Like clockwork, the night before we are heading out of town I hear “Mom, I have a sore throat.” Given that I have four kids, a.k.a. mini petri dishes, it’s not uncommon for one of them to be sick, or brewing some sickness, at all times. Over the years, we’ve discovered that being prepared and having a plan of action saves both time and worry while traveling with kids.
Top Tips to Keep Everyone Healthy on a Family Trip
Be thoughtful about where you choose to travel with kids. Have a realistic understanding of your family’s medical needs. Keep in mind that the more secluded a destination, the higher the likelihood that medical care will be difficult to reach. Some remote rural destinations don’t have anything more than a simple clinic. In that case, you’d have to be flown out for any major issues — worrisome for infants or grandparents who are more likely to require speedy care. Language can also be a problem. Medical facilities in or around large urban destinations are more likely to have English-speaking staff, but fluency often decreases with distance in many countries.
Understand drinking water safety ahead of time. You have to manage meals and in-room practices (like brushing teeth) carefully when traveling in an area where the local tap water is not safe for drinking. With school-age children to whom you can explain the rules, it’s not as much of an issue; however, traveling with babies and toddlers in an area like this requires more diligence. I always reference the CDC website, which provides detailed information on most destinations along with great general health tips on traveling with children.
Pack ample supplies. The most important item I pack is my well-stocked medical kit. I’ve learned this the hard way! Most trips I don’t need it, but when I do, it’s normally at some inconvenient time like in the middle of the night when someone spikes a fever. When you have basic supplies, not only can you treat the most common ailments, but you also don’t have to waste precious vacation time tracking down medicine. When abroad, the brands you know and trust might not be available; plus, the ingredients can be listed in a different language, making it difficult to find what you need.
We usually pack Motrin, Tylenol, Benadryl, Dramamine, drops for swimmer’s ear, adult Sudafed, Band-Aids, Neosporin and a thermometer. When my kids were little, I carried liquid dosing. For international travel, I add a general antibiotic prescribed by my pediatrician, Dent Temp (temporary dental glue), anti-diarrhea and rehydration solution (this way I have the accurate dosing), DEET bug repellant and sunscreen.
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Have a plan if kids are too sick to travel. Airline policies essentially give you no break whatsoever if you are too sick to fly. With six of us, to give up tickets and then have to pay for next-day fares is a significant burden. This is where travel insurance (available through Ciao Bambino Family Vacation Consultants) can be a lifesaver; just read the fine print very carefully to ensure you’ll be covered in this scenario.
What to Do If You Need Medical Care on the Road
Even with the best preparation, you still might need medical attention. When this happens, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Don’t wait. If you sense that an injury or illness is getting more serious, address it sooner rather than later. Proactive care reduces the risk of spreading the sickness and, most importantly, trips to the ER. This is especially important before holidays or on Fridays, heading into a weekend. The times I’ve thought my kids might be getting strep before a trip, I have a Z-pack when we travel and know I can use it if I have to.
Find a local doctor. Whether I’m traveling within the United States or abroad, I would rather use local doctors over clinics or hospitals — and I often call our doctor at home to advise us. Most hotels will suggest or call in a doctor; however, keep in mind that in countries where bribing is common, you may want to call your local embassy or consulate and get a list of recommended doctors. Additionally, review the hospital choices ahead of time to select better-rated options. This hospital information is available in most guidebooks.
Verify medicine quality. If you are not dealing with a reputable pharmacy, purchase sealed containers of medicine, even if you only need a small portion. If possible, check the name of medicine with your pediatrician. Years ago when my 3-year-old needed medicine, a local doctor came to our hotel room with a suitcase of loose pills — unnerving, right? Thinking about your family getting sick or hurt is not pleasant. This is a small part of our preparation; however, it allows me to relax knowing I have some first steps ready should the need arise.
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Editor’s Note: Photo by Nancy Solomon.