Where to go?
I always wanted to go to Madagascar – my personal favorite all-inclusive holiday destination: jungle, marvelous beaches, lots of wild animals, that don’t exist anywhere else on this planet and all of it on a little island. But all I have seen from Madagscar so far is a children’s movie with that name. Sometimes when I go shopping for groceries with Paul and I am dancing a little bit in the aisles to the background music, he tells me to stop being like Alex, the lion. But I like to move it!
I never worried about jet lags and climate shocks. You can get over both when you give yourself some time. Traveling north-south isn’t a problem at all because you stay within your time zone. Traveling east is worst because you are losing time that you can’t get back, traveling west is usually better. Reset your time as soon as you enter the plane. Stop thinking “At home I would have breakfast now” but go for “In Thailand I would have afternoon tea now.” Get your body used to the new time as soon as possible. Adjust to the local time habits. For Paul and me it was never a problem at daytime but always at nighttime. We couldn’t sleep and Paul was complaining that his heart feels like it would be jumping our of his chest at any moment. I kept him calm, read him stories and played shadow play – anything that you can do without getting up. Stay in bed – it is nighttime! I found out that our jet lags were worst when we arrived somewhere in the evening or night. When we arrived in Melbourne (when Paul was two years old) it was nearly midnight, we were wide awake and had to go to sleep. Impossible as you might guess. It is always easier to stay awake when you feel tired than to sleep when you feel awake. I therefore try to catch planes that arrive in the mornings even if they are slightly more expensive.
Something that you have to get also used to is the new climate. It is either warmer or colder or more humid or drier. It is definitvely different. With us it was easy to adjust to cold weather because you just got to put on some extra layers but Paul was really struggeling with hot humid weather. I tends to forget to drink enough and starts to get headaches, loses appetite and needs lots of rests. Don’t underestimate the weather change – the bodies of children are much smaller and for them it is a lot of work to get used to it, so give them some time and don’t start your holiday with a 15 kilometer hike through the jungle on the second day after your arrival. But neither climate nor jet lag should influence the choice of your holiday destination – except if you only have a week to go. Then it certainly doesn’t make sense to cross seven time zones…
Since I am globetrotting with Paul I always end up in places where friends of mine live. I have a friend who is a development aid worker; I know someone who studies overseas; there are friends of friends who migrated to somewhere. I gives me a feeling of safety to know, that there is someone who knows the country, someone who knows someone who knows the local languages and who I can ask if I am in doubt whether to pay a bribe to police officers or who can recommend a hospital in case I fall sick. Still, if you don’t have friends that are scattered all over the globe you have to ask yourself the same questions, actually they are the same things you have to think about when you are traveling without a kid: How much risk am I willing to take for my adventure?
I don’t believe that people, kidnappers, gangsters and petty crooks are the biggest danger – honestly, people who are trying to take a holiday with their kids in Ciudad Juarez, on the coast of Somalia or in the woods surrounding the golden triangle of Laos, Thailand and Burma are just plainly stupid (you can replaces “stupid” by any other word that summarizes unbelievable goony irresponsibility) – except you have some special relationships there then those bandits probably won’t do you know harm.
For all those troubled mums and dads and grandmas and grandpas who are reading this because they are worried about their little ones (little includes in this case any age bracket below 35) and wonder, how you are supposed to know where the bad guys are loitering: Usually the Department of Foreign Affairs of any country issues travel warnings. Here are lists of the countries that the Australian, British, US, Canadian, New Zealand and Irish governments are asking you to avoid. Also, dear worried relatives, people just don’t get on a plane ready for backpacking without having researched about their destination. It’s not like you open a travel brochure and think: “Oh, this hotel looks nice, let’s go there!” and then you book and off you go to enjoy the hotel and the sun but don’t give a damn about the country surrounding it. As a backpacker your priorities are the other way around: You see a lot of the country but rather little of hotels. And because of that reason, because you want to experience landscape, nature, people, rituals you have to collect lots of information: You decide which places you want to go, make a route, get to know the bus schedules, write down emergency numbers. And therefore you know that there are gang wars in Ciudad Juarez, that pirates are controlling the coast of Somalia and the drug trade is prospering in the golden triangle (even though it’s getting better there because the competition with Afghanistan is fierce, where you shouldn’t go either because there’s a war going on there.)
I think the danger is really tiny, microscopically small. It’s the nasty viruses and bacterias that are floating around like dengue fever, malaria and meningitis. It’s hidden in the common ordinary things you usually don’t think about: diarrhoea isn’t to bad for adults but children dehydrate much faster than you might think. Kids don’t cope very well with heat strokes either. And those who prefer to travel to the colder regions should educate their kids about crevasses, avalanches and ice brims. The bottom line is: Which experiences you want to spare your offspring? Are you still keen on going to India when you have heard from 20 odd friends that they all had the shits and your kid might not leave the toilet for days (how does a toilet look like in India, by the way?)? Do you really want to go to certain areas of Johannisburg even though every second tourist entering gets robbed? You still want to see Iceland even though this vulcano with the name no one can pronounce might erupt?
After you have run through all those potentials dangers and annoyances and you have decided which one’s you are ready to take on, I would still advise you to have an emergency plan too. I know it is really highly unlikely that anything will happen, statisticians say this and that and so on – you can always fool yourself into feeling safe. But better be sure! In case something bad happens your home trained emergency aid procedures might not work. In Germany it makes perfect sense to go to the police and report a robbery but there are countries where the police officers get parts of the robber’s loot because they are best mates.
Or else, which is actually very likely: the police officer won’t understand you. In which language you want to report what happened? English? Spanish? French? Or any of the other two dozens languages that are spoken in Thailand? To treat police officers as your friend and helping hand might be a fatal error in some places. And what do you want to do if everything goes wrong? Make your way to your embassy? Well, it might be a few thousand kilometers to get there. What I want to say is: If you are traveling and something is happening you should trust yourself rather than governmental institutions of the country you are in. I am not saying this because I am mistrustful person. If I were I wouldn’t be backpacking. I am saying it because you never know how things work in other places and it’s silly to think the way we learnt things is the only way possible. If you are really worried you can look up if there are humanitarian aid projects in the areas you are traveling to. The people there might not be able to help you but can at least point you in the right direction and explain you how things work.
Certainly, there is always the possibility that something happens you couldn’t imagine: Tsunamis that wash away islands, ash clouds that close down air traffic or revolutions that closes down nations. Right – but there is nothing you can do about that. At home you could have suffered from cabin fever which wouldn’t be very enjoyable either. You can’t plan for the unpredictable therefore it is useless to rack your brains about it. It can happen to anyone who is having a hotel bunker holiday as well. I wonder how someone can live a decent life if you are afraid of such events? Isn’t it alraedy considered an anxiety neurosis?
I decided that I am not very keen on taking my son to a hospital on Madagascar in case he would come down with malaria (which on top of it might be in a region very rebels are fighting): Therefore we are still sitting in front of or TV with some monochrome friends as cuddly toys and are watching how Alex, the lion, and his friends are coping with the jungle.