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What Parents Need to Know to Keep Kids Safe and Healthy While Traveling

by Vannessa Rhoades 19 Dec 2022
What Parents Need to Know to Keep Kids Safe and Healthy While Traveling

Traveling with kids can be both fun and challenging. Children are often especially vulnerable to changes in their routine and environment, making it more likely for them to get sick. Advance planning and thoughtful preparation can help you keep your family safe and healthy while traveling.

Preparing to Leave

The Centers for Disease (CDC) recommends parents make an appointment with their pediatrician at least one month prior to leaving. During this visit, your doctor can assist you with destination-specific immunizations, medications, and information. Talking about your travel plans with your child’s healthcare provider gives them the opportunity to provide more specific guidance and recommendations. 

Depending on where you’re traveling, your family may be facing different risks and rules that may require specific vaccines. These vaccines protect your kids from highly contagious illnesses (like measles) that can circulate rapidly among unvaccinated individuals. Many illnesses prevented by routine vaccination are not common in the United States but are still a high risk in other countries. You can check the CDC's website for a list of recommended or required vaccinations. Bring your child's immunization records with you if you're traveling outside the country. The CDC also provides travel notices when there are outbreaks of infectious diseases in various parts of the world.

It’s also important to prepare for the unexpected as much as you can by making sure you’ll have access to medical care or supplies in case you’re stranded. To prepare, you may consider the following steps:

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Common Travel Ailments

Regardless of how long or short your trip is, there are a few common health issues many children deal with while traveling.

Motion Sickness

Motion sickness (a.k.a., travel sickness) is triggered when the eyes and ears receive conflicting signals. In other words, the inner ear senses motion, while the eyes (focused on the still interior of a vehicle) do not. This may cause vomiting, dizziness, nausea, and cold sweats. There are a few steps parents can take to help kids deal with motion sickness:

  • Have your child eat a snack or light meal prior to leaving. Opt for easily digestible complex carbohydrates. Avoid greasy, fatty foods.
  • If it’s a short trip, avoid eating during travel. For longer journeys, keep meals small and light. Stay hydrated.
  • Open a window, if possible, to allow fresh air into the vehicle.
  • Encourage your child to focus on the horizon or other still, distant points outside the vehicle.
  • Stop often at parks, rest areas, or other places where it’s safe to stop. A brief walk outside may help.
  • Have your child utilize the headrest on their seat to reduce head movement.
  • Consult your pediatrician about medication that can alleviate motion sickness.


Diarrhea and other stomach issues are very common during travel. They’re frequently the result of bacteria entering the digestive system, typically from contaminated food or water. Diarrhea is especially concerning for young children and infants, who are more vulnerable to the effects of dehydration than adults. 

To prevent GI distress when traveling, the CDC recommends drinking only bottled, canned, or hot drinks and only drinking milk that has been pasteurized. Eat foods that are served hot, dry, or packaged. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be cooked or washed well and peeled. Meats and fish should be well cooked and eaten just after preparation. Avoid food from street vendors. Wash hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Use soap and clean water to wash bottles, pacifiers, and toys that fall on the floor.

If there is poor water quality where you are traveling, use only purified water for drinking, making ice cubes, brushing teeth, and mixing infant formula and foods. If you use tap water, boil it first or purify it with an iodine tablet. You should use sterile water to prepare your baby’s formula and to sterilize bottles, nipples, caps, and rings before using them. You can sterilize items in a dishwasher, boil them in water for five minutes, use a microwave steam sterilizer bag, or use bleach if none of the other options are available.

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Jet Lag

Traveling between time zones can be tough on seasoned adult travelers, but it’s especially hard on kids. It takes a while for the body’s internal rhythms to catch up to the local time. Jet lag can cause a variety of issues, including stomach distress and insomnia. Here are a few tips for minimizing jet lag in children:

  • Begin adjusting your child’s sleep schedule a few days prior to travel.
  • Make sure the whole family is well-rested before traveling. Have kids sleep during travel if possible.
  • Keep them well-hydrated.
  • Stop to stretch or walk during the flight when it’s safe to do so.
  • Have children play outside in the sunlight when you arrive, and try to follow local time.

Ear Discomfort

Many kids experience ear pain during a plane's takeoff and landing due to the quickly changing air pressure. Urge children to swallow, yawn, or drink through a straw. It may help babies to breastfeed or bottlefeed. You may also want to give your child a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, up to an hour prior to takeoff or, if it's a long flight, before landing.

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Other Health and Safety Issues to Consider While Traveling

While you’re traveling, it’s essential to take many of the same health and safety measures that you do at home. 

Monitor sun exposure

UV radiation is especially dangerous at higher altitudes, closer to the equator, reflected off snow or water, and between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to your child and have them wear sun-protective clothing and hats.

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Practice safety around water

Children need constant vigilance and adult supervision around water. Your destination may not have watery safety devices, like life jackets, so consider bringing these from home.

Use seat belts and car seats

Kids should always use a seat belt or sit in a size-appropriate car seat or booster seat. Research car seat guidelines for the country where you’re traveling. It’s possible that a car seat from the United States may not be approved for use in another country. In general, children are most protected when riding in the back seat of a vehicle. 


Have children wash their hands frequently. They should scrub for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Try to avoid anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Encourage kids to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth. Use wipes to clean frequently touched surfaces and objects 

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What to Pack

Be sure to bring any medications or supplies your kids frequently use, including insulin, allergy medicine, or inhalers. You may also want to pack the following: 

  • over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • a small first-aid kit 
  • sunscreen
  • insect repellent 
  • waterless hand sanitizer
  • a written copy of your child’s medical history (especially if they have any chronic conditions), including their pediatrician’s name and number, blood type, immunizations, medicines they take, allergies, prescription for glasses or contact lenses, and emergency contacts other than you

Planning ahead can help make sure that when the time comes, all you'll have left to do is relax, unwind, and relish your vacation!

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