Problems

No parent wants to think about the nasty things that can happen to children, but we all have to do it so that we lessen the chance that they will happen to our children.

Almost every city has a bad part of town. Learn from the guidebooks, the hotel desk person, the Embassy and other travelers what areas to avoid. Some places are fine in the day time but should be avoided at night.

Remember the kids: areas that might be fine for a streetwise adult are not for a child. The clues we use at home to identify bad parts of town may not be valid everywhere. Just because you don't see broken windows and graffiti does not mean all is well. If you do not speak the local language, you may miss aural cues that you should move along.

Host country tourism authorities and/or information booths are hit or miss for this kind of information; sometimes they want to gloss over problems and will assure you that all is well everywhere. Other times the tourism authorities are more concerned that a tourist might be robbed or hassled and will be very helpful in pointing out the bad parts of town for you.

Learn ahead of time about what you'll be seeing. Some people might not mind passing through a part of town filled with adult theatres and nasty posters advertising the same, while others would prefer to detour around such places to spare the children the view out the window.

The same thing can be said for sights and activities that might be common in some places but which will need a parent's explanation to make sense for the child: beggars without a limb on the streets in India, blind children asking for money on a train in Seoul, or unsolicited, graphic offers from Bangkok prostitutes in the lobby of an otherwise “nice” hotel. You know what you do and do not want your children to experience, and should plan accordingly.

While your sympathetic explanation of the social conditions that send children into the streets in some places might be the beginning of your child's understanding of his own good fortune and responsibility to help others, the sight of a crippled person being pushed off the sidewalk by bullies (or the police) to make way for you to spend tourist dollars can ruin the trip for a frightened younger child. “Will they hurt me too mommy?” can fuel a child's nightmares. Your own realization that nothing more than simple economics protects you from the same treatment can take away part of your own soul.

What is and is not acceptable for public display can vary considerably from place to place. Only you can measure what is best for your own child. Late night French TV shows films with adult content not allowed on network broadcasts in the U.S. Sandwiched in between cartoons, we saw a Saturday afternoon TV show in Japan based on surreptitiously photographing women undressing. In Bangkok, Seoul and Amsterdam some areas have prostitutes seated in shop windows offering themselves. In some countries, forced compliance with local standards for dress and behavior (for example, as regards women in parts of the Middle East) may hamper your own enjoyment.

The world is a busy, complex place. Experiencing that complexity is often what motivates travel in the first place. Our point here is not to dictate standards, not to claim that other peoples' conditions or mores are better/worse, right/wrong or anything similar. We simply want to say that you should learn what you can before traveling, and decide as parents what things for your child will open up new thinking, and what things will force discussions about sex, religion or development at an inappropriate time or age. You do the same already at home, but the differences you may encounter away from home will often challenge more with less warning.

Make up quests for fun. You'll want to see the main sites for sure; why go to Paris and purposely avoid seeing the Eiffel Tower. However, also look into more pedestrian things that make up life in other countries"€shops, food stores, schools, playgrounds. Real people live nearby the famous monuments, and getting to know them even a bit will make the trip that much richer.

Travel is fun, and I do not want to conclude this section on a somber note, so here is a more amusing recommendation: Learn about what is normal regarding kids in your destination and decide what you think about it. One time our oldest began crying in a restaurant in China. A waitress came by, scooped her up and cuddled her through the main course. Our child ended up in the kitchen eating fried dough while we wondered what best to do"€call the police or order dessert. This is all not uncommon in some parts of Asia, but if you didn't know ahead of time, it could have been an uncomfortable thing for some.