Poor locales, rich experiences: Traveling with kids to developing countries is worth the risk

In the heat of the Ecuadorian Amazon, my 10-year-old son and I followed a farmer named Mr. Bargas along a dusty path, past groves of coffee, cacao and banana trees, and down a hill where, after about 20 minutes of walking, we arrived at a slow-moving stream.

“Here is where I come every morning at 4 a.m. to collect clean water,” Mr. Bargas told us through an interpreter provided by Me to We, the nonprofit organization that we coordinated with to volunteer in this remote community. Bucket by bucket, he scooped the water into one-gallon plastic jugs. “The water from the river is not good,” he explained. “It makes us sick.”

That night, as my son and I lay in our beds beneath mosquito nets with bottled water by our sides, the visit to Mr. Bargas’s home lingered with my child.

“Why is the water polluted?” he asked, distressed. We sat up talking about clean water and how access to it connects to realities such as poverty, health and the environment. Nearly two years later, I still remind him about Mr. Bargas any time he stays in a hot shower too long.

Traveling in developing nations, where infrastructures, security and economies are in stark contrast to those in the United States, can be some of the richest experiences for children. These are often the same countries where formal tourism has yet to manipulate ways of life, ancient customs are strong, eating means being adventurous and the opportunities for meaningful personal interactions are plentiful.

For Daria Salamon, a novelist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba — who recently returned from a trip through 20 countries in South America, Asia and the South Pacific with her husband and children ages 5 and 8 — the challenges of traveling in developing nations were far…

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