Whether you are planning a trip to a faraway destination or a camping adventure closer to home, you’ll want to make sure the whole family enjoys the vacation. Wherever you go, you can help minimize any potential health risks by preparing and taking certain precautions. Follow these tips for safe, healthy and happy travels together.
First make sure your child’s regular vaccinations are up to date. Common vaccinations required for overseas travel include Hepatitis A and typhoid. Different vaccinations are required depending on which country you are visiting, and vaccination recommendations do change. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov for current recommended vaccinations for specific countries and other travel health information. Get any necessary vaccinations at least one month before traveling to ensure you have built up sufficient immunity.
If you are traveling to an area where there is malaria, your family will need to take medication to prevent malaria in advance of and during your trip.
Food and Water
Eating and drinking contaminated food and water is one of the main ways you can get sick while travelling. If you are travelling to a location where you are uncertain of the water quality, stick to boiled or bottled water, and don’t add ice cubes to drinks. If you can’t be selective about your water, choose carbonated drinks; bacteria cannot survive in carbonated liquids.
When overseas, eat only hot, fully cooked foods. Avoid raw foods and street foods. Stay away from unpasteurized dairy products, and choose fruits you can peel, like bananas.
Sun, Water Safety and Bugs
Be sun smart. Enjoy your sightseeing early or late in the day, and stay in the shade during the sun’s peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Lightweight and long-sleeved clothing, a wide-rimmed hat and sunglasses when outdoors offer the most effective sun protection. Wear rash guards when swimming or playing in the water. Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher liberally to cover all exposed areas of the body. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after a dip in the pool, even if you are using a water-resistant product.
Keep safe around water. Close supervision at all times is critical to ensure your child is safe in and around water. Even if your child has had swimming lessons, young children can drown in only a few inches of water. Teach your child that the ocean, rivers and lakes are very different than the water in a swimming pool. Visit beaches that have signs indicating they are safe for swimming, have lifeguards on duty and do not have rip tides. Have your child wear water shoes to protect his or her feet.
Ward off pesky mosquitoes. Wearing long sleeves and pants is the best preventive measure against mosquitoes. Applying an insect repellent containing DEET to any exposed skin before going outdoors will provide additional effective protection. Avoid the areas around the eyes and mouth. DEET insect repellents are not suitable for babies under 2 months old.
If you’re traveling to a place that has lots of mosquitoes, always sleep under a mosquito net. Bring plug-in repellent products for the bedroom, and use small, lightweight repellent products that you can clip onto your clothes if you want to avoid using bug spray.&pagebreaking&Other Health and Safety
Put safety first. Bring and make sure your child uses his or her car or booster seat if you will be in a car during your trip. Buckle up your seatbelt on every car ride, and wear a helmet when riding bikes, scooters or skateboards.
Beat motion sickness. If you are driving, avoid motion sickness by taking plenty of regular breaks so everyone can get some fresh air and stretch. Stay hydrated to feel your best. Wrist bracelets that provide acupressure and ginger candy can help ward off queasiness. Over-the-counter motion sickness medications are safe for children over age 2 but are best only used if your child has a history of severe motion sickness. Always stop the car to breast- or bottle-feed your baby. Don’t be tempted to hold and feed him or her while in a moving car.
Wash your hands. Make sure everyone in your family washes their hands frequently with soap and water or uses an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially before eating.
First Aid On the Go
Whatever your destination, bring a well stocked, lightweight first aid kit with you. This travel kit should include the following items:
- Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil)
- Oral antihistamine medication (Benadryl)
- Pedialyte powder packets for rehydration
- Polysporin or Neosporin antibiotic ointment
- 1 percent hydrocortisone cream
- Anti-itch gel or cream
- Antibacterial hand wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol
- Insect repellent containing up to 10 percent DEET (Products containing DEET provide the most effective and safe protection against mosquitoes; just make sure you always follow the directions on the product.)
Don’t forget any prescription medications (such as inhalers for asthma) your child uses regularly that might be hard to find or refill during your travels.
If You Get Sick on Your Trip
Make sure in advance that you know where to go if anyone in your family might need medical attention. If you are staying with friends or family, ask them for a recommendation for a local doctor. A hotel concierge can also usually assist you with local doctor and hospital information.
If you are traveling overseas, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate can provide you with contact information for local doctors. To contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country you are visiting, call Overseas Citizens Services at:
- 888-407-4747 (calling from the United States or Canada)
- +1-202-501-4444 (calling from overseas)
Manisha Panchal, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Santa Clara Center. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.