At the end of September this year, the Family Travel Association is hosting its first annual Summit at the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana. Over the course of two full days, an assembly of industry executives and family travel experts will expand upon topics essential to a rounded understanding of the challenges we face today with family travel and the efforts we can make as an industry moving forward. In anticipation of that, we will count down the 12 weeks leading up to the Summit by spotlighting 12 core family travel topics to the public. Each week, we will publish an introductory essay written by an authority on the topic, which will open it up for public discussion. Following the Summit, we will initiate a 12-month process of digging much deeper into each of these topics, one per month. By the time we gather for the next Family Travel Association Summit in September 2016, we expect to have a much more powerful grasp of what’s at play in family travel.
TOPIC 4: Pondering a New (and Adventurous!) Health and Safety Normal in Family Travel
The seas of the Galapagos always have a powerful surge and swell. The waves crash against a rough and rugged shoreline. The unbridled brutality of the sweeping volcanic landscape rises up from the rawness of the Atlantic Ocean in this remote part of Ecuador.
With this in view and in mind, I ask “You ready?” to my young son. We’re sitting on the edge of a large rubber dinghy in 5mm wetsuits with hoods, gloves and full scuba gear.
“Let’s go!” he responds, his eyes beaming with excitement.
I smile, admiring this fearless kid. Here we are in the middle of heavy seas, 600 miles from the shores of the mainland, and he’s locked and loaded for one of the most exciting shark dives in the world.
With a sweeping gesture at the surrounding ocean, the dive instructor, who has completed his briefing, jocularly shouts “The pool is open!” His instructions are: make a military roll off the dinghy, descend slowly to 60 feet and then swim through the heavy current to a rocky pinnacle, where we are to grab hold and wait. Wait for what drew us here – hammerheads and a few Galapagos sharks.
All the family divers on the small craft – parents and kids alike – shove regulators in their mouths, secure their face masks and roll backward into the choppy water. We swim and float down 10 feet, then 20 feet, then deeper to our maximum depth of 60 feet. It is calmer beneath the waves. I can see that my son too is pleased to be off the boat.
We edge over to the pinnacle and do as instructed. And, sure enough, out of the blue abyss they come – first a school of a hundred hammerheads, then, passing just a few feet above our heads, a large Galapagos shark. To cap it all off, as we do our safety stop in 15 feet of water at the end of the dive, a young 25-foot (that’s small!) whale shark glides slowly by, seeming to inspect us as much as we marvel at its grace and ease.
Establishing a New Normal
Some would say that what I’ve just described is terribly dangerous, for adults let alone children. Others might say that asking me to write about keeping children safe and healthy while traveling is, well, almost insane. But, while these kinds of adventurous experiences are fairly normal for my family and others with whom we have traveled, it is no less standard for us to take any child’s welfare and security very, very seriously, whether we’re trying challenging things or traveling to less remote and more sedate vacation destinations, such as Bonaire, Grand Cayman, St. Lucia and more.
And so, while we recognize that mainstream travelers are more preoccupied by (still important) safety and health considerations like how to stay hydrated and fed with reliable food and water, how to secure valuables, where to purchase trustworthy travel insurance and even when to apply sunscreen, we deeply wish that the notion of adventurous family travel – actually, of any kind of family travel – didn’t strike to the heart of their deepest fears.
Based on our own experiences, we contemplate how hard it would be to establish a more widespread new normal of typical health and safety concerns being handled without hesitation so that they don’t compound the sense of dread that pushes most people to decide on less adventurous lives, let alone vacations. This is especially important because, in my opinion, today’s normal American vacation doesn’t help develop the kind of wellbeing and confidence we want in our children (or adults!). A confident kid is much more likely than a child with low self-esteem to be healthy and more passionate about meeting goals and succeeding in life.
The parents whose holiday objectives we satisfy always want to explore and create new experiences and exciting adventures for their kids. These families consider traveling the world to be an important part of educating their children about nature, different cultures and pushing the boundaries of personal discovery and development. While they cut no health concern corners and make no security sacrifices when preparing for their travel, they also don’t let terrorism, TSA controls, kids’ screen-time worries, or the drama of lost stuffed animals, sun exposure or a little Delhi belly stand in their way, even as they consider greater “risks.”
As we all know, it’s healthier to face our fears than to allow them to rule our lives. It’s time more people applied that dictum to their vacation planning.
Our company’s motto is: “Give them a week they will remember forever.” What could be more memorable as a parent than seeing your son or daughter beaming with excitement at the adventure of his or her life, and diving in deep – without fear?
Let us know your thoughts and ideas. The Family Travel Association is looking to gather ideas and opinions as a step toward creating the new normal.
Please share your feelings in the comments below or, for more interaction, on the Outbounding discussion board prepared specifically for us. And stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more articles about core family travel topics.
Margo Peyton is President and Founder of the award-winning dive and travel companies called Kids Sea Camp and Family Dive Adventures. She has spent the last 30 years as an international travel consultant and tour guide, traveling and living abroad with her own family and thousands of others.
For more essays in our FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family Travel series, click on the topics below.
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