Family / Personal / Travel

Is it safe to travel the world with your family?

One question I hear over and over from people considering traveling with their family is, “How do I keep my family safe while traveling?”

In this video, I share my own tips for traveling safely as a family, drawing from our family’s experience over the last seven years of travel.  I also share some common misconceptions about safety issues in the world, thoughts about staying healthy on the road, what to do if a family member gets separated or lost in a crowded place, and how to reduce the likelihood of crime or illness.

I hope by the end of this post, you’ll have more confidence to explore this beautiful, amazing (and yes sometimes dangerous) world we live in with your family.

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Transcript

Hi everybody, it’s Brandon Pearce, and today I want to talk to you about how to travel safely with your family.

Many of the people that we talk to about our adventures through over 32 different countries, express concern to us about how we could possibly travel safely with a family in other parts of the world where it’s so dangerous and where bad things happen. There’s so much to worry about. What if you get sick with some kind of disease? What if your kid gets lost or kidnapped? What if there’s some other physical safety danger that happens because it’s just not as regulated or as safe?

Well today, I want to help dispel some myths about foreign countries and travel.  I want to help give you some tools to consider, as you take your family abroad and travel the world, to help you to be safe.

Safety Myths

There are some countries where you just feel so safe. I mean, anywhere you go in the world, if you’re in a rural countryside, you’re going to feel pretty safe. There’s not much that happens there. But there are some countries where even the big cities just feel really safe.

For example, in Tokyo, Japan, there are so many people there (and it may be overwhelming in that regard) but there is such a culture of respect in Japan and it’s so organized that you feel very safe there. They have five-year-olds that ride the subway by themselves! Sure, bad things happen there. They’ve got a great mafia in Japan, but it’s not something that most people encounter, especially as a tourist. Remember, bad things can happen anywhere in the world, anytime, so you’re not necessarily any less safe in other countries than you are in your own.

Now, I’m not proposing you just throw all caution to the wind and say, “Ok, the world is a completely safe place. Let’s go travel and nothing bad is going to happen to us.” because there are things that happen. You may know someone personally who has had a bad experience in a foreign country. But, I bet you also know someone who has had a bad health experience or safety experience in your own neighborhood!

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So where are you going to experience life the fullest, and what are you going to do to prevent bad things from happening? You can’t prevent bad things from happening. But you can help reduce them. Use common sense. Use your intuition. Use your reason. Do a little bit of research and then go live your life! Don’t let fear of the unknown, fear of unsafety, or ultimately fear of death stop you from living a full, beautiful, amazing, and rewarding life!

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You’ll hear stories about horrible things happening to somebody else in the world and you may think, “Well, there was a terrorist attack in this country so I’m not going there.”

Or, “I heard there was some kid who got kidnapped in this country so I’m not going there.”   

Those things typically happen very rarely and the chance of them happening to you are so slim.  You’re so much more likely to get killed in a car accident driving to work tomorrow then you are to get kidnapped in a foreign country. Don’t let those fears keep you from living your dreams!

Health and Well-Being

Let’s talk about general health and well-being.

Of course, we all know that getting sufficient sleep, exercising, and taking care of our bodies is what’s going to keep us healthy, happy, and physically safe. Whether you’re at home or whether you are in a foreign country, that still applies.

There are a few differences when you are traveling. For example, the water in a lot of Western countries is perfectly safe to drink. Water from the tap in your kitchen, your bathroom, or getting water in your mouth during the shower is all fine in a Western country.  But, in some parts of the world, such as Central and South America, parts of Asia, and definitely Africa, you don’t want to drink water from the tap unless there’s been a filter installed in the place you’re staying.

Some hotels have filtered tap water but most of the time you’ll drink bottled water, either in big five-gallon jugs they put in the house and you just push the button and fill up your cup and take a drink. Or they will have bottles of water that you buy for much less money than you would expect. Maybe five, ten, or twenty cents (USD) for a for a liter of water.

It’s important to wash your vegetables and fruits in the filtered water rather than the tap water. It is ok to wash your dishes in the tap water with soap and let them dry.

For food, there are some restaurants that don’t use filtered water to wash the vegetables. Or sometimes a restaurant has sanitation issues and you can get stomach bugs, indigestion for a couple days, or bad vomiting. You can typically avoid that by eating at restaurants where the locals eat and ones that have good reviews. Or you can prepare food yourself making sure that everything is properly washed. Adding a little bit of lime juice can also help with some of the bacterial issues.

Medical Care

I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there around the quality and the cost of the medical care that you can receive in other countries. In the US, as we all know, the cost of medical care is so ridiculously high that insurance is required in order to afford even basic treatment.  

In other countries, it’s not that way! In fact, we didn’t have any insurance for the first five years of our traveling because we didn’t need it. We were in countries where the cost of medical care is extremely affordable and very good. For example in Costa Rica, a lot of parts of Asia, and pretty much everywhere in the world except for the U.S.

This year, since we’re in the U.S and Canada quite a bit, we have a policy with IMG, a travel insurance company. World Nomads is another one that’s fairly popular. You can get a decent price on high-deductible plans, but remember the only reason insurance exists at all is because the cost of what you’re trying to buy is so expensive. Insurance companies offer a cheaper alternative and they make money doing it. It’s not necessarily required elsewhere in the world.

Although I will say – and there are going to be a lot of people who disagree with me on this (and I’m okay with that) – if you’re in sub-Saharan Africa, or you’re in some remote place where there’s just not good care or you’re going to need to be air-lifted somewhere if there’s an emergency, then, yes, it is a good idea to get an insurance policy. For us, it has not been an issue and we have used the medical system a little bit here and there. We are generally very healthy people, but we have had a few infections that we’ve had to visit clinics for.

Let me just tell you a couple stories to give you an illustration of the cost of medical care in other places. We have all had minor infections while traveling. In Bali and elsewhere, we’ve had doctors come to our house with a nurse, do all sorts of tests, give antibiotics, and we pay usually $60 or 70 (USD) for a house call. It’s about the same price if you go to the clinic yourself, which is basically walk-in and you don’t have much of a wait before you are treated instantly.

We also went to the doctor in New Zealand for an infection Marie had. New Zealand is interesting because emergency medical care in New Zealand is actually free for everybody! We have a friend who had his appendix burst when he was traveling in New Zealand. He went to the clinic and they fixed him up. When he was done he asked, “Okay, how much do I owe?”  And they said, “Nothing, it’s all paid for!”

So in some regards you’re better off having a medical emergency outside of the U.S. then you are inside of the U.S.

We also had a baby in Costa Rica and we paid around $3000 USD for that. It included all the doctor visits, the ultrasounds, and having the doctor and the midwife come to our house to attend a home birth.  We could have had our baby for free at a public hospital if we wanted to, or paid a little bit more for a private hospital, but we decided to do the home birth route because it was still affordable. And a home birth was the experience that we wanted.

Overall, insurance and good medical care is totally possible and fine almost anywhere in the world. Of course, there are a few pockets where you might want to be concerned.

If you look at the CDC website, (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) you’ll get a list of all the recommendations and all the scary things that could happen all over the world. Most of those are very much overblown, in my opinion. For example, they list all the vaccines that are required or recommended, warn that pregnant women shouldn’t travel here, and it’s way, way over protective from my experience.

There are pockets in Panama, for example, where there might be some risk of dengue or malaria but the rest of the country is completely fine. If you are not traveling to those pockets,  you don’t need anything, but the CDC says if you’re going to Panama you need to get this certain vaccine. Just know where you’re going in the country and what might really be required for you to be safe in that part of the country. If you’re going out into the jungle, the risk of dengue and malaria and those types of mosquito-borne illnesses will be greater than if you’re in the city where generally those problems don’t exist.

Getting Lost

One of the other dangers that parents are worried about when they think about traveling with kids is getting lost. Well, not necessarily them getting lost, but their kids getting lost. Having your kids separated from you is scary anywhere in the world.

There are a few things that we like to do as a family to help prevent getting lost. For example, when we’re in crowded public places we like to hold hands and just stay together. If we’re going to ride the subway or ride a train and there’s the chance of one person not getting on the train, we just say if you don’t get on then stay where you’re at and we’ll come back and get you. If you do get on the train without the rest of the family, get off at the next stop and then we’ll come pick you up there. Just have some rules and a plan for what to do in that type of situation.

When we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand two or three years ago with some friends, Marie, who was seven or eight at the time, got lost at a hot air balloon festival. We were with a group of friends and there were thousands of people there.  It was getting later at night and all of a sudden we realized we didn’t know where she was. We walked around the perimeter, searching and searching. We went back down the path that we had come from but we couldn’t find her. As it turns out (and this is the case in so many places) there was a very kind person who took her and guided her around to help find her parents because she was crying and sad. It was a scary experience for her, but we found her.

I think, just like any place in the world, there are people who are good, kind, generous, and wonderful. There are people who love to help others, especially families with young kids. We don’t follow the “don’t talk to strangers” rule. That doesn’t work in the real world. I think that strangers are generally friendly and helpful people. Sometimes you’ll get a vibe when somebody may not have your best interests at heart and we teach our kids to respect those feelings and to honor that. And to make choices from there.

Another common rule that I’ve heard of is having a family password. If somebody needs to pick up your kid and you’re not there, they need to say a password so that the kid knows that is safe to be picked up by that person.

We make sure our kids know all our own first and last names and, of course, our email address and our website. We don’t typically teach our kids our phone number because our phone number is constantly changing as we move around to different countries and get different sim cards. Same with our address, but they know our email address and we are always able to check that. They know how to use email and they can get in and they can send us a message from a public computer.

There are times when our kids just love to wander and we let them wander off by themselves. Typically if it’s a new place that we are not familiar with, we will either go first together or we’ll do a buddy system where there are at least two of us together, exploring a new place.  

In general, our philosophy is to empower our kids to have the skills they need to go throughout the world and feel safe doing it. We are not necessarily trying to protect them from a dangerous world, but to help them be strong and have strength to move through the beautiful and wonderful and sometimes dangerous world that we live in.

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Physical Dangers

Let’s talk about physical dangers. Now, these are things that also can happen anywhere. In any big city you’ve got crime and types of physical violence but, of course, we all know avoiding dark alleyways at night is a good idea. In many cities, just not being out at night at all is a good idea. In other cities, like Barcelona, you can stay out until midnight and there are families walking around and it’s perfectly safe.

In less developed parts of the world, you might be driving on a road or walking on a sidewalk that’s uneven, doesn’t have a railing, or there is no sidewalk.

In some parts of the world, the traffic works very differently. For example, pedestrians often don’t have the right-of-way. Cars have the right-of-way. If you want to cross the street you wait until there are no cars and then you cross. You don’t expect the cars to stop.

In places like Vietnam, the cars never stop and there is hardly ever a space to cross the road without cars! Basically, if you want to cross the street you just slowly walk out into the traffic as the cars and motorbikes weave around you. (See a video here) It’s a fun adventure and you just hold hands and walk at a steady pace and you make it through.

Now of course, if you’re threatened with physical violence, or someone pulls a knife or a gun on you (which again I think is more common in the U.S. but happens less now than it used to) then give them the money. Don’t fight. If you’re a skilled martial artist maybe you could consider something, but most skilled martial artists also know the goal is to get out of there.

Carrying yourself confidently, walking like you know where you’re going, and being friendly and respectful to people are all things you can do to avoid getting into conflicts and running into issues with physical safety.

If you’re at the beach sometimes there are flags they put up to show it’s dangerous or there are riptides to be aware of and it’s good to respect those signs.

Our Philosophy

Again, our philosophy isn’t to live in fear and caution but to live an open, full, and beautiful life.  You can’t always prepare for accidents so all of these precautions that we can take are helpful to make you feel confident and help you move through life more safely. But you never know when an earthquake is going to happen, or you’re going to find out you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or you’re going to get in a car accident. Again, these are things that can happen anywhere, so preparing for them as much as possible is great but then go and live and enjoy your beautiful life! Because life is a beautiful and wonderful thing, as is this amazing world we live in!

Thank you for watching this video, I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you feel a little bit more confident and safe about going into the world with your family and experiencing all that the world has to offer.

Remember to live well, and enjoy life now!


Brandon is a location independent entrepreneur, musician, traveler, worldschooling father, and the principal author of this blog. He's all about reaching his potential and enjoying life to the fullest in every moment while inspiring others to do the same.


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