Adventure travel tips and Q & A with author Pamela Voelkel

“…when you’re huddled together in a thatched shack as a troop of howler monkeys scream like banshees on your roof in the middle of the night, it’s quite a bonding moment.” – P. Voelkel

While doing research for their new Jaguar Stones series of children’s novels (you may have seen the first in the series, Middleworld, featured on the Today Show), authors Pamela and Jon Voelkel, along with all three of their children, visited numerous Mayan sites—from the most famous to some of the most remote—throughout the Yucatan and Central America. Pamela was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about their family’s travels, and offered her own commonsense tips (see below) to those of you who may be considering more adventurous travel to the region with your own young children.

Q: How old were your children the first time you took them to Central America?

Pamela: The first time we traveled to Central America to research The Jaguar Stones Series, our children were ten, eight and two. I was extremely worried that the youngest would get eaten by jaguars or something, but in the event, the worst thing was trying to make her swallow the anti-malaria medicine before we went.

Q: Had you traveled much with your children before that?

Pamela: We’ve always traveled with our children, right from when they were born, because Jon’s family lives in Arizona and mine are in England, so we’ve flown to and fro zillions of times. Our first major adventure as parents was a 36-hour, 3-leg flight from London to Fiji when our oldest child was 18 months. He was never a sleeper, so we took it in turns to have two hours on and two hours off. During your shift, you were responsible for baby’s every need. But during your blissful two hours off duty, it was all the other parent’s problem. That worked very well and it set the pattern for future trips. Now our two oldest help us keep the little one amused.

Q: What was your most challenging moment traveling with young kids?

Pamela: We’ve definitely had some rock-bottom moments, mostly involving projectile vomit, but I believe that travel has brought us together as a family.

Q: What do you think has been the best thing about sharing these adventures with your kids?

Pamela: At home, everyone has their separate friends and interests. But when you’re huddled together in a thatched shack as a troop of howler monkeys scream like banshees on your roof in the middle of the night, it’s quite a bonding moment. For adults, the big bonus of traveling with children is that it’s easier to get talking to the locals. If you don’t feel like taking in the sights, just sit in the park or the town square – you’ll make new friends and learn a lot about local culture.

Q: Do you think your kids will remember—or appreciate your adventures?
Pamela: I asked my 13-year-old daughter about our travels in Central America, and what travel had taught her. This was her answer: “The jungle is hard, it’s buggy and hot, but it’s so beautiful, so many different plants and you get to see real, live monkeys in the trees. The pyramids have so many steps, it’s tiring, but it’s also amazing. It gives you an insight into how the Maya lived and makes you realize how hard it is to live in the jungle. Once in Belize, we went on horseback through the rainforest to a waterfall. They told us to watch out for jaguars. That was my favorite day.”
Love it! Thanks so much for sharing your stories and photos with us. And for any of you considering adventurous travels with your own young children, here are 10 great tips from Pamela to help smooth your way.
Pamela’s 10 Commonsense Tips for Adventuring with Young Children:
1) Travel as light as you possibly can.
2) Always, always have snacks in your bag.
3) Know when your kids have had enough and respect their limits. Make time for a swim or family game at the end of every day.
4) Read with your children about your destination ahead of time and teach them a few words in the native language – especially “hello”, “please” and “thank you”.
5) Don’t worry about food. Pretty much everywhere in the world has something bland like rice or pasta.
6) I hate to admit to this but, up to age 10, we used to relax our no-buying-things-at-airports policy and let each child choose one little toy. Those pieces of overpriced plastic can buy you a lot of newspaper reading time on the plane, will feature in all the holiday photos and, when you come across them years later, will actually bring a sentimental tear to your eye.
7) Spray a pashmina or shawl with your signature perfume and stuff it in your hand luggage. Besides working as an elegant wrap for you, it’s a blanket, a dress-up costume, a makeshift curtain and a comforting reminder of home everywhere they go.
8) Bring your own bug spray and sun cream. Always. You can’t rely on being able to buy it.
9) Bring sketch pads, crayons, pens and glue sticks so your kids can make travel journals. It’s a great way to wind down at the end of the day, and the end results will become your most treasured souvenirs.
10) Don’t drink the water or eat anything washed in the water, without checking first that it’s purified. Ignore this advice at your peril.
Find out more: You can find out more about the Voelkels and The Jaguar Stones books at http://www.jaguarstones.com/.

Related posts, pages, and chapters:
Food and water safety tips for travel with babies and young children
Healthy travels with babies and young children + in case of illness
Chapter 8 of Travels with Baby: Going farther afield

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
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