Keeping Your Children Healthy and Safe on Vacation

Claire McCarthy, MD

When we think about planning a family vacation, we think about picking a place and deciding how to get there and packing clothes and toys. What we don’t think about, necessarily, is planning for our children’s health.

The thing is, kids can get sick or hurt any old time, even on vacation. A little extra planning and preparation can go a long way toward preventing this—and making it as painless (so to speak) as possible if it does happen.

So as you start planning, here are a few things to add to the list:

Get ready for the ride. Have you been wondering for a while whether your car seat is installed correctly? Wondering if your 6-year-old really should be in a booster seat? If your trip involves driving, find out before you leave. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have great online resources.

It’s hard for parents to drive safely if kids are really fussy—or really need to pee. So plan ahead. Bring games and coloring books. Play games together, like License Plate Bingo. A portable DVD player can be a lifesaver. As for the pee problem… know where the rest stops are, and plan accordingly (be aware that if you hit one exactly at mealtime, like we did recently after being stuck in killer traffic, that food and bathroom lines will be long).

Carsickness can make a car ride excruciating too. All three of my daughters suffer from this (one used to routinely throw up anytime we drove more than 30 minutes) so I have lots of experience with it. Keep the carsick-prone kid as close to the front of the car as possible (don’t put them in the back of a minivan), near a window that can open (I know, you don’t want to let air-conditioned air out, but do you want to clean up vomit?). Don’t let them read or do anything else that requires close attention (even the portable DVD player may trigger it). Bring some dry, salty snacks like pretzels or crackers. Spare clothes, plastic bags and some baby wipes are a good idea, too.

Pack a mini medicine cabinet. Obviously you must bring any medication your child takes regularly. But it’s a real bummer to be in a hotel room in the middle of the night with a kid who’s got a fever—and have nothing to give them. So along with sunscreen and bug spray, pack a few things you might need in case of an illness or minor injury. Here’s what I pack (we’ve used them all):

  • Acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergic reactions and itchy bug bites
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Aloe vera, for sunburns and rashes
  • A few band-aids
  • A thermometer
  • Tweezers (for splinters or ticks)

Whenever you pack medications, you also need to think about…

Childproofing. Store that bag of medications well out of reach. The Centers for Disease Control has some great tips for medication storage while on vacation as part of their Up and Away and Out of Sight program. If you’ve got little kids, bring along a bag of outlet covers and other safety devices; use them in hotels or talk to hosts about childproofing one area of the house so that you can relax there while you visit. Consider bringing a safety gate to keep your child in the childproofed area (it’s a good idea if there are stairs, too).

When planning snacks and meals, think fiber. With routines and meals being different, constipation is common, so go for raisins and whole grain crackers and lots of fruits and vegetables. Make sure everyone drinks lots of water, too.

Bring plenty of hand sanitizer, especially if you are visiting public places with lots of people. Frequent hand washing is absolutely the best way to prevent the infections that can mess up a vacation. Get the little ones that are easy to carry with you.

Prepare for the possibility of an emergency. This is particularly important if your child has a medical problem like asthma. Bring along your doctor’s phone number as well as the numbers of any specialists your child sees. Find out about the hospitals in the area where you will be vacationing, and talk to your doctor about which one you should go to if necessary (usually, the one with the most pediatric expertise).

It sounds like a lot, but it’s really not—and it can make all the difference when it comes to making your family vacation everything you want it to be.