[Editor’s note: We posted this a few years ago, but find the info timely, so what the heck, we’re running it again! Parts 2 and 3 run 25 and 26 July.]
Traveling with children, no matter their age, can be a joyful, tiring, exciting, and exhausting endeavor. Traveling with children who get sick on the trip is just plain exhausting and, sometimes, exciting in a way that we don’t want to experience.
Although dealing with illness in the midst of a family trip isn’t ideal, you can take steps to prevent illness before traveling and equip yourself with supplies to make the treatment of illness easier and more comforting.
Prevention is key, and no one does that better than the CDC. This article captures some tips for traveling families from CDC’s website, and a few other places.
If anyone in your travel group has an existing condition that may affect his or her health, it’s important to discuss travel health safety with a healthcare provider.
If you’re traveling outside the United States and you love detail, download a copy of CDC’s Yellow Book . It’s written for healthcare providers, but many people find it useful. Wherever you’re traveling, these suggestions may help you and yours avoid infectious diseases on the road.
There are steps you can take prior to departure that will protect you and your kids, and many things you can do while traveling. First, the pre-departure list:
Time Zones and Rest
If you’re changing time zones, spend a few days just before travel adjusting your sleep/wake periods to match the destination’s time zones. When you arrive, get out during the sunny periods so that you body realizes it’s time to be awake. Good sleep is critical to good health. Make sure everyone gets lots of rest a few days before and then during the trip.
You and your kids should be up-to-date on currently recommended vaccines in the U.S.
If you’re traveling outside the United States, you need to check the destination country for recommended vaccines for you and your children, and if you have special health concerns, you need to determine which vaccines to get and which you should not have. Not all vaccines recommended for international travel are licensed for children.
If you’re traveling outside the U.S., read the CDC’s Health Notices first to get the latest updates on infectious diseases in various areas of the world. What you learn may affect your travel plans.
First Aid Kits
Prepare a first aid kit for the trip or purchase one from a commercial vendor. This is a sample list, as not all destinations require the same things.
- 1% hydrocortisone cream
- Ace wrap
- Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or other medication for pain or fever
- Address and phone numbers of area hospitals or clinics
- Adhesive bandages
- Aloe gel for sunburns
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Antibacterial hand wipes (including child-safe) or alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol
- Antibacterial soap
- Antibiotic for general use or travelers’ diarrhea (azithromycin, cefixime)
- Antidiarrheal medication (e.g., bismuth subsalicylate, loperamide)
- Antifungal and antibacterial ointments or creams
- Antihistamine (such as Benadryl)
- Antimalarial medications, if applicable
- Anti-motion sickness medication
- Commercial suture/syringe kits (to be used by local health-care provider with a letter from your prescribing physician on letterhead stationery)
- Cotton-tipped applicators (such as Q-tips)
- Cough suppressant/expectorant
- Decongestant, alone or in combination with antihistamine
- Diaper rash ointment
- Digital thermometer
- Epinephrine auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen), especially if anyone has a history of severe allergic reaction. Also available in smaller-dose package for children.
- First aid quick reference card
- Ground sheet (water- and insect-proof)
- High-altitude preventive medication
- Insect repellent containing DEET (up to 50%)
- Latex condoms
- Laxative (mild)
- Lice treatment (topical)
- Lubricating eye drops
- Malaria prophylaxis and standby treatment, as required by itinerary
- Medications that the child has used in the past year
- Moleskin for blisters
- Mosquito netting, if applicable
- Oral rehydration solution (ORS) packets
- Personal prescription medications in their original containers (carry copies of all prescriptions, including the generic names for medications, and a note from the prescribing physician on letterhead stationery for controlled substances and injectable medications)
- Safe water
- Scabies topical ointment
- Sedative (mild) or other sleep aid
- Sunscreen (preferably SPF 15 or greater)
- Throat lozenges
- Water purification tablets
Discuss with your family’s pediatrician any special needs your children might have that require you to prepare beyond this basic list. Also, your pediatrician may be able to give you sample sizes of antibiotics and other meds that may be useful for your kit.
Before traveling, check your health insurance policy to see what it pays for. It will probable reimburse you for most of the cost of emergency medical care abroad, excluding any deductible or co-payment. For non-emergency care overseas, you may be covered, but check with your health plan about this before you leave home. Failure to get authorization may mean denial of reimbursement.
Check travel regulations and carry what you can onboard the plane, particularly prescription medication. Put the rest in your checked baggage. Put your first aid kit in a fanny pack or backpack that you take with you everywhere you go. There’s no sense bringing the kit if you don’t have it when you need it.
Now that you’ve done your pre-departure prep, stay tuned for Part 2 for some tips on problems you may encounter on the road.