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Family Travel in the Wake of Terrorism

In Expat Musings, Travel Safety by Stacy

The unwavering response from the travel community in response to the Brussels airport attack has been the refrain “keep on traveling”. It’s principled. The idea being that if we stop traveling, if we live in fear and are afraid to travel, than terrorism has won.

But I’m not a travel blogger—I’m a family travel blogger. My priorities are a little different. “Keep on traveling” is a much easier motto when you’re only responsible for one life. That fearless 20-year old not afraid to risk her own life recklessly exploring remote locations is now a mom of three. And the fears I have are different now. It’s the thought of losing my kids in an attack at an airport, or them losing their parents, or them being injured and forever reliving the trauma of those awful moments when people around them lost their lives.

family travel and terrorism brussels security precautions fear

Peaceful and serene may not be words I use to describe an airport ever again.

So do I stop traveling now? Do the kids and I hole up in our small town and hope that we’re safe? One of the biggest challenges of parenthood is learning how to navigate the risks of life. Each car ride has inherent risks, but we use the best practices of car seat and seat belt safety to try to minimise those risks. Helmets are worn on bike rides. We cut hot dogs and grapes into little pieces to avoid the risk of choking. We find ways to be good parents and keep our kids safe without bubble wrapping their world.

Travel should be no different. Terrorism does impact the way we travel. Airport security looks nothing like it did twenty or thirty years ago. Metal detectors, body scanners, liquid restrictions are all an accepted part of air travel now. And these precautions will continue to evolve as the need arises. So too should the precautions we take as parents when we travel with our kids.

I remember being told in high school that there was a greater likelihood of dying in an elevator than in a terrorist attack. I’d guess that may not be true any longer. There is a chance, although still incredibly remote, that something awful could happen to us while we’re traveling.

And Brussels hit me harder than I would have anticipated. Familiarity has a way of making a tragedy more real. This happened in a major European city at a major European airport. We’ve traveled through Brussels in the past year, we’ve utilized their fantastic rail system, and we fly through European airports just like Brussels Zaventem on a monthly basis. We wait forever in long check-in lines without a care in the world. Some of the families traversing this airport when the attacks occurred were also large American families and friends of friends. It hit much closer to home than any of the recent terror activity. An article a few days prior to the attack in British media covered how London was making preparations to be ready for a similar multi-pronged attack. The threat is real, and it’s close to home for those of us living in or near major Western European cities.

I was unusually quiet on social media the day of the attacks. No fearless motto or promises to pray seemed adequate or even sincere. Once again, there was fear.

I am determined to ‘keep on traveling’ with my kids, but we will take more precautions:

1. Less Big City Travel

We’ve already found that crowded cities and my kids don’t mix well. Our hiking and off-the-beaten path adventures are much more enjoyable. And I think that trend will continue for the foreseeable future. I’m in no hurry to fight crowds in a major European capital with kids who’d rather be free to run when there are now added, ominous risks. Small towns are often even more picturesque and much less touristy. And I won’t feel the need to confine three kids to a stroller or keep a death grip on their wrists everywhere we go.

2. More Cabs, Less Public Transport

It’s doubtful, and not practical, that we will avoid London and big cities completely. But when we do pass through, I’ll likely avoid public transport and take the more expensive—but always more convenient—taxi. The London Underground is already a major pain in the butt with a stroller and multiple kids to keep track of. Convenience plus a greater sense of security for this mama bear is a definite win-win.

3. Less Divide & Conquer

Often at airports we split up. The husband will handle parking or the luggage while I take the teeny-bladdered kids to the bathroom again. I think that will be happening a lot less in airports. Should anything go wrong, I’d rather us all be together and know where each other are at all times.

4. ID Tags for the Kids

My two older kids can recite my mobile number (with country code) in song. But I don’t think that’s enough. And in a traumatic situation, they may not be able or capable of recalling pertinent information if separated from us. On our recent trip to Norway we began using LittleLife backpacks for all three kids. They snap across their chests and only my oldest is capable of taking it off by herself. They’re small and fit just enough small toys or a stuffed animal to be manageable. Whatever the kids can fit in their bag and carry on their backs, they can take with on the plane. And while we don’t utilize the leash that can be attached to them, they have a convenient strap at the top that can be grabbed quickly should my toddler attempt to take off. But the most important feature, for me, is the place on the inside of the backpacks to write personal information. The name of each child and multiple telephone numbers (each parent’s number and a stateside grandma’s number) are recorded inside.

family travel and terrorism brussels security precautions fear

Our travel backpacks with ID/contact information inside.

But after Brussels I’m wondering if that’s enough. From temporary tattoos with safety information to travel ID bands—there are an abundance of options available. My kids proved at Disney World last year to be masters at removing the expensive ID bracelets we’d purchased, so recently I’ve been researching engraved tags that could be laced into shoe strings. There are GPS trackers for kids as well, but I haven’t found one yet that is both affordable and designed specifically for our family’s travel needs. We still have a few weeks before we travel again, so I have a little more time to weigh my options.

5. Skip the Airport Lines

We fly discount airlines frequently and try not to pay for any “extras” so that our cheap tickets remain a good deal. That means we normally pass on paying a little extra for priority boarding or to fast track through security. We will now be paying the extra to fast track through the security checkpoint. We won’t be dawdling around the check-in area any longer than we have to. The attacks are too fresh on our minds for us to even consider cutting that corner to save a few bucks. We are okay with air travel costing a little more if it at least gives us a greater sense of security when we are traveling with our kids.

 

I’m the first to admit I may be overly cautious now as we make travel plans. But that is what I need to feel comfortable with our decision to continue traveling around Europe. As parents, we each make our own decisions about how to mitigate risks. I’d love to hear how recent world events impact your desire/plans to travel and what additional steps, if any, you take to keep your family safe!