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If you read the news, traveling abroad can seem like a perilous adventure from which you may never return. If you're a mom, then traveling abroad may appear to you as ridiculous as taking your family to a war-zone and expecting to come out alive.
Of course, visiting other countries requires that you take certain precautions, just as you would when going to a different state or city that you're not familiar with.
Traveling abroad can be a wondrous experience that will help you raise open-minded and worldly children. A few summers ago, my family traveled to Haiti, and it was one of the most memorable vacations for my kids. Being multicultural, we've also lived in different countries, and so we travel abroad at every opportunity. Based on our experience, here are common myths about traveling abroad that you don't need to worry about, so long as you take typical precautions.
Myth: It's dangerous.
That could be true, of course, depending on what country you're visiting. Before you travel, make sure you read about your destination and even better, hook up with locals, if possible, to get recommendations as well as contacts in case you need help while you're there. Ask your friends online what spots you should visit and which areas you should steer clear from. There's nothing like word-of-mouth from other mamis who can share their personal experiences.
Myth: It's expensive.
If you have children, take advantage of reduced airfares until they turn 2 years old. I did a lot of traveling with my babies, and I don't regret one second of it. Try to fly during off-peak times of year when prices are lower. I would definitely consider pulling my kids out of school and home-school them during an enriching trip to another country. Buy family bundles, or visit friends and family to save money—but also to experience the country like a local.
Most of the time, tourists get mugged because they stand out like tourists. Pickpockets the world over take advantage of those carrying cameras, speaking loudly in a foreign language and standing distractedly on street corners trying to figure out a map. Be street smart. For seven years, I lived safely in a city well-known for pickpocketing. But I also always carried a small front pack instead of a handbag, and walked like I knew where I was going (even when I didn't).
Myth: You'll contract a terrible disease.
You could also slip and fall in your own bathroom. Some countries require that you get certain shots before you visit. My family and I took malaria pills before going to Haiti and avoided cholera by washing our hands and drinking boiled or bottled water. The more you travel, the stronger your immune system will get. Pack remedies for the most common traveling ailments, such as indigestion or diarrhea. Also remember that if you get sick, local doctors will be adept at treating you for an ailment they are familiar with, and which would perhaps baffle a U.S.-based doctor.
Myth: Nobody will understand you.
English has become an international language. No matter where you go, there will usually be someone who understands and speaks enough English to communicate with you. Also, with translation apps on smartphones, it's easy to show a local what you mean and have him or her type their response and translate it back to you.
Myth: You'll hate the food.
Before you travel to a new place, familiarize yourself with the food. To be safe, figure out how to order plain staples. You could always go to a U.S. fast-food franchise if you're really scared of not liking the local fare. But when you travel, open yourself up to new tastes and textures. In the case of your children, it could help the picky eater in your family become, well, less picky.
People are usually flattered that foreigners want to get to know the place where they live. Tourists are also welcomed because they help boost the economy. They also give the locals a chance to become familiar with someone from another country. Before you arrive, make sure you know a few common courtesy rules: how to greet and say goodbye, table manners, tipping and such.
Myth: You'll be swindled.
This could happen anywhere, really. It´s happened to me in the good old U.S.A. when cab drivers have taken me for a ride—literally. Before you arrive in a new city or country, make sure you know in advance how much cab fare, a meal or a hotel might cost. An informed tourist is hard to swindle. You can also ask the cost before getting into a taxi so you know what to expect at the end of the ride, for example.
Myth: There will be a terrorist attack.
Anything could happen anywhere. I lived in Spain where terrorism was a part of the daily news. I've traveled to London after different bombings, and of course visited New York after the tragic and world-changing events of 9/11. Sadly, shootings happen in the U.S. every day. We just tend to feel safer in a familiar environment. Don't let worries about terrorism keep you away from a place you'd like to visit if all indications say it's relatively safe to visit, and you're just letting your imagination get the best of you.
Myth: Your children won't adapt.
The truth is that children are more adaptable and resilient than adults. No matter whether they're babies, toddlers, tweens or teenagers, they will take their cues from you. If you take an open-minded approach, they will likely embrace their new surroundings and learn more in a few days abroad than in a year in the classroom.