VIAGGI – FAMILY TRAVEL
The world is a scary place today, and the media makes sure we’re all thoroughly terrified. But travel is still the best way to open your mind to different foods, cultures, and experiences. In traveling, you meet beautiful souls, who can change your mind about prejudices, sometimes even those held so deep inside you didn’t know you had them. Journeys across borders can make you more willing to embrace our differences and awaken you to problems – and creative solutions – you might have never considered otherwise.
All that movement helps your kids grow into more thoughtful – and perhaps even more caring and tolerant – adults. The last thing I want for you is to feel this growing fear, see the horrifying images in the news, and lock yourself up in your house forever. Indeed, now is the very moment in which you must throw open the door and get out in the world. But I’m a mom and I know what you’re thinking. You feel paralyzed by worry because people who went to dance, break bread with friends, see a concert, pray at church, and go to their elementary school never came home and died ugly, unimaginable deaths. Planes have crashed inexplicably. Predator animals (actual wild beasts and not evil humans) have harmed innocent children. It all leaves you thinking a staycation is the answer this summer.
Actually, you can be brave and travel smarter to protect yourself and your family. Of course, I can’t guarantee your safety because there are no guarantees in life. But these tips can increase the odds you’ll have a happy, safe vacation:
- See something, say something. By now, you must have heard this call to action. The idea is to speak up about suspicious activity. It’s important, and it means you must stay alert while you’re traveling and make note of anything that feels out of sorts. I was in Manhattan on 9/11, and I have been living this since that day. At the time of the attacks, I was an assistant travel editor at the historic but now defunct Ladies’ Home Journal. One of the executives was supposed to go to the opening of Disneyland Paris’ Studios Park (it’s like the French Hollywood Studios) in March 2002. Not wanting to travel by plane, she handed the assignment to my editor, who had similar fears, and handed it to me. My mother didn’t want me to go alone, so she joined me, and her parents didn’t want her to go alone, so they joined us. We have family in France, who then joined us all at the parks. My grandparents stayed with them to celebrate Easter, and my mother and I returned home after a week. On the flight back, two men in front of us were having trouble with their documents. In fact, the French airline’s officials sent one of them home and did not allow him on the plane. The other sat next to me in flight. He had no bags, no luggage, nothing. He stared down the Orthodox Jews sitting near my mom in the aisle next to us. And he followed flight maps from a flight school the entire time we were in the air. A military veteran sat in front of me and whispered that he would take action if the guy tried anything. Then, as we were descending, this suspicious man shot up out of his seat and demanded to go to the bathroom. I said no because we were supposed to remain seated at this time. My mom did the same. But the stewardess eventually let him go because he wouldn’t sit down. We were all terrified. Nothing happened. He came back and when we exited the plane, he even said good-bye to us. But my mom and I called the FBI to report the incident as soon as we got home. They took down our seat and flight numbers and that was that. The man could be an innocent. But I’d rather be safe than sorry. That’s how we all have to think now. It’s not about profiling people. That’s not going to help. It’s about seeing suspicious activity or strange behavior and then speaking up.
- Know the lay of the land. I’m not so great with maps, so I never used to pay much attention to them, even when I went someplace new. After having to navigate New York barefoot because I had on heels that were slowing me down on 9/11, I try to know the roads and have a sense of how to flee. The fear of some sort of emergency driving me out of a place has me determined to know where to exit. Just have an idea of how to get out of the theater or where the different lands are in a theme park and how far they are from the exit. Know the highways you’re planning to drive or streets you will walk and where you might find emergency services and safe shelter.
- Know what to expect. Learning the highways and byways, so you can efficiently exit if necessary is only one part of the equation. You also need to know what the weather is like. Are there hurricanes or tornadoes or extreme heat or cold when you plan on traveling? Are there lots of plants to which you know you are allergic? What kind of wildlife is in the area? Recently, Lane Graves, a 2-year-old boy, who was staying at the Grand Floridian at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., died after an alligator in the Seven Seas Lagoon snatched him while he was wading on the edge of the shore. Disney is taking some heat for not warning guests about the gators in the area. I’ll let the lawyers work out whether there is blame to throw around. For now, my heart simply breaks for the family. I have been traveling to Orlando for most of my life, and I have relatives and friends who work for Disney, so I was well aware of the dangers in the Seven Seas Lagoon and frankly any body of water – even swimming pools – in Florida. Knowing that and the fact that gator attacks are extremely rare, I took my chances and went on the paddle boats in the lagoon more than once. I did not, however, allow my son near the lagoon when we stayed at the Polynesian resort earlier in the year. There’s nothing we can do to bring that precious boy back to his parents. But we all can find out about wildlife that might be in the area where we are traveling. Make decisions accordingly. Of course, companies like Disney must also inform guests of any dangers and do what they can to keep them out of harm’s way.
- Consider a leash for your kid. I know this is controversial, and before I became a mom I was one of those people, who said, “Never,” to the leash. But I bought one ahead of my son’s first trip to Disney. It was an adorable monkey that looked like a backpack. And I used it.all.the.time. For at least three years, whenever I was in an airport or crowded area, such as a theme park or zoo, I had him on the leash. He thought it was a game, and I couldn’t lose him. It was helpful on more than one occasion. Freak accidents like the curious little boy, who ended up in the exhibit with a gorilla, seemed entirely possible until I invested in the leash. Lesson learned, never say never.
- Be prepared with supplies. Mothers always have the right stuff in their bags. Be one of those moms. Carry a few bandaids, triple antibiotic gel or spray, emergency numbers for the local area, sunblock, and bug spray. Folks heading to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics are going to have to do all they can to ward off Zica virus. Before Zica, there was West Nile. Pests can be a problem. Have some bottled water on hand, too, so no one dehydrates and you can wash up if there’s no other way. Of course, always have extra clothes handy in case of illness or destruction. My son vomited the Mediterranean Sea while our flight from Naples, Italy to New York was landing; I was thrilled to have new shirts and pants for us both. I always pack an extra toothbrush and clean underwear in my handbag in case our luggage gets lost. Know your family. If someone needs a certain medication, pack it.
- Have copies of important documents. Because I never changed my last name when I got married, administrators in Munich, Germany were going to take my then 9-month-old son away from me while they investigated whether I was trying to kidnap him across international borders. My sister and I convinced them that I just hadn’t changed my name, and they could check with the U.S. government and my husband, the baby’s father, if they’d like, and they eventually let us go without separating my son and me. After that, I learned to carry his birth certificate everywhere, even to the supermarket when we’re in my ancestor’s and husband’s native Italy. Italian friends of mine lost their passports, credit cards, and cash while exiting a taxi in New York to catch a flight to Las Vegas. They ended up crashing at our house and spending the next four days frantically trying to get access to their money and new passports. That’s when I learned to leave photocopies of our passports with family and friends back home whenever we go anywhere. I also try to keep a limited amount of cash on me and phone numbers for my banks and credit cards. Know how to get in touch with your embassy if you’re traveling abroad.
- Try to relax. Being prepared and aware can help you stress less. Vacations are supposed to be fun. And a little precaution can go a long way in helping you – the mamma who is responsible for everything, including the kitchen sink – chill out.