Planning a summer vacation and asking, “Should I take my kids to a developing country?” The short answer is: yes, but…
Last summer, we decided to go to Colombia.
Not to a resort or with a tour group, but on a two-week, meandering road trip covering cities, beaches, and jungles.
With our three kids, ages 4, 6, 9.
Was it difficult? Yes. There were times during the trip when my husband and I looked at each other and said, “What the hell are we doing?” (Like that one time when our suitcase was tied to the roof of a taxi with a rope and we were stuck in traffic behind a burro, and did I mention that my children did not have on seatbelts?)
Was it worth it? Absolutely.
My kids hiked six miles through the jungle to one of the most beautiful and secluded beaches I’ve ever seen (“la piscina“). We dodged coconuts thrown by monkeys and bought fresh squeezed juice from a native family. We took a bus trip up the coast and saw real and resolute poverty. We practiced our Spanish because we had no choice and we ate octopus taken directly out of the ocean that afternoon while watching a concert in the Parque.
There are a few things I would have done differently, though (remember that seatbelt thing?).
Millions of families travel to developing countries on holiday every year–Mexico (which has been re-classed as “newly industrialized”), Haiti, Thailand, and Sri Lanka have seen humongous rises in tourism. And many families go and stay at all-inclusive resorts and enjoy some of the best beaches in the world.
Wonderful! I wish you a relaxing holiday. But I also hope to push you out of your comfort zone a little and urge you out of the resort gates.
There are adventure-seekers who travel with their families differently. They stay in local places, rent cars or take local transportation, eat street food, and wander about the local sights.
There are a few questions you need to ask yourself before taking this leap:
How comfortable am I with discomfort?
Not every place you go will have US standards of comfort. There is very little air conditioning in public places in the north of Colombia, for example. Getting out into the wilderness also requires roughing it.
How much “babysitting” do I want?
Would you rather have a car and driver take you around? A tour guide? There are varying levels of guidance you can hire or join to make your trip more predictable.
What level of risk can I accept?
This one will require some Internet sleuthing. Search travel forums to find out what other travelers say about some of the basics in-country. Can you get a taxi with seatbelts? Are there a lot of panhandlers? Will you deal with brownouts? Is the water safe? Then take steps to either remedy any deficiencies (hire a car and driver and buy bottled water) or decide that you can deal.
To make the most of your trip and reduce stress, do your best to “know before you go.”
Find out about changing money, drivers, hotels, tours, guides, etc. Remember that children under five years of age are at exceptional risk from Malaria. Pack extra anti-diarrhea medicine, baby wipes, and granola bars (but try to pack less overall).
Prepare yourselves for a forever memory experience: talk about what you will see and do with your kids. Be open, live in the moment, enjoy the experience, challenge yourself.
And remember that attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.