The Craziest, Riskiest, Stupidest Things We’ve Done While Traveling

A common concern about travel is how safe going abroad really is. The concern is often heightened when going to a developing part of the world – like Southeast Asia, India or Central America. And taken up yet another notch when the travel plans include children.

The good news is that by and large the concerns that we have about going to exotic destinations are rarely realized. Travelers to third world nations rarely die of malaria, yellow fever or hepatitis B. That shouldn’t sound dismissive. Part of that good luck is dependent on vaccines, preparation and planning, and excellent health care for tourists when they do fall ill. (Locals aren’t nearly as fortunate on their encounters with illness.)

The truth is travelers often takes risks while traveling that they otherwise would consider rash, irresponsible, or just plain stupid (see our family photos below). Risks and scenarios that are eschewed at home, are taken on eagerly and happily while on vacation. It’s not always easy to know where to draw the line. You are traveling in a foreign country where the idea is to adopt that country’s norms and standards.

There have been times I insisted on a different vehicle because the seat belts wouldn’t work, strapped my kids safely in only to feel a little ridiculous as we passed one motorbike after another with entire families laboring to stay aboard.

And other times when I’ve shrugged my shoulders and rationalized to myself that the chances of an accident on any individual journey are fairly small.

Let’s have a look now at some of the Hogg family’s worst moments in child safety.

I don’t know how many safety recommendations this setup breaks. Let’s see: rear facing in the front seat with air bags. Did I miss any?Baby in car seat while traveling in Southeast Asia.

Cars in Indonesia don’t have seat belts in the rear seats so it was either here or sitting on our laps in the back and I chose this. That’s one big difference between Bali and Vietnam. Cars in Bali just have working seat belts in the 2 front seats. Cars in Vietnam have no working seat belts at all.

Another photo from the “travel without seat belts” file.A car trip from the Railay ferry to the Krabi airport.

I had this idea that they were somehow protected from harm if they kept their bodies behind the seat and I would find myself inanely reminding the boys every few miles to “stay behind the seat! Would ya”. Like if the van did a flip I’d be telling people afterwards, “luckily the boys were standing safely behind those 2 big front seats.”

It says right on the little white tag: The Baby Bjorn has not been tested on elephant rides – but what could go wrong on an elephant ride?On an elephant ride in Bali.

Well, for one: the large beast could get hungry. Our Elephant went … how should I put this … a little crazy. On an elephant ride in Southeast Asia.

I found out later that he was very hungry and had somehow saw or sensed that it was feeding time. He was trying to fight his handler and go directly to the food. He trampled off the path, across a large field and away from the other elephant and the intended route. (Thinking we were dead my wife and her elephant continued on to the lodge where they were offered some lovely Balinese fruit.) It took only a few minutes for our guide to get our elephant under control. This will sound like either a short or long amount of time depending on if you are reading this online or were actually on top of the animal at the time.

At least the life jackets were within reach! And it only happened this once.Boat to Railay Beach in Krabi.

Ok, maybe twice.Getting from Railay Beach to Krabi airport.

Come on – What’s gonna happen on a river?On the Thu Bon river near Hoi An, Vietnam.

On a boat near Hoi An in Vietnam, our son got to take the steering wheel and was very happy with himself.Our boy driving a boat on the river in Hoi An, Vietnam.

While Samuel was driving, the boat would occasionally do a pretty dramatic 180 in the river and we’d turn around to see him turning the wheel as the boat pointed this way … and then that way … and the boatman would be down on the floor of the boat playing with our other son completely unconcerned.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with an American guy who married a Vietnamese woman and often took his kids back there to visit her parents and family. He was amazed at how different their sense of risk was. He’d hear them saying stuff like, “Oh look at the baby up on the roof playing with the knife – Isn’t he cute?”

34 questions and comments

  1. AvatarAnna

    I smiled reading this. We did a RTW trip with three kids aged 2,6 and 9 in 2010. There were many places a seatbelt was not an option in Africa and Asia, yet at home in New Zealand I am the car seat safety fanatic!

    Just wanted to point anyone who is here getting ready to travel with kids to this car seat vest, which converts a seat belt into a safe seat for a little one. Still have to have a seat belt but it is easy to carry and we used it often its a Ridesafer travel vest.

    We also have many stories of wild boat and tuktuk rides and slings on camels and elephants! Awesome memories!

  2. AvatarKarilyn

    I love this! Our son was born in India and we stayed until he was almost 2 years old. Foreigners were the only ones who used car seats, so I didn’t think anything about taking him out when he was fussy or whatever. We also took his carseat in an auto rickshaws treasure hunt race around our neighborhood when he was 4 months old…and won! We never even took his carseat with us to turkey or Dubai or anywhere outside of our home city in India. Instead of the baby born, ours was in an ergo on a camel in Rajasthan! And a bicycle come to think of it! After living in the US for 8 months, I wonder how my safety standards will have changed when we go on our next international adventure….

  3. Avatarsydney

    Was happy to come across your blog today! As an avid traveler myself (over 40 countries in as many years) I now have two kids and am happily introducing them to the world. So far we’ve “only” been to Europe with them (Malta was our most recent country) but your blog is inspiring me to consider Southeast Asia next year! Keep up the good work!

  4. AvatarJana

    Hi there! Happy to find your blog! We are Americans living in Bangkok for 3.5 years now (before we were in Singapore and India). Our boys are 3 and 1 and were both born in Bangkok. We laugh to ourselves sometimes about how because we live (and travel) in Southeast Asia, we have disregarded our safety a long time ago! Not really true but just hugely different standards. We do the best we can and we just love Asia!

  5. AvatarAnne

    Hi there. American here, who gave birth to 3 kids in Africa and has been raising them here for the last decade. I love these pictures. Because we make these sorts of choices all the time. There is really no choice. Sometimes the car battery dies and you have to run out and find a taxi. No seatbelts there. Sometimes kids are hungry and the only food is some sketchy deep fried something something on the side of the road. Sometimes you are in a really cool place – Whoo! The Zambezi! There’s a small waterfall! Lets slide down it! Do you really NOT let your kids do this? I would feel like a bad parent if I didn’t give my children these experiences because the chance for our kids to have a different sort of childhood is one of our reasons for being here. There are thousands of expats living in all the places you’ve mentioned, for whom those activities are just part of their life. Not some sort of special trip for which risk is or is not weighed. Good blog btw. Nobody should be afraid of taking their kids to see the world. They will be the better for it.

  6. AvatarAnwar

    Reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents took me to india and were traveling around. We ended up on a small elephant path that had drop-offs on either side and this was the moment the taxi driver decided to let us know that his brakes were not that good. We basically were just holding onto each other for dear life (although that would have done us no good whatsoever) as we just prayed we were going to make it across ok.

  7. AvatarLivvy

    When I was 9 in Costa Rica, with a 4 year old sister and 6 year old brother and my parents, we were on a fast flowing river, and had to get from one side to the other, if we wanted to get a car back to the hotel. When we had travelled to the river we had seen smashed up rafts against bridges. We had no life jackets, and the boat was small and rickety and not big enough for this six of us (us and tour guide.) plus this old lady had stolen the oars, which we didn’t realize until halfway across. Luckily we had a twig which was snapped in half and used as an oar, and we survived … just.

  8. AvatarSuzanne McDonald

    Love this post and congrats on giving your children the opportunity to see and appreciate other parts of the world.

    Commuting to Boston via public transit, I’d occasionally see kids on the subway, which moves rather quickly, jolts, and makes sudden stops. Sometimes the kids would be sitting, often not. And what about buses? Not all school buses have restraints. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

    Thanks for tickling the travel itch!

  9. AvatarCaroline

    It’s funny and scary how safety is modified when traveling. My kids enjoyed the thrill of riding the tuktuks in Thailand, I was terrified of being thrown over, not to mention the toxic fumes we were inhaling. We were desperate to get back to our hotel and rode those motorcycle taxis too – no helmets! We were lucky but not doing that again.

  10. AvatarAnne, the Netherlands

    Hi David, love your blog! We are off to Bali with our 7 month old baby girl in a few weeks and your posts make me want to go sooner! 😉
    Do you think it’s worth it taking the car seat at all? She’s still quite tiny…

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave My Little Nomads

      Hi Anne. I probably would. For the longer trips across the island it’s nice to have — even if you only use it 2 or 3 times. Be prepared to search around for a taxi or mini-van that will be able to accomodate it. That said, it’s debatable whether they’re any safer in a poorly installed car seat (as it invariably will be) than not in one at all.

  11. AvatarAlex from Dublin, Ca

    Hi David-

    We are traveling to Vietnam in November 2010. My wife insists on bring our large Britax(ugh, won’t have to worry about working out) for the plane and any cars, taxis, or buses. Was wondering if you could answer some questions:

    1) Are there any working seat belts in Vietnam on the taxis or for private drivers?

    2) Will be going with family, 7 in all, including our 2.5 year toddler. Would the larger taxis or the minibuses be any safer with belts or perhaps with larger size? There are some accounts on the web that so drivers may be auditioning for the next Bullit movie.

    3) I hear the buses have modernized a lot, is this a safer option?

    Transportation from airport to hotel & city to city is the one thing that we have not invested as much time into as my father seems to thing that taxis are fairly easy to book. My concern is reputation, safety, and unscrupulous operators. Any commments or generalizations, perhaps so recommendations?

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave My Little Nomads

      HI Alex. So much depends on the individual car or van you hire. Some can be terrible and some can have fully functioning seat belts. Most of the time you can look around and pick the vehicle that looks to be in the best condition … but sometimes you can’t. Maybe you’ll stop at a small town with only a couple of taxis waiting at the train station and they’ll all be in terrible condition.

      One time we hired a driver to take us around the Central Highlands of Vietnam (up by the border with Cambodia) and we emphasized to him how the car must having working seat belts. And he said yes, yes, absolutely, all seat belts will be working. And sure enough he shows up the next day with a nice looking SUV — but none of the seat belts worked. So what do you do? We just went with it, as it didn’t seem like we had much of an option unless we wanted to waste half the day searching the town for a hired-car with working seat belts. (And maybe never find one anyways.)

      My personal take on a car seat would be that it’s a waste of time and effort. I doubt you’ll have many instances where you can use it. But that’s something you and your wife will have to decide. A good many times when you do find working seat belts they are only in the front seat and (as I commented above) I don’t think a car seat in the front is any safer than the alternative. And perhaps a fair bit less safe. Who knows?

      I couldn’t say whether traveling by bus is any safer than traveling by hired car. Probably similar risks. Flights are by far the safest way to get around, followed (I imagine) by train, and then car or bus, and then motorcycle.

      My general opinion is that mini-vans tend to be in worse condition than taxis. Probably because they are often private vehicles that are used by families to make a little extra money on the side.

      You’ll be able to easily find transportation from the airport into the city. I think all of them will rip you off if they could but if you take a look on Tripadvisor or the Lonely Planet Thorntree and get a rough idea for what a taxi ride to the city should cost, then you’ll be able to avoid the worst cases of fraud.

      Good luck and let me know if I can help with any other questions or concerns.

      1. AvatarJamu, Thailand

        I know this probably dates a bit but I wanted to comment on what you said “I don’t think a car seat in the front is any safer than the alternative. And perhaps a fair bit less safe. Who knows?”

        It was your choice how to restrain (or not) your baby and I respect that, but I don’t think it’s really fair to discourage readers from using a carseat for that reason.

        Baby in the front in a car seat is far safer than baby completely unrestrained. The concern about airbags assumes that the baby WILL be in a carseat, and does not consider the possibility of the back seat not being an option, and therefore parents using no carseat at all.

        To your question earlier “is the Bjorn really strong enough to restrain him if we get in an accident?” – You can google baby björn is not a car seat if you’d like to see what could happen to a baby björn.

        Maybe it’s a false sense of security, being on holiday/travelling, but I can assure you that plenty of babies do die in road accidents in Asia, and it only takes one mistake. The hassle of having a carseat with you and insisting on using it would seem like a small price to pay.

        Some people think the risks are so small, why worry. We all have our own risk comfort level, but the honest answer is sometimes that we have chosen to put our child at risk for our own convenience. The one unlucky person I know that lost her baby this way is full of regret and never shuts up about carseats. And if you are here longterm, you will hear about (and see) some horrific accidents. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

        1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave My Little Nomads

          Great points Jamu. I hope I wasn’t too cavalier in my advice.

  12. AvatarSteve

    LOL. I say good for you. When in Rome….Heck, even living in NYC the rules were different – you aren’t going to walk the streets with car seat in tow, and when you get in a cab they aren’t going to have one.

  13. AvatarWanderluster

    Fantastic photos. I particularly like the first one because the driver just looks so happy with your child there. You don’t find that in the U.S. now do you?

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave My Little Nomads

      Out of all the places we’ve been Bali stands out as the most kid friendly culture. They LOVE children. Adore them. They pick them up and hold them and cuddle them and “see you in a bit” I’m just taking your child into the kitchen to show the rest of my family. And then you’ll hear these peals of laughter coming from the room and wander back to see what they’re doing and your child invariably has been given some large helping of food. Always food. You gotta eat!

      1. AvatarSuzanne

        I have to agree with you about Bali, having moved to Bali when our 2nd child was 2 months old, we embraced the culture instantly! No seat belts, no child safety seats. I always held him in my lap, or he was in the lap of another adult. We figured, we are in a car, travelling at the most 30km/hr (can’t go much faster with so much traffic on the roads), what could go wrong?? Interestingly, the worst traffic incident with him, happened when he was on the outside of the vehicle, never any issue when we were inside…. But, I agree. The Balinese LOVE kids!!

  14. AvatarHeather on her travels

    There were times when I was traveling in Ecuador when I felt rather risky to be on a dugout canoe with fast flowing water and plenty of submerged logs but not a lifejacket in sight. Of course it will never happen to me!

  15. Avatarkelleyn

    Gorgeous photos! How fun to be able to go to Vietname with your children.

  16. Avatarsigny =)

    awesome. & awesomer picts. cheers =)

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  18. Avatarwandermom

    I second Jackie. When I was growing up (in Ireland in the 70s), we were 5 kids in the back of a car without a seat-belt or a car seat in sight! (My kids were on laps in Greece, Peru + sometimes Ireland/UK when they were little. We survived.)

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave My Little Nomads

      I think I had something like that in the post when I first wrote it up. That many of these risks were a part of an ordinary childhood only a few generations ago.

      Not that I’m suggesting there’s no worth in progress or enacting laws and regulations that make kids safer. Many of the changes in child safety are worthwhile but a little perspective isn’t such a bad thing sometimes either.

  19. AvatarKickass Adventuring with Kids

    LOL. I say good for you. When in Rome….Heck, even living in NYC the rules were different – you aren’t going to walk the streets with car seat in tow, and when you get in a cab they aren’t going to have one.

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave My Little Nomads

      I always put a fair bit of emphasis on restraining them “in some manner”. Certainly for kids older than a toddler, if you have a seat belt that works (as you would in NYC) then you’re getting almost the same benefit a car seat provides.

      There’s a modest amount of evidence that there is little difference between car seats and seat belts for this group of children. For a great summary of the idea listen to the TED talk from Steven Levitt (the author of Freakonomics):

  20. Avatarjackie

    I can completely relate to this. We didn’t have a car seat with us in Panama when our little guy was 13 months old. I remember putting him in the back of taxis, between us, in his child carrier backpack. We tried seat belting it in. Linking arms. Front facing. Rear facing. All ridiculous!

    Love the post.

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave My Little Nomads

      I think I’ve tried just about every scenario too. Wearing the Bjorn in the car with me strapped in – but then where do you put the strap? Around both of us – I might crush him. Around just me – is the Bjorn really strong enough to restrain him if we get in an accident?

      On the trip to Vietnam – where the seat belts almost never work – I’d loop the shoulder belt under the “inner” arm and around their bodies. They got quite used to it, so there often would be this comical scene where we’d hop in a taxi and one of them would be chattering away and grab the belt and loop it around their body and just keep talking. Same old, same old.

  21. AvatarAmy @ The Q Family

    LOL.. Ok. I can totally relate to many of your story here. 🙂 I agree about different sense of risk between North America and Asia.

    So how long was it on the back of the elephant? 😉

    I remembered seeing a picture of a family in Thailand using a car seat in the back seat SIDEWAY! 🙂 Hey! At least they use car seat.

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave My Little Nomads

      For sure. There’s that sense that this is a part of traveling – and you’re exposing them to everything – including a little bit of risk.

      Strangely, before the elephant went on his little jaunt, as we were making our way through the jungle, I was thinking to myself “I wonder if I could jump off this thing, if it went charging through the forest?” I had it all figured out. Oh, I’d grab Sammy like this and move over to the side and put one hand here and then jump down to the ground. No problem.

      Uhhh, nope. Actually big problem.

      It sort of sits in my mind like the pictures in the Aircraft Emergency Evacuation pamphlets found on airplanes. Where the people using the life vests floating in the water around the plane might as well be having a cocktail and looking at their watch wondering if they’ll make that 4 o’clock appointment.

      No, when it actually happens, it’s quite a bit different than the scenario you might have played out in your head.

      1. AvatarElena

        This is hilarious!!

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