And when we dragged ourselves through the doors of our Kathmandu hotel, I knew we had made it. We did it. A 28-hour journey between airports, lost luggage, security checks, visas, and one shower. I was so proud of the kids and I…
It’s true that when you cross borders with your family, there’s a feeling that the only aspects worth preparing for involve immigration control, visas, and flight confirmations. But this time, I don’t mean those kinds of details. This time, I’m talking about limits of a different sort, those who have nothing to do with the word “visa.” What about the inner limits? The emotional, mental, and physical limits we all have? Surely, they are just as important.
Before this latest journey to Kathmandu, I was under extreme stress. I had no idea how I was going to manage the impending challenge. How could I possibly handle a journey that starts in Israel, continues to Jordan, and then onward to India, where we will have to wait 12 hours without any visa for the flight to Nepal? Alone, the journey would be arduous enough, but traveling with three kids poses an entirely new set of challenges. I knew the process would take well over 24 hours, and I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to sleep. I also knew that I had no Indian visa, and that the immigration officers would probably create a nightmare for us because of that problem. My close friends and family reassured me. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine,” they coaxed, although these empty reassurances only made me more anxious. Of course you can say “It’ll be fine!” if you don’t have to go through it! Had I gone too far this time? Had I taken a chance that would prove to be a huge mistake? Had I finally embarked on a journey that I could not safely enjoy with my children? What exactly was I capable of as a mother?
After successfully navigating over 7 years of traveling, I can say with certainty that one of the most important parameters to consider is exactly that: know your limits, whether they are emotional, mental, or physical. In a strange country, with its own laws, language, and unique culture, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Ever. Here are some ideas to think about before you embark on international family travel:
1. Do your homework!
Before settling on where you’re going to go, check the weather, health hazards, available healthcare, altitude, sanitation, and most especially the water quality for your top destination choices. How do you and your loved ones fare in cold weather? Humidity? Are there health conditions to be considered? Any germaphobes? Everyone needs to understand and be prepared to accept the differences in cleanliness standards from your home country versus your destination. Preparing for these aspects of travel will expand your hygiene limits!
2. Check personal safety levels.
Can you walk around without having to worry about being pick-pocketed or assaulted in other ways? What are the tourist crime rates like? Is there an organized tourist police association? Do you have proper insurance? Make sure you have fall-back plans in case your valuables are stolen, and then at least you can rest easy if you experience crime. Give everyone a copy of emergency phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Mentally prepare yourselves and your children for these contingencies.
3. Think about transportation options.
What is the best way for your family to travel? Do your young children need carseats? Do you need a personal driver? Are the kids old enough to handle long, cross-country, bumpy bus rides with unreliable bathroom breaks? What do you need for your brood to be most comfortable during these journeys? Don’t sign up for a bus journey when a flight would quell the concerns of some anxious travelers, and don’t book a flight when a bus ride will keep you within your limited budget. Balance your priorities.
4. Communicate with locals.
How many people speak English in the areas you would like your family to visit? Can you or your children learn language basics for your trip to make the visit more seamless? What areas of your destination country offer English speakers? It’s always critical to be able to communicate in some way, especially if you are in need of directions, a restaurant suggestion, or directions to a bathroom. Know what you need to be able to communicate once you arrive.
5. Seek advice.
Take advantage of those who have already visited your country of choice! Even if you know someone who has traveled in the country solo or as a couple, he or she certainly has advice or answers regarding your upcoming visit. Does anyone know people where you are going who might welcome guests (have them write down phone numbers!)? Where are the best hidden spots? Places to avoid? Bargain eateries? Even ask those “stupid” questions–don’t be shy! Ask about aspects you are concerned about and see how best to address these issues.
6. Ensure a comfortable landing!
Book lodging online at a decent, well-known hotel for the first night or two. That way you can get a first impression of the country from a cozy vantage point and make plans based on what you hear from hotel staff or fellow travelers. In addition, your family will be able to recover from jet-lag and get some good rest before setting into your international venture. Don’t push your limits even more after a tough journey to your destination!
7. Be flexible.
Stay flexible emotionally, mentally, and physically. Don’t worry if things don’t go exactly according to plan! Give it a minute, breathe, and check what your best options are. It’s almost never catastrophic, just a part of the trip that you have to get through. Invite a sense of adventure into your traveling, as plans will inevitably change. Celebrate a delayed train with an extra ice-cream run, and calm upset stomachs with another night in a comfy hotel. Take small steps. And even try to have a bit of fun! I cannot stress this enough: F-L-E-X-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y. That’s the key to pushing through the boundaries you thought you had!
8. Choose appropriate activities.
So one kid wants to bungee jump, another wants to take a cooking class, and another is battling an upset stomach. Anticipate the differences in your children’s preferences and prepare for disagreements about how to spend time abroad. No matter what, don’t put yourself or your family in situations that make you feel unsafe. Does your bungee guide seem out of it? Does your driver seem knowledgeable? Don’t rush to remote villages if it terrifies you, and don’t climb high mountains unless you’re sure you are confident to handle any problem that occurs on the way. Don’t put yourself in places where your own insecurity has you cornered. Know yourself and keep your strengths close to your heart, all the while accepting your weaknesses as part of the package. Remember all the reasons you decided to travel with your family in the first place. Then decide your true limits!