Fear. The word bumped up a notch this week in parent circles thanks to a recent State Department Travel Alert for the entire continent of Europe. One stinking little word packing a big punch among moms and dads within the realm of what we choose to do or not do while traveling with our kids.
As traveling parents, we strive to maintain balance between healthy adventure and honest safety on family vacations, choosing locales providing both for our own little demographic. The Travel Alert has my inbox all a-bustle with questions to the safety of venturing outside The United States of OMG, leaving me, a family travel writer, puzzling over the answer, and, perhaps the question. “Should we or shouldn’t we?”
In paraphrase, the Alert cautions Americans towards the “…potential for terrorist attack to tourist infrastructure, public transportation outlets…” etc. etc. etc. Tourists to Europe are asked to be aware of their surroundings and adopt appropriate measures. Gotcha. Here’s our take:
My family lives in Alaska, a state flush with rugged wilderness, wild weather and equally wild animals, all within the boundaries of our 600,000-inhabitant city of Anchorage. Every step from pavement to trail has potential for peril, and my kid knows it. A bear attacked a biker this summer after he came barreling through a known salmon-spawning area early in the morning on his mountain bike, startling said bear and eliciting a defense response that cost him a few layers of epidermis and a good night’s sleep for months. Moose are in a passion-driven Rut right now searching for mates, people be damned. The blessed weather is turning toward winter, when temperatures will drop below zero on a regular basis and sticking one’s tongue to the light pole will indeed cause a howl of painful reality, not to mention a big visit to the Time Out corner.
What’s my point? Go back to the words “potential” and “aware”. Every member of AK Fam knows when we embark on an outdoor adventure in Alaska, the very atmosphere is charged with potential. Something could happen, and often does. A moose blocks the way, bear tracks cross our path on a return trip, storms blow in. But it is the second word “aware” that becomes our greatest tool. Our son, at five, knows how to pack for a hike during any of Alaska’s four seasons; mittens, hat, extra hand warmers, and in the summer, bear spray. It’s a mantra, an automatic pilot sort of thing. He is aware. While outdoors in the wintertime, even in his own yard, movement catches his eye, for moose, despite their great bulk, are notoriously quiet creatures, necessitating a mad dash to the front porch with little warning. He is aware.
Is this equal to a terrorist bombing the Tube in London? Absolutely not, and I make no attempt to minimize the implied danger announced by our government. On the contrary, I choose to focus on the Department’s statement quietly screaming to tourists abroad for increased awareness, not fear. Things that appear different; noise, sights, sounds, behaviors, as travelers, we owe kids a legacy of heightened awareness, not heightened panic, thus creating platforms for education rather than concealment to the facts of our world. It is also a fabulous opportunity. Instead of the usual tourist attractions, go out to the suburbs or small towns and meet residents on an extremely personal and memorable level. Play in their parks, eat their food, visit their grocery stores, and live their everyday lives. That’s travel. And that, my friends, is what awareness truly means.