Behind the Scenes of Family Travel: Safety

Lily wants to swim

Lily wants to swimLily’s passport will expire soon, which is a shame; that chubby, eight-month-old face looks so adorable under the super-official “USA” insignia.

I’m in the middle of  a project writing a guide to traveling as a family*, preparing to spend a month on a Spanish-speaking island and, amidst it all, trying not to fail as a father. I put it this way because I think “success” is a moving target. On a good day, success means “fostered her emotional and intellectual growth while providing a calming influence in her exploration of a complex world.” On a bad day, success looks more like, “didn’t let her eat crayons for lunch.” I worry more about failing, especially on the bad days.

These “bad days” come more frequently on the road. If anything, the raw challenge of getting from point “A” to point “B” fosters realizations that look like those stupid inspirational posters coming to life. Live every day to the fullest. Cherish those you love. Wash your hands after every potty break, sweetie, or else you’ll contract cholera.

The biggest risk we’ve ever taken in traveling is automobile safety. This is because smaller, relatively impoverished countries care very little about 1) vehicle maintenance 2) road maintenance, 3) vehicle passenger limits 4) traffic laws and, most importantly, 5) seat belts. I fear drunk cabbies more than political insurgencies, cholera, earthquakes or jaguars (yes, that is a list of dangers with which we’ve come in contact on our travels with Lily–including the drunk cabbie).

So, you know, we generally travel with a booster seat and hand sanitizer. There is no anti-jaguar spray that I’ve found.

Fears of safety are quickly allayed when compared to the fears we have at home. In the U.S., I can just barely afford to live in a neighborhood considered “safe”**–I’m walking distance from the site of one of Madison’s most atrocious drug crimes. But then again, so is Gov. Walker.

My car window wasn’t smashed–my backpack, with SLR camera grabbed–in some foreign despot. That happened in the city in which I was born. The city where my family continues to live. A city not only comfortable to me, but where I should know better.

It’s also a city where approximately 500 people were murdered in 2012.

Ultimately, that’s just it: traveling with Lily is inherently safer, because I don’t then take safety for granted. I take Lily’s safety very seriously, yet I don’t get undone by hypothetical situations. No one should. By all objective measures, the U.S. is just as dangerous, to travelers, as most other parts of the world (I’m obviously excluding SOME countries in that assessment). Seriously, the Government of the United Kingdom tells their citizen this about traveling to the U.S.:

Violent crime related to the drugs trade is a major issue in the Mexican states along the border with California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Avoid crossing the border into Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, to which the FCO advise against all but essential travel…

Violent crime, including gun crime, is not limited to the border areas…

In 2011 there were 32,310 road deaths in the USA (Source: DfT). This equates to 10.5 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 3.0 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2011.

I went driving in England–I can tell you, despite my confusion, I felt about three times safer driving there. Fear is only what we make of it. I like to think that our “risks,” our “chances” that we take in travel, are the living embodiment of all those you’re-tougher-than-that, you-only-live-once, don’t-let-fear-control you Facebook memes.

I don’t have many personal measurements for what makes a successful father. That being said, Lily’s passport will expire soon. She has more stamps in it than most will know in their lifetime.

*Hopefully you’ll love this so much that you and all your friends will shell out one to five bucks when it’s done.
**Maybe you can fix that by, in the future, buying multiple copies of my eBook and telling your friends to do the same.

1 Comment on Behind the Scenes of Family Travel: Safety

  1. I agree that I tend to be safer abroad because I pay more attention to it, and I also think it is important not to succumb to paranoia! I teach abroad (now I am living in Culiacan) and so often people ask me, “Is it safe?” I can’t relate to having a family (just my cat) but I can relate to the “single female” syndrome. Here’s a quick list of tips I send to friends interested Like I said, mainly it is common sense, but it is key to safety!

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