Dangers of family travel

Danger. It’s a word that strikes terror through our heart. It’s a place we would never go, and we most certainly wouldn’t take our kids there. I mean – it’s dangerous. And that’s a bad thing. Right?

I’ve had a lot of fun putting this piece together. I contacted other traveling parents and asked if they would be willing to contribute their thoughts on the dangers they face. Their responses were somewhat predictable, but I had to laugh anyway.

Davy in Ethiopia

Marilia di Cesare of Tripping Mom wrote, “I’ll contribute, but I travel the easy way. The most radical thing about my traveling is arriving without a place to stay alone with my daughter and sometimes at night.

Amy Page of Livin’ on the Road said “I’ll have to have a think of some perceived dangers or actual dangers, as the only one I can think of at the moment is being addicted to travel!”

Talon Windwalker of 1 Dad, 1 Kid, I Crazy Adventure added, “Theft, murder, and muggings happen in the US as well as overseas.”

Honestly, I could end this post right here, right now – everything that needs to be said already has. When we are traveling the world we face no greater danger than we do when we’re back home. Many people, however, don’t see that – yet. I hope we can help them see that people the world over are more the same than they are different. They are not to be feared.

I asked these three parents to give me their thoughts on the danger issue:

  • What are the perceived dangers of travel?
  • What are the actual dangers of travel?
  • What kinds of special precautions should one take while traveling?

Daryl in Thailand

What do you think the major fears of people are regarding travel in general and travel with children in particular?

Marilia: People worry about lots of safety issues. They think your kids can get stolen, that all your belongings can get stolen and that you are likely to face violence with someone robbing you with a gun or a knife. They also worry about health issues, like if the water and food are contaminated. They worry about roads that are unsafe and bus rides that might carry lots of thieves besides you.

Ultimately, people are afraid without being aware of exactly what. They just say “You’re crazy” but hardly ever can explain why that is so. The fear is built in them by the static life they have and the news on TV “showing” how dangerous the world is. The news is made to make people want to stay home and not question the status quo, which includes living forever in the same place as the safest choice.

Talon: I could be completely wrong, but I think their fears of danger to the kids is really more about their fear of doing the unknown, of traveling to places that are unfamiliar, etc.

Amy: The egotistical part of me says “jealousy” – fear that we will have amazing experiences that they may miss out on, then I realize they are more concerned with practicalities.  A lot of times it is fear of the unknown that holds people back


What do you think your actual risks are? In what ways are the risks you are facing as travelers the same/different from what you would deal with at home?

Talon: Realistically the only issues we’ll face in other countries as compared to our native one is bad water and possibly dengue fever from certain mosquitoes. I’ve traveled extensively and only had food poisoning or food-related issues in the US. Other than that really the risks are the same. Theft, murder, muggings, etc, happen back in the US as well.

Amy: The biggest risk is that our bank account will run dry.

We spend more time in the car while traveling than we did at home, so the risk of car crash is greater.  That being said, it’s probably less of a risk when we are careful, slow, and minimize long drives than doing an hour’s commute in the city each day when you are tired, grumpy, and stuck in peak hour traffic.

One danger we have actually faced is from animals. Our son, Peter, nearly stepped on a Brown Snake as we hiked at Wilson’s Promontory, a beautiful, but overly-popular national park at the southernmost tip of Australia. We could have faced that danger in a park near our home as well.

We also had two medical emergencies while traveling Australia. My eldest picked up a rock in an historical gold-mining town of Walhalla and crushed his finger. He needed an hour and a half of plastic surgery to reconstruct his finger. While the incident was something that could have happened anywhere, it was worse because we were five hours from the main hospitals in the city.

Our other medical emergency was when our daughter fell off her bike head first.  The local hospital assessed her, but as they didn’t have any technology they couldn’t do scans or any further investigations.  The Royal Flying Doctors’ are a unique Australian service where planes fly into remote areas, pick up the person needing medical assistance and fly them to the city.  The Royal Flying Doctors’ came out at midnight to pick up Susan and me to go 600km down to Adelaide that night.  So yes, it can be more dangerous being away from medical help if something does go wrong.

Marilia: As a tourist there is a high risk of petty robbery when in touristy areas. Thieves hang around those places waiting for tourists to let their guard down.

You might want to be careful with street food depending more on your stomach acceptance to new foods and spices than really contaminated water or food.

What special measures are you taking to prevent/minimize risk of something happening to you and your children while traveling?

Talon: We’ll use more DEET-containing sprays for the mosquitoes than we did at home, and we won’t drink tap water in many of the countries we’re going to. We have special water bottles with filters in them so we can get water if filtered water isn’t available.

I am probably a bit more careful with where we eat than I would be in the States. I’m probably more cautious about not letting my son stray too far out of my sight simply because he doesn’t know the language. Otherwise, we haven’t really taken any other precautions we wouldn’t have at home.

Amy: After running out of water on a hike, we now each carry 2L each, plus often add extra if it’s a longer walk.  We also all make sure that we wear proper shoes and socks, as snake bites usually occur on the ankles and it is a possibility.

The other thing we do is to always carry a satellite phone.  In Australia, phone reception is really haphazard and limited once you are out of the city.  The satellite phone gives us that piece of mind that if anything does happen, we’ll be able to call for help no matter where we are in Australia.

Marilia: I only travel during the day and try not to arrive anywhere new after dark. When I arrive in some new place, I usually take a taxi to my accommodation in order to not walk loaded and vulnerable. I don’t take my electronics with me anywhere and try my best to be discrete about where and when to use my computer in public places. I only drink bottled water (but in my country, Brazil, you can’t drink from the tap, so it’s not a new habit).

I never walk alone in isolated areas after dark and even deserted beaches might need a consideration during the day (as I once was robbed in my country in a deserted beach at noon by a crack-head), but this can be decided after talking to the locals and evaluating the local scene.

I have all my documents scanned and the number of my credit card on line, so if I get robbed, I can take action quickly.

Davy getting cast in Mexico

Words of advice for other parents who may want to head out and see the world, but are afraid that “something” might happen?

  • Statistically speaking you are far more likely to be seriously injured in your own home than you are doing any other activity, and it’s by a high margin.
  • The only reason you aren’t scared to cross the road is because you have done it many times – not because it is without risk.
  • If you remember that bad stuff happens even at home, then the idea of being out in the world isn’t so daunting.
  • Do your own research about the area where you are going. Read what you can online but especially talk to people who have been where you want to go.
  • Never walk alone after dark in isolated areas, avoid bringing your camera with you all the time, so you can be stress free. You can take it with you on special picture days, for instance.
  • If you go to the beach, ask someone to watch your things while you go for a walk or a swim.
  • Remember: Your accommodation might not be the safest place, even when it looks safe, so you might want to ask the owner where the best place to keep your valuable items is.
  • Check with locals as soon as you arrive for any advice they can give you about safety.
  • Avoid telling anyone where you are staying, and be careful about who you invite to your place.
  • Generally speaking traveling with kids is actually safer than solo travel as an adult. Many potentially “bad people” have more respect for children and will pass you by simply because of that.
  • We are only the total sum of our experiences and in a hundred years nothing most of us have done will matter or be known except that we played a role in a child’s life.
  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  • I will only regret what I haven’t done, because even the bad experiences help me grow and learn.

*****This article is part of a series of articles on the dangers of travel.

How dangerous is family bike touring?

Life doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee

Risk Assessment – A personal decision

Isn’t bike touring dangerous?

Acceptable level of risk

Nicole Gouin Curry posts about her son getting hit by a car in Vietnam

Check out our extensive resource section! We’ve got tips and advice on a wide range of topics from bicycling with children to finances for long term travel to roadschooling and more.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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16 Responses to Dangers of family travel

  1. Loving the Bike May 22, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    Thanks for putting this together. I really appreciated the input from Amy, Talon, and Marilia….it’s nice to hear their perspectives. Well done and I’ve already added this one to my saved posts.


  2. Bluegreen Kirk May 23, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    Very nice piece that you put together. Really enjoyed the fact that you got input from other travelers. I would agree people fear the unknown, in general kids are going to get into something or another. I really think for a lot of people they may be more fearful for themselves and not really the kids.

  3. Justin May 23, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    Great post and great topic! Amazing that I was just thinking of working on a similar topic today. This fear thing seems to be running rampant.

    I think if you are a responsible and mindful parent, that is the best you can do anywhere. Many times, it’s more about the parent than the location. Sounds like all these traveling parents are very eager to learn and improve things to make the world a bit safer for their kids.

  4. The Dropout May 23, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    At the park yesterday, a neighbour was telling me how the mosquito inspectors lifted up a grate in her yard and found a two-metre long snake.
    I’m Australian. She’s Greek. We live in Singapore. She was freaked out, I was trying to work out whether it was a python or a poisonous snake. She was trying to work out who to call to get it removed, I was thinking about whether the street cats were safe. She was worrying about her 10-year-old daughter getting bitten, I was thinking my one-year-old would make enough noise to scare off a snake.
    I’ve been in Singapore for a year and I consider Singapore safe, my Greek neighbour has been here six years and she finds it confronting. It’s all a matter of perspective — which your post shows.
    Great post from a great blogger. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Marilia May 23, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    Nice article to have at hand when asked about safety. It´s interesting how we have some real dangers on the road that can be reduced by some planning and being careful, and how before embarking on a journey, one should analize what their ¨perceived¨ dangers are and work on figuring out what´s real and what´s just the fear of the unknown.

  6. Sruti May 23, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Ha hha, EXCELLENT article. Love the points made by Marilia about people being afraid or thinking you’re crazy without knowing why.

  7. Heidi May 23, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    Funny, I spend my days evaluating risk – it’s my day job – if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s no way to eliminate risk of someone getting hurt, but the use of common sense is almost always enough to minimalize it – no matter where you are. And isn’t it refreshing to not have to sign waivers and releases for every risk you encounter?!

  8. Lisa Wood May 24, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    Its funny but I have not actually thought about the dangerous of traveling around Australia 🙂

  9. Amy @LivinOnTheRoad May 26, 2011 at 7:03 am #

    It was great to read what Marilia and Talon had to say, too.

    Lisa, there are dangers in travelling around Australia. I don’t really think of them often, but I think it’s like anywhere else. Health care is very limited in most parts of Australia outside of the cities, and many diseases are endemic in remote Indigenous communities that just aren’t heard of any more in most modern Western societies.

    Not to mention that 7 or 8 of the deadliest snakes in the world live in Australia, and I’ve never seen a single snake in Melbourne, but we’ve had three encounters outside of Melbourne.

    That said, it is no more dangerous than staying at home, probably less so, it’s just that people don’t tend to think about the dangers in their own neighbourhood.

  10. kiwigram October 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    I have lived and worked internationally most of my working life. So I have to agree with the statement that we are more alike than different. The events that have been written about in the article are likely to happen anywhere in the world, not just in strange places, but in your home town also. Traveling is just plain fun, and more people need to do it.

    • Nancy October 21, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

      Agreed! Accidents can happen anywhere – I don’t think we’re particularly more likely to get in an accident in someone else’s home than we are in our home.

  11. Nancy November 23, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    That is very, very true. The more one travels, the more they realize it’s not that big of a deal.

  12. Living Outside of the Box January 3, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    Haha! I loved the comments from others…i.e…the fear of the bank account drying up!

    Isn’t it the truth? I travel foreign just about the same I do in the US. I don’t like to flash my computer bag around or leave belongings uncovered in the car. Sensibility translates into every country and every language!!


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