When your family travels, being away from your household's usual eating and sleeping
routines means it's more likely that someone might get sick. It can take time to adjust
to the food, water, and air in a new environment. And kids can be especially vulnerable
to travel-related problems such as motion sickness, diarrhea, and infections.
But some early planning and smart packing can help you keep the trip healthy for
everybody. Here are some things to keep in mind when your family prepares to travel.
Special Considerations for Travel Abroad
If you're heading overseas, start preparing well in advance. For instance, it's
important to find out what vaccinations your kids (and even you) might need because:
Different countries have different risks and requirements and may require specific
vaccines. For example, your family will need the yellow fever vaccine if you're traveling
to sub-Saharan Africa or tropical South America, but not to Eastern Europe.
Some vaccines require more than one dose and are given in a series over a period
of days or sometimes weeks.
Most vaccines take time to become effective in your body.
Most immunizations should be given at least 1 month before travel, so try to schedule
a doctor's visit 4-6 weeks before your trip. Even if you're leaving in less than 4
weeks, you should still make an appointment, as kids might still benefit from shots
Depending on your travel plans, your doctor may recommend that in addition to routine
immunizations, you and/or your child be vaccinated against:
Although all kids get the measles,
mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12-15 months of age, any who will travel
outside the United States before that should get the vaccine as early as 6 months
Also, kids of any age can get malaria
so if you're traveling to a country with a malaria risk, talk to your doctor about
antimalarial drugs. The doctor will decide the best preventative medication based
on your destination and your child's health status.
Ask your doctor or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website
for a list of recommended or required vaccinations (the site includes a section devoted
to travelers' health that you can search by destination), and be sure to take your
child's immunization records with you if you're traveling internationally.
Common Travel Troubles
No matter how far you're traveling, there are some health issues that your family
is likely to face, including jet lag, ear
discomfort, travel (or motion) sickness, and diarrhea.
When you fly across time zones, it can take time for your internal body clock to
catch up with the local time. For example, if your regular bedtime is 9 p.m. and you
travel from New York to California, where the time is 3 hours earlier, you may be
ready for bed when it is 6 p.m. in California because you've already been up for the
usual amount of time and your body is ready to rest. Chances are you'll probably not
go to sleep until the local time is 9 p.m., and then you'll be extra tired because
your body has been awake for longer than usual.
In addition to tiredness, jet lag can also cause an upset stomach and even insomnia.
Here are some tips for dealing with jet lag:
Try to adjust your family's sleep schedules 2-3 days before departure.
Get plenty of rest before your trip. If possible, sleep on the flight.
contributes to the side effects of jet lag so make sure everyone drinks plenty of
water during the flight. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages.
On a long flight, try to stretch regularly and even walk up and down the aisles
when they're clear and it's OK to do so.
After arrival, encourage kids to be active outside or in brightly lit areas during
Try to follow local time at your destination (for example, try to keep kids awake
until their usual bedtime).
It's common for kids to experience ear
discomfort during a plane's takeoff and descent caused by pressure in the middle
ear as it tries to keep up with the rapidly changing air pressure. Encourage kids
to swallow, yawn, or, if they're old enough, chew gum. It may help infants to nurse
or suck on a bottle.
All of these things can help kids' ears adjust. You may also want to give your
child a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, 30-60 minutes before takeoff or, if
it's a long flight, before landing.
Travel (or motion) sickness is caused by a conflict between the eye and ear: The
inner ears detect movement, but the eyes — focused within a car or other vehicle
— do not. These mixed signals coming into the brain can cause nausea, dizziness,
vomiting, paleness, and cold sweats.
Motion sickness often happens on ships and boats, but it also can affect kids when
they travel in planes, buses, and cars. Some ways to help combat travel sickness:
Before you leave, have kids eat a light meal or snack, as motion sickness seems
worse on an empty stomach. Provide foods that are easily digested, such as complex
carbohydrates, and avoid fatty foods.
Try to avoid eating during short trips. For longer trips, sip drinks and eat light,
small meals and snacks.
If your child is feeling sick, provide some blander foods, like crackers.
Encourage kids to look outside the car, rather than inside. They should focus
on still objects — not moving ones (like other cars) — or a distant point.
Keep the window open a little to allow fresh air to circulate.
Use a headrest to minimize head movement.
Make frequent stops, if possible, at places like rest stops and parks. And if
your child complains of feeling sick and it's safe to stop, a short walk for some
fresh air might help.
Ask your doctor about medicines to prevent travel sickness.
other stomach problems can be common during travel. Often, they're caused by bacteria
or other germs entering the digestive tract, usually from contaminated food or water.
Diarrhea is especially a problem for young kids and babies, who can become dehydrated
more quickly than adults.
Water in many developing countries isn't treated in the same way as water supplies
in developed nations and may contain bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Take precautions to ensure the water is safe:
Consider drinking only bottled water when traveling.
Use only purified water for drinking, making ice cubes, brushing teeth, and mixing
infant formula and foods.
If you use tap water, boil it first or purify it with an iodine tablet.
Other ways to prevent diarrhea and GI distress:
If you're breastfeeding your infant, continue to do so.
Meats and fish should be well cooked and eaten just after preparation.
Avoid food from street vendors.
When you pack, include any medicines and other medical supplies you and your family
use regularly because they may be hard to find at your destination. Don't forget inhalers,
allergy medication, and insulin, if needed.
Other items you might want to pack:
over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever like acetaminophen
a small first-aid kit that includes antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, bandages,
and other OTC medications your doctor may recommend
insect repellent (the most effective ones contain DEET)
waterless alcohol-based hand rubs for when soap and clean water aren't available
Do some research before your trip to find the hospital or medical care facility
closest to your destination, particularly if your child has a chronic health condition.
If you're traveling overseas, try to find one where English is spoken.
It's also wise to carry a written copy of your child's medical history. Having
this available can help health care workers make appropriate decisions about how to
treat your child and you won't have to worry about forgetting important information
at a time when you're likely to be upset.
A medical history should include:
your name, your child's name, your address and home phone number
your child's blood type
your doctor's name, address, and office and emergency phone numbers
the name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier, including
your policy number
a list of any ongoing health problems, such as diabetes or asthma
a list of any medicines your child takes and your pharmacy's name and phone number
a list of allergies to medications, food, insects, and animals
a prescription for glasses or contact lenses
the name, address, and phone number of a relative other than you
And Don't Forget . . .
While you're away, it's important to take the same health and safety precautions
as you do at home. These include:
Sun smarts. Watch kids' sun
exposure. UV light is especially intense near the equator, at high altitudes,
from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and where light is reflected off water or snow. Apply a broad-spectrum
sunscreen of at
least SPF 15 every 2 hours, especially after sweating and water exposure. Bring a
hat and sunglasses to keep the sun off of your child's face. And, consider sun-protective
safety. It's vital to watch kids at all times around any body of water.
Because water safety devices — such as life jackets and goggles — may
not be available at your destination, consider bringing these from home if you're
planning to spend time on or near water.
Buckle up. If you'll rent a car, you might want to bring your
seat with you, as well-maintained and approved seats might not be available abroad.
Kids weighing less than 40 pounds should be properly restrained in a car seat. Infants
and toddlers should ride rear-facing until they reach the maximum weight and height
limits recommended by the seat's manufacturer. Kids who have outgrown their forward-facing
car seat (usually when they're between 4 and about 8 years old, but weight and height
limits vary) should use a belt-positioning booster
Before you leave, consider asking your doctor for other information about how to
protect your family from illness and injury during travel. This advance planning can
help make sure that when the time comes, all you'll have left to do is relax and enjoy