Traveling with Children Abroad? - Parents, Stay Alert!

Tips for Healthy Travel with Children

Traveling is always fun. But, having children along becomes more challenging and it involves careful planning. Traveling does take away from regular eating and sleeping schedule and is more likely that someone may get sick. Also, it takes the time to adjust to food, water and air of the new environment. In this situation, kids especially are vulnerable entities and can easily be prone to travel related sickness and disorders. However, early planning and smart packing can get rid of these menaces occurring while traveling and thus may result in a healthy and peaceful travel.

The most commonly reported health ailments among child travelers are: diarrhea, dermatological conditions, systemic illnesses like malaria and respiratory disorders. Developing motion sickness is especially higher in children between ages 2 to 12.

Though air travel is safe for healthy infants and children, it is recommended to wait till the newborns are one to two weeks old. Children <15 years of age constitute a small proportion among travelers. Therefore, their travel health is unique as they have small bodies and immune system is under development. Infants and young children are typically sensitive towards any sudden changes in altitude and ultraviolet radiations

Therefore, in order for everyone to stay healthy during the course of the journey, Dr. Nava Yeganeh, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases and director of the Pediatric International Travel and Adoption Clinic at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, suggests some useful strategies.

Prevent Diarrhea

Diarrhea and other stomach problems represent common health issues among children, while traveling abroad. This is caused by bacteria/or other germs entering inside the digestive tract, from contaminated food or water. This can be prevented by:

  • Eating foods, which are properly boiled, cooked or peeled.
  • Washing hands before eating.
  • Use purified water for drinking, brushing teeth, mixing infant formula and foods.
  • Keep handy alcohol based hand-sanitizer.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and make sure to be hydrated at all times. If in case, diarrhea occurs, fluid can be replenished by taking oral rehydration salts (ORS), which can also restore electrolyte imbalance in the body. This can be mixed with boiled/bottled water or by taking prepacked rehydration drink.
  • Immediate medical attention must be sought if blood occurs in stool, child develops a high degree fever, or is often vomiting and is not able to tolerate any drink or seems to be overly dehydrated.
  • Foods from street vendors should be avoided.
  • Ensure all dairy products are pasteurized.

Be Up-to-date on Vaccinations

There are some vaccine preventable diseases and children are more prone to them. Therefore, before you travel, check the following with your healthcare provider:

  • Dosing schedule of vaccine needs to be adjusted and make sure your child is safe to travel.
  • If the child is over 6 months, consider administering flu (influenza) shot.
  • If infants are traveling with you, there is a risk of vaccine-preventable disease, discuss options with your doctor.
  • Many countries require vaccination against yellow fever or Japanese encephalitis. So visit your healthcare provider to discuss the same and check if vaccination is required. In some cases, vaccine may not offer full immunity till few weeks on administration, therefore avoid waiting until last minute.
  • Ensure regular vaccination for diseases such as measles, polio and hepatitis are kept updated.
  • Ask your doctor if vaccine is not a regular schedule for your children. Also, there maybe certain age requirements for the same.
  • Though most vaccines are safe for breast-feeding mothers, in case if you are breast feeding, discuss this with your doctor.
  • In cases of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines, consult with your pediatrician if vaccine schedule can be accelerated, if your child has not undergone immunization.

Watch out for Vector Borne Diseases

There are many diseases like malaria, chikungunya, dengue, zika that are transmitted by mosquitoes. By following simple health tips; vector-borne diseases can be prevented in children.

  • Use insect repellent with N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET), wash this off before going to bed
  • Tie a bed net treated with insecticide around your children’s bed
  • Cover the skin with long-sleeved clothes
  • Ask your health care provider if anti-malarial medication is recommended.
  • Keep anti-malarial medicines out of reach of children.
  • Attention must be sought or medical help should be taken if child develops a high grade fever while traveling or after travel. Provide your doctor with all necessary travel details.
  • If anti-malarial medicines are taken or not, always protect the children from mosquito bites.
  • Anti-malarial medicines are difficult to be given to children due to their unpleasant taste. In such circumstances, medicines may be crushed and then mixed with small amounts of food or drink for masking its taste.

Motion Sickness

Children between ages of 2-12 are at a greater risk of developing motion sickness and this usually occurs while traveling by boat. This can be avoided by:

  • If you happen to travel by car, take frequent rest stops.
  • Make sure the child looks out of the window, rather than a stationery object inside the vehicle.
  • Make sure the child has eaten something before travel and avoid greasy or heavy foods.
  • To minimize head movement, use headrest
  • Consult with your healthcare provider.
  • Do ask your child intermittently if feeling sick. Short walk or fresh air during that time may be helpful.
  • Fresh air may be helpful, so keep the windows open if possible.

Jet Lag

Flying across different time zones can be difficult, especially for children as internal body clock needs to be adjusted to local time and chances are that there is a feeling of tiredness as body has been awake for more number of hours. Here are few tips that can prove useful:

  • Try to schedule your family's sleeping hours 2-3 hours before departure.
  • Get adequate amount of rest and possibly sleep on flight.
  • Have children drink adequate amount of water as dehydration is associated with jet lag side effects.
  • On arrival, encourage kids to be active outside or inside where there is sufficient light during daytime.
  • Make kids stay awake until their usual bedtime by following local time at your destination.

Ear Discomfort

It's very common for kids to have pain in the ears during flights take-off and landing process. At this time kids should be encouraged to yawn or swallow and if old enough to chew gum. For infants, they can be either nursed or allowed to suck on a bottle. If any medication is to be given to your children at this time it should be discussed with your doctor.


Include all medicines and other medical supplies for your entire family as they may be hard to find in your destination.

  • Always include inhalers, allergy medication and insulin (if needed).
  • Other items that can be packed are: over-the-counter (OTC) painkiller medicines, small first aid kit, insect repellent (that preferably contains DEET), hand sanitizers.
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  • Carry copies of child's medical history, all test reports, immunization records, and list of medicines your child is allergic to, your healthcare provider's name and contact number, list of ongoing health problems if any.
  • Take a prescription for glasses or contact lenses, if advised.
  • Take sunglasses along in order to protect your child’s eye from harmful sunrays.

Traveling abroad is fun and can be eventful experience. However, it’s rather difficult when traveling abroad especially if you have kids along with you. But, this can be effectively dealt with as there are some precautions, which need to be taken into account. If these above mandatory things are given due importance, traveling to a foreign can turn out be a fruitful experience for your entire family.

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