I Challenge You to Travel with Kids
Making room for travel in your life allows you a range of positive emotions from thrill and excitement, to a real sense of joy and triumph. I recently read a quote that hit the nail on the head with, “Travel is the only thing that you buy that makes you richer.” Absolutely. However, bringing your kids along for the ride can add a little, tiny, tidbit of stress to the adventure. Or a lot, depending on the situation.
I decided to take a chance on life with my husband by dragging our two very young children out into the world, to attempt a “vagabond” lifestyle–no strict schedule, no definite destinations–just going where the wind blows us. Before departing onto our new world of exploration, which began in Costa Rica, I had some anxiety about the challenges we’d face. I had well-reasoned, rational nightmares of the what ifs, but I’ve learned in the last seven months to handle or even dismiss some of those fears, while other challenges have risen and surprised me along the road.
We had concerns like any traveler, but those concerns were magnified with the added responsibility of keeping our children safe.
We landed in Costa Rica like sheep who had wandered into the wilderness in the fog. It was an unknown place, ridden with mystery and risk. We had concerns like any traveler, but those concerns were magnified with the added responsibility of keeping our children safe.
We were unsure of our personal security, access to general and emergency healthcare, and the dangers of sharing a home with poisonous snakes and insects. As time has passed, we have realized the real challenges are those of daily life. How would we get around without a car? Would the climate be comfortable? Where do we get groceries? What if no one knows English???
These were our rational fears, and they all have been calmed with experience. Let me elaborate on each perceived challenge:
Would we be safe?
While many countries in Central America are indeed “not safe” for tourists, Costa Rica is enjoying an excellent economy, and hosts some of the friendliest, warmest people in my opinion. The major threat is of the common non-violent thefts that usually occur when homes are left vacant or people are wandering around in the dark of night. We haven’t felt unsafe yet in Costa Rica.
Would we have access to healthcare?
Fortunately, we have not needed any emergency healthcare, but we know where we’d need to go should there be an accident. In the Central Valley, we have access to a top-notch, American-standard hospital. We even have a hospital in our own town of Grecia, which we’ve heard is a good place for emergency care, while not so great for long-term stays. For the regular well-child check-ups, we’ve found a pediatrician in town, and have a handful of others to visit if we’re not happy with him. I’ve taken my daughter to the local clinic for vaccinations as well, where you don’t need an appointment and you only need the child’s shot record. So far, this is not a challenge at all.
What about the creepy-crawlies?
Before arriving in Central America, we doused ourselves with an unnecessary amount of worry about the snakes. There are over twenty poisonous snakes in the country, and the Fer-de-Lance, otherwise known as the “ultimate pit viper,” was regularly spotted in our first city of residence. I didn’t let my toddler run around without first scanning the yard. We shook out our shoes to check for scorpions. We had cats on the property, so the only remnants of anything slithery was brought to us as a beaten, be-headed present. Knock on wood, we haven’t seen any live snakes in our time here (besides our visit to the “World of Snakes” in Grecia where they were caged). We have seen a few tarantulas (eek!), but only outside.
The lizards and geckos don’t bother me, but we do see them every day–inside and out. In Atenas, where the weather is a bit warmer than Grecia, I’d have to be careful not to cook one of the little guys! We have also seen two live scorpions, but have learned that their stings only cause swelling for a few hours (whew!). The only other real insects to worry about (I think) are mosquitos. Obviously, this is a losing battle, as they are endless, but there is a slight risk of contracting Dengue Fever, a severe sickness that can kill if not treated properly. We keep an eye on new bug bites and are quick to have the kid’s blood tested if they happen to develop a rash along with fever. Safe so far.
How will we get around without a car?
Lucky for us, Costa Rica and surrounding countries have an excellent public transportation system. The buses are timely, clean and safe, and they stop every hundred meters or so to pick people up close to home. We can grab a bus any time from four in the morning, and catch a ride back before eight at night. In some neighborhoods, they roll through every hour of the day. Going from city to city is quite simple and very affordable.
We might pay $3 each (kids under three go free) to get to the beach an hour away. If we happen to have a large load of groceries or goods, we can always take one of the many taxis waiting on every street. As our time has grown here, so have our relationships with other expats with kids. It is a strong network of people looking to help each other out, and we have been offered cars to borrow more than once. With these easy modes of transport, we have not felt the need to buy a car, which keeps our wings free to fly off to another country, should the desire meet us.
Would the climate be comfortable?
Just to be on the safe side, we signed our first short-term lease on a house in Atenas, proclaimed as, “El Mejor Clima del Mundo,” which means, “The Best Climate in the World.” It sounded nice, and it was. We loved our time there, watching our son run around happily in just a diaper, and our daughter live in onesies. It was perfect without air conditioning or heating, which is a rare pleasure to find year-round. We spent our first three months there, then moved to Grecia, which is a bit cooler. We’ve learned to choose our short-term rentals by their elevation, as being physically comfortable is high on our list of priorities.
Where do we get groceries?
This one isn’t so much of a challenge as a preference. There are several groceries stores ranging in size in each town, and each one holds its own weekly market, or feria. We’ve learned to get our fresh produce from the Friday and Saturday feria or simply from central market that is open throughout the week. Since prices are comparable to the States in the grocery stores, we only visit them for the few items we cannot find in the market, like milk, butter and well… chocolate chips (we eat a healthy amount of chocolate chip-banana pancakes in this house!).
What if no one knows English?
The language barrier is probably the biggest challenge of all. However, the gracious people of Costa Rica not only come together to listen and figure out what the heck we’re talking about, but they also try their hardest to communicate back. Once, I held the staff and a line of customer’s attention while I desperately asked for “chocolate,” over and over. I was pronouncing it wrong, and by the tenth miserable plea, someone got it. They all laughed in unison. “The poor woman needs chocolate, get her some chocolate!”
As each month goes by, we are learning to talk the talk with confidence. Not only was this my biggest fear, but my biggest hope. Exposing ourselves to the probability of learning a new language is one of the best gifts I think I could give my children. It is certainly worth a few months of sounding like an idiota.
Today marks exactly seven months into our journey of life uncharted. While the occasional challenges of finding a what-do-you-call-it-in-Spanish item or getting caught in a rain storm do occur, we have learned to laugh through most of them. We often see the best of people–the side of people that want to help a lost mama with two babies on her hip and carry her bags home. We are swallowing the most beautiful sights imaginable on a regular basis.
If we hadn’t accepted the risks of traveling abroad with children, we would have never seen that flock of parrots flying by, or that enchanting waterfall, or been painted with that unbelievable beach sunset. I wouldn’t have heard my son ask for his milk in polite Spanish, or watched my baby girl get passed around a restaurant of adoring muchachas while I giggled over my breakfast. These are the moments that make up our life now, and I can assure you they are well worth any challenge. If you are considering a life of traveling, but held back by the fact that you have children, please fight to follow that call inside you. Pack up your kids and show them this miraculous Earth. You really can give them the world.
I Challenge You to Travel with Kids. Do you have advice for anyone thinking about traveling with kids? Email [email protected] We’d love to hear from you. Photo credit by Emily S and Unsplash.