Guna here. This post has been on my mind for a while. I am putting myself a bit on a plate here, risking sounding paranoid and overprotective. But I am a ‘worrier’. People who know me in person know this well. I have these scenarios in my head about all the things that can happen and those are not the good things of winning a lottery, etc., but the kind that leaves one in a worse state than ever. This ability to see risks, to evaluate situations for all possible outcomes and troubles was very valuable when I was working as an internal auditor in a bank. I could happily look through processes and find possible or actual problems and then – we look for a solution together. But, when one is a parent and in a different country/culture, this was a new level for my, well, yes, anxieties. After publishing this, I think I might get a few messages in my mailbox with all the therapists sharing their contacts and inviting for a session =)
All this post is written in a concentrated manner, I (and sometimes Kristaps joins me in my worries) do not worry about ALL of these things at once or all the time, but this is something that is real for us. We also believe in the principle of better be prepared than sorry (regarding information, supplies etc). We believe that this is ‘covering the bases’ rather than ‘asking for trouble’.
So here are the issues we worry about while we are travel with young kids (Ms L is 6.5 yo and Mr M just turned 4). We have been on the road for three months now, covering Thailand (2 months), Cambodia (three weeks) and now Vietnam (one month almost in, one more to go). We will continue to Bali, Indonesia (one month) and then, hopefully, south of Australia (three months).
Loss of Parents, Attacks, Disasters, and Similar
Worst case scenario – the parents are in a fatal accident.
We are alone in each country we visit, we do not have family or friends (the exception is here in Vietnam, where Guna made a friend who incidentally has family on the same street where we live, so, in case of anything, we have a local backup here). So, if whatever happens, it is only the two of us who can deal with it. And we rent cars sometimes and often travel by buses and trains. So if whatever should happen to incapacitate both of us, the kids would be on their own. Both kids speak English, but the locals might not and it would take time to get in touch with our relatives, for them to cross half the planet to get to the kids, all the formalities to go back etc. Nightmare. I also worry about dishonest people taking advantage in situations of crisis, who could kidnap the kids, leading to slavery, human trafficking and similar worries. I know, I know, in this case – being overly informed is a curse. This scenario was often on my mind while we were in Cambodia as the driving culture there is just insane, both regarding cars and public buses. Also, people did not speak English well (compared to Thailand) and the overall feeling was rather uncomforting. The medical care also did not help to ease this worry. I sprained two toes but decided not to go to the hospital as it was in a terrible state.
Snatching of one or both kids by a diversion of parental attention
This is something I worried about before we actually came to Southeast Asia. I am a bit ashamed for this now, seeing what people actually are like over here. But this still is something that I’m aware of. Our kids are exotic here, especially our youngest who is blond. I understand the local impoverished families and kids are in higher danger of becoming targets and that is a reality I hate to see. But European kids can become targets for this as well. So our strategy in case we are approached by someone who might be trouble, or if anyone tries to drive our attention suddenly, like snatching a bag, taking us by hand to ask directions etc., is that we each keep one kid’s (previously agreed upon) hand. An aspect of this worry does happen to us often – there are locals and tourists who want to take pictures with our kids. With Mr M there have been cases when he is simply taken by the hand or from our hands and dragged to make a picture. We did not at first, but now we always intervene and ask Mr M if he feels like taking a picture (this also allows us to assess the situation). If not, we politely decline the request. People always seem to mean well and there appears to be no physical danger, but they disrespect the child’s personality and his own will and right to decide.
This is not a big worry for us. We usually don’t attend big gatherings, but we do go to popular attractions and these things are happening more and more often in locations we never thought of. So we are just aware of this.
Natural disasters – earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis, etc.
Getting accidentally separated from kids in public spaces (shop, crowded streets, markets).
- Insect, animal (rabies), snake bites.
- Heat stroke.
- Serious food poisoning for kids with very distant quality medical care facility or lack of transport.
- Unknown allergies to exotic-for-us food, fruit, insect bites, and other stuff we wouldn’t encounter at home.
- General traumas and sickness if the country does not have a well-established healthcare system or the doctors don’t have a common language with us (though we speak English, Russian and poor French and German).
This includes accidental or negligent inability on behalf of the medical staff to recognize symptoms of serious, unfamiliar to us conditions like tropical diseases.
- Car seat usage – something I was worried about before we came here. I thought there will be no seatbelts and definitely no kid car seats.
- Some medical emergency/sudden incapacitation of one parent (a migraine, a traffic accident to the parent, appendicitis) while the other adult is not present.
There are times when only one of us is caring for the kids (the other one is on a full-day alone time with the phone off etc. or even out of the country). This was something I worried about a lot while we lived in Lithuania, but there I could make a pact with another mom who had a similar situation of her husband being often away and having small kids alone in a foreign strange country. But we are on the road so we can’t make such pacts here. The worry here is the same level as in the case of a fatal accident, only here there might be time for the parent to seek a guardian for the kids.
What to do
- Write small notes with family emergency contacts including which language the persons speak. Include your embassy’s contact information, as well as your own names. If you or kids have some serious conditions or allergies, write it down, too.
- Think of laminating the note or covering it with transparent tape and put this in your bags, kids bags and maybe on the kids (like in their pockets) if you are on a particularly dangerous route. I plan to have a small button sewn into kids most frequently used clothes and the note would have a small hole to safely attach the note so that it is not lost.
- Always leave this info with other adults watching your kids, even when you are in your home country (plus add emergency services numbers in that case and your home address, in case the sitter needs to call the ambulance and might not remember the address).
- Most importantly, tell the children what this note says and to show it to the responsible adult (police person, doctor, firefighter, someone in uniform) to speed up identification and communication.
- On several occasions, we wrote our local phone numbers with a permanent marker on kids’ hands during attending larger events like night markets.
- Register with your home country Foreign Affairs Ministry or another responsible institution so that the authorities are aware of your whereabouts in case of earthquakes, mudslides, tsunami, volcano etc.
- Leave your current hotel/ Airbnb address with a relative (this can be also a friend, but a relative will most likely be the one to take care of the kids in an immediate emergency, also from the legal perspective). This can be done in several ways, but use a shared Google Document that’s always up to date.
- Share your location on Google Maps with key people back home.
- Check for evacuation routes in your area (this goes for tsunamis, also volcano).
- When in a new country, get local SIM cards with internet AND calling minutes so parents can reach each other. If the kids are old enough, teach the kids how to use the phone to call at least you or a relative.
- Keep your phone charged and the relatives numbers on speed dial, with the country codes added.
- If your kids are ready (and you know your kids best), explain the kids the expected action in case you are separated, unconscious, or in a similar problematic situation. We have told them to hold hands with each other; not to let anyone separate them; try not be separated from at least one of the parents, no matter what the parent’s state is. They can pronounce their names clearly as well as write them down and explain who we are, where we are from and show the emergency card described before. We teach them to seek out help from people in uniforms and people with other children.
- This is for smaller medical issues, but we always carry a mini first aid kit with us. The kids know the disinfectant and other medicine in there. We plan to add smelling salts to it in case of the adult fainting so the kids can wake him/her up.
- Regarding situations when we suspect diversion of our attention by strangers – Kristaps takes Ms L by hand and Guna takes Mr M, maybe even pick the kids up. This is not in action when parent’s physical strength is important – like swimming together, crossing some rough terrain on the climbing track etc. In these situations, Kristaps takes care of Mr M as ms L is already more independent and very strong and fit needing less support from the adult.
- Wear helmets, both the adults and the kids, when taking the scooter. Regarding the seat belts, this worry has gone out through the window as all the cars – Grab, taxies, rentals – have absolutely normal seatbelts. The kiddies car seats are not available in taxies here, but if you are staying in one place longer, there are solutions for this. We just belt-in our kids in the back seats, ask the driver to slow down if they start driving local style. Be aware that most probably they will not drive more carefully or slowly just because they have clients with kids.
- We, in general, don’t take dangerous routes both on foot and on public transport; we check where our closest hospital with best reviews is (if there will be two similar accommodations to choose from, we will choose one with more central location and with quicker access to medical care).
- We have a larger stash of medicine like antihistamines, anti-inflammatory etc. so we don’t need to look for Nurofen around town if the kids would spike a high temperature on Sunday night. And we replace the used up medicine right away.
- We have done the vaccinations, we keep an eye for clean hands, don’t eat meat that might have been out all day, no smoothies if there is no running water to wash the glass, and ice doesn’t look safe.
- Never ever we walk into a dark room/space without shoes or light on. Even if that is your own bathroom. To get a scare of a centipede or enormous cockroaches could be the least of your problems. Snakes, poisonous frogs and scorpions can come in without being noticed.
- We teach the kids not to touch wild animals, reptiles etc as we are not familiar with them and they might have amazing self-protection abilities.
- We always ask the reception, host or others about local insight regarding poisonous animals, malaria mosquitos activity level and other dangers. Locals know best.
- When you are visiting, especially with children, the temples, jungles, other areas with monkeys, please remove all the kids’ and your hair clips, sunglasses, shiny and not so shiny bracelets, basically, be as bare of accessories as possible. The monkeys are very cheeky and they do grab everything. No backpacks, toys or other stuff for kids as the monkeys will try to get to those. This is especially important if you haven’t done the rabies vaccination.
- General precaution is in force – no walking in high grass, undergrowth, etc. The stray puppies and cats will be petted by others but not us.
- Don’t assume something is safe because it is safe back home. The perceptions about safety vary from country to country. Always do a general safety review of your new place – hotel room, apartment etc. See if the insect screens are in good condition, that there are no hiding insects in the bathroom, the electric outlets are not hanging by the thread (happened to us in Phnom Penh), the railings of the balcony are strong etc. The general things that parents with kids do to make their surroundings safe for their little ones.
- Kristaps is using Google Alerts to get updates about the country we are in and the ones we plan to visit. He’s set daily updates about the current destination and weekly updates about the upcoming ones. This is an excellent way how to get information about anything from natural disasters to possible political instability (a real threat while we were in Cambodia).
- Get a good life, trauma and travel insurance. Both for yourself and the kids.
In summary – although there are many fears, there are many more solutions to them and I work with myself to be a little bit more easy-going. But in the meanwhile – take care of the kids and stay safe!