Contrary to the widespread belief that it is not safe to travel with young children to foreign countries, I would encourage parents and grandparents to expose the younger members of their families to the experience of travel as early as possible. That also includes exotic places – especially Africa!
Many parents who shy away from traveling with their children at a young age are concerned about potential health hazards, and these concerns can be quite justified. However, with careful planning and a few extra precautions, it should be reasonably safe to bring children on a family vacation or even an extended expedition to Africa.
Children Can Benefit Greatly From
Exposure to Other Countries and Cultures
There are many ways to see Africa as a family. The easiest, although costliest way to vacation with children here is to stay at high-end hotels and resorts where the premises are comfortable and protected and where food and water supplies are of less concern. Some safari lodges and camps, however, have a minimum age limit for their guests. Another downside is that these places are often designed for adults only and children can soon get bored if no age-appropriate facilities or entertainment programs are available.
Some would argue that an authentic experience of Africa cannot be had in such privileged insulation. There may be better ways to introduce kids to environments and cultures not their own. For parents this can be a tough call to make. They have to judge for themselves what kind of exposure they think is appropriate for their youngsters. In any case, traveling as a family can be a great way to spend quality time together, but even more so, it gives kids an invaluable opportunity to widen their horizons and learn about the world in ways they never could in their familiar surroundings.
The travel industry is by no means blind toward the phenomenon of traveling families in Africa. There are a number of agencies that offer specifically family-friendly itineraries. In fact, emphasis on educational and fun activities for children has become very much a part of today’s African safari experience. For instance, a company based in Northern California called Bushtracks Expeditions® has created a “Ranger Program” for kids and teens who travel with their families to Africa, Australia and South America. Included is a “Pen-Pal” correspondence program where kids from different parts of the world can come to know each other via e-mail before they finally meet in person. The benefits of initiatives like these for everyone involved are immeasurable.
Before you go…
Since health issues are among the most prevalent concerns for parents considering a family trip to Africa, some advice for important precautionary measures is useful. This is especially relevant for families traveling with babies and very young children, since they are the most susceptible to illnesses and accidents.
Travel-related immunizations are as necessary for children as they are for adults. Children should also be up to date on their routine childhood immunizations. You may want to do some research on current health risks in the region you’re traveling to. The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and the Center for Disease Control (C.D.C.) offer great resources, and so do many other institutions dedicated to issues of health and travel.
Your own research, however, is no substitute for a visit to the doctor’s office or (even better) a department for travel medicine and tropical diseases of a hospital near you. If your child takes medications, make sure to mention those before your child receives any vaccines. Also bring existing health conditions or allergies to the doctor’s attention. Last but not least, have your entire family get their dental check-ups done not too long before you leave. A tooth ache is no fun at any time and you certainly don’t want one when you travel.
In addition to these basic precautionary measures to protect your health, you should also consider buying comprehensive travel insurance. Most travel agencies offer insurance packages that cover your costs for medical emergencies and evacuation. Some insurance may even be mandatory. For peace of mind, you may also want to know what coverage you can get if you have to cancel your trip.