How to Plan for Healthy Travel with Children

Don’t let an illness dampen your family vacation. Here are tips to help protect your children from health risks during your travels.


When traveling with kids, you have to take into account the possibility of sickness and exposure to unfamiliar diseases. Different regions of the world present a varied amount of risks for young travelers, and the age of the children can influence their vulnerability to diseases. Don’t let this stop you from globetrotting—just make sure to understand the risks so you can make educated decisions on your travels.

Evaluating Your Destination

We have dragged our four kids halfway across the world and have learned that keeping your kids healthy on the road comes down to making informed decisions on your destination. It’s important to have a plan of action in case something goes wrong. Destination determines the majority of your health risks. It dictates the quality of and accessibility to health care, as well as the exposure to diseases. The difference between health care in developed versus developing countries is significant. Additionally, the more remote a location in any country, the further away the hospital will be. Keep in mind that in foreign countries, hospitals near larger cities will be more likely to have English-speaking staff. Also, some places have no hospitals at all, only local clinics—this is a big issue on islands and should be evaluated before you commit to a location.

As for the diseases in each region, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site is a valuable resource, as it provides thorough information on specific destinations and various tips on traveling with children. It lists overseas medical specialists that can provide specific information and vaccinations based on the destination to which you are traveling.

Biggest Threats

So what kind of care is most commonly needed for children while traveling?  Here are the three biggest threats for young travelers:

1) Food and water safety, (including diarrhea and dehydration). Destinations where food and water safety are a concern increase the likelihood that you may need medical care. This is especially true for children 6 years and under who have a hard time not drinking the water. Also, smaller children get dehydrated more quickly, and may require medical intervention more frequently than older children.

2) Mosquito and insect-borne illness, (including malaria and dengue fever). Mosquitoes present serious health threats in certain areas, as well as locations you might not anticipate it, like the Caribbean. Anti-malaria medicine is not recommended for children under 8 years, so be prepared to cover your children with bug spray. We recently went on a wonderful vacation to the Turks and Caicos. In the hotel room there were complementary bottles of bug spray, which is a red flag. After seeing the bug spray, I went online and read about the increase in dengue fever throughout the Caribbean. I didn’t get overly worried, but I did use the bug spray and closed the hotel room screens.

3) Vehicle-related accidents. Not all countries have the same car safety regulations pertaining to seat belts and car seats. So, if you are planning on spending a lot of time on the road, bring car seats for your children. Recently, my kids participated in an off-property excursion for a few hours with a resort’s kids club. When they got back, my son was bragging about riding in the front seat and being buckled in with another child. This was something that I would have never considered, but I was horrified to discover.

Preparation—Pack a Medicine Kit

Now that you’ve so carefully picked your destination, be sure to bring along a travel health kit. By taking a few minutes ahead of time to pack a medicine kit, it will allow you to relax on your vacation, knowing that you can treat most things that come your way with familiar products. Also, many countries may not provide the same quality child-specific medications that are readily available in the states. In addition, most labels will be in the local language of your destination, which can make it difficult to read.

Our medicine kit always contains: Motrin, Tylenol, Benedryl, Dramamine, swimmer ear drops, adult Sudafed, Band-Aids, Neosporin and a thermometer. When going out of the country, I add a general antibiotic prescribed by my pediatrician, Dent Temp (temporary dental glue), anti-diarrhea and re-hydration solution (this way I have the accurate dosing), DEET bug repellant and sunscreen. Note: the CDC Web site has a lot of information about medicine kits, and some Web sites also sell specific types of kits.

Finding a Local Doctor

Despite diligent preparation, your kids may need medical attention while on vacation. My biggest suggestion is to try and avoid the medical clinics and emergency rooms if at all possible. To this end, be proactive and don’t wait to a critical point to address an issue, especially on Fridays, before heading into the weekend. Domestically and abroad, I prefer local doctors to clinics or hospitals, which often means long waits and exposure to sick people.

To find a local doctor you can easily ask your hotel, but in countries with robust bribing systems, you may want to call the local embassy or consulate to get a list of recommended doctors in the area. It’s also a good idea to understand the location of regional hospitals in case you do need emergency care—the local embassy or consulate can provide recommendations for this as well.

Thinking about your kids getting sick or hurt is never fun and, certainly, my least favorite part of planning a trip, but I don’t let this stop me from traveling. I’m always prepared and ready to deal with anything that comes our way.  

Themes: Family Travel

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