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 simple 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.
Depending on your travel plans, your doctor may recommend that in addition to routine immunizations, you and/or your child be vaccinated against:
- yellow fever
- Japanese B encephalitis
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.
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.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.
Dehydration 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.
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.
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.
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.
Diarrhea and 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.
- Remind kids to wash their hands well and often.
- Keep pacifiers, teething rings, and toys clean.
- Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer handy.
- Make sure all dairy products are pasteurized.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables should be cooked or washed well and peeled.
- 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.
Other items you might want to pack:
- over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever
- a small first-aid kit that includes antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, bandages, and other OTC medications your doctor may recommend
- insect repellent
- 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.