right up to the front door, but as most tourists are there during the dry season there was at least a 9 foot drop from the lodge to the ground and there were wide gaps in the railings on all sides. These openings proved to be irresistible temptations for my children and required constant vigilance.
If you are in a city, especially in earthquake zones, most of the construction is concrete which means that there are many extremely hard surfaces. All the floors are usually terrazzo, marble, ceramic tile or cement. It is very slick for beginning walkers and a spill on these floors ensures a very hard landing. There are sharp corners to watch out for and most stairways have at least one open side.
Finally, the main thing is to be observant and not expect another country to be exactly like your home. I discovered in Peru that most families have several people constantly watching the children until they are school age including nannies and family members. In their view it is more important to keep your eye on the child rather than change the building around them. Our trip up the Amazon actually turned out great after I recovered from my moment of panic. It is possible to enjoy traveling with a child – just remember that what you take for granted may not be the same in another culture and you can enjoy the adventure with your family.