Raising Adventurous Kids
When Jennifer Widom and Alex Aiken were expecting their first child, friends and family were sure their around-the-world adventures would soon stop. No more Hawaii, no more Nepal, no more Thailand.
Good-bye, trails. Hello, diapers.
Yes, baby Tim arrived in 1995, and the couple had their share of diapers. But they also got out their passports before Tim could wave bye-bye. When Tim was a mere six months old, the threesome headed from their home in San Mateo, California, to New Zealand for two weeks.
Even the arrival of baby sister Emily in 1997 didn't slow the pace. If anything, the family got more daring choosing a developing country as their destination. When Tim was three and a half and Emily nearly two, the family spent two weeks in Costa Rica.
Fear of malaria, hepatitis, and other tropical diseases didn't get their goat. They took the necessary medical precautions and headed for the tropics, enjoying the rain forest, volcanoes, monkeys, and crocodiles.
How did two computer science professors (she at Stanford, he at Berkeley) become so adept at continent-hopping with preschoolers in tow?
The Wisdom of Widoms
Does a sojourn in Belize or a visit Down Under strike your fancy?Here are some lessons Jennifer and Alex have learned after many miles of exploring with their children:
Accommodations. When not staying in a tent or camper, Jennifer and Alex choose modest motels and hotels."We always opt for something with a kitchen when possible," Jennifer says. "Freestanding places such as cottages or cabanas are ideal since we don't need to worry about bothering the neighbors if our children get a little noisy."
Be independent. Keep as much independence as possible, Jennifer advises. Rent your own vehicle and hire your own guides when needed. That way you won't get stuck on a bus or hold up a tour group when your toddler decides to have a meltdown. Keep other trip costs low so you can afford these splurges.
Child carriers. Keep little passengers happy with frequent snacks, songs, and games. Keep parents strong by starting to bear the load while your baby is young, so you'll get used to the weight as your child grows.
Health in general. These travelers from California have been fairly lucky. In Australia the children suffered one ear infection and one medium-scale cut, while Jennifer had a bad wasp sting. In Alaska both Tim and Alex came down with a terrible flu, but only Alex had to see a physician (for severe dehydration).
Health in developing countries. Despite the viruses and slight injuries that can strike families anywhere, the family has been fairly fortunate on their more daring trips. They concluded that the children were healthier during two weeks in Costa Rica than they typically were in day care at home. Jennifer and Alex say they were"overly cautious" with water and hygiene. They cooked many meals themselves, using some food from home, although they also ate in restaurants. However, during their Belize trip, the children each picked up a botfly larva parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. Alex and Jennifer had been hesitant to use DEET on their kids, and thus they got bitten despite being protected by clothing. The larva started growing under the children's skin and had to be suffocated, then squeezed out. The parasite is harmless but unpleasant.
Lists, lists, and more lists. Maintain detailed packing lists: one for backpacking, one for camper vacations, and one for short trips by plane, for example. These lists will need updating as children's needs change, and the lists will need customizing for individual trips. Nonetheless, a list is a good starting point that helps minimize stress.
Zen. As a rule, young Tim and Emily delight in these adventures. They enjoy the wildlife, the new people and cultures, the camper, and special treats such as cookies, lollipops and ice cream. What's not to like?
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication