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Harvard Commentaries
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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

A Parent's Life A Parent's Life

Happy Trails: Safe, Healthy Travel With Kids

August 12, 2013

By Claire McCarthy M.D.

Boston Children's Hospital

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Happy Trails: Safe, Healthy Travel With Kids
Happy Trails: Safe, Healthy Travel With Kids
To have the safest and healthiest trip possible with your children, keep in mind these travel tips.
Harvard Medical School Commentary

Traveling with your children can be a great way to explore new places, spend time together as a family, and visit with those friends and family members who don't live nearby. To have the safest and healthiest trip possible, along with getting directions, buying tickets, and packing the right clothes and toys, keep in mind these travel tips.

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Raid the Medicine Cabinet

  • Pack any prescription medicines your child takes. Check to be sure you have enough for the whole trip.
  • Bring commonly used over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, antibiotic ointment and diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
  • Carry a thermometer and a few Band-Aids on every trip; they can come in very handy. Consider a tweezer, too, if your child gets splinters often.

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Kids Need Car Seats

  • Make sure that you have the proper seat for your child's age and weight, and that it's correctly installed in the vehicle you are traveling in. The website of the American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips on choosing and installing car safety seats.
  • If you are traveling by plane, the Federal Aviation Administration strongly recommends car seats for infants and toddlers. Remember that you will have to purchase a ticket for the child in order to use the seat. Check with the airline to see if discounts are available. The seat must be less than 16 inches wide to fit; be sure to measure before you go! Booster seats are not allowed on planes.

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Be Aware of Common Travel Health Problems

  • If your child easily gets carsick, make sure she is high enough in the car to see out the window, as this can help. Keep a window cracked open for a breeze, and have some light snacks such as pretzels available; both can help nausea go away. If your child has particularly bad carsickness (for example, she vomits every trip), talk to your doctor about medications she might take. 
  • Ear pain can be a problem when people fly. Having an infant nurse or take a bottle during take-off and landing is a good idea, as swallowing helps. For older children, try having them drink, chew gum (sugarless, of course!), or play a yawning game to prevent their ears from blocking up.
  • Since schedules and what you eat when traveling are often different than when you're home, constipation (not having a bowel movement as often as usual) may happen. Give your child plenty of fluids, and make sure there is fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) in his diet.
  • Germs can be anywhere when you travel. Carry hand sanitizer with you at all times, to help you bring fewer of them along with you!

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Don't Forget About Childproofing

  • Bring along a childproofing kit with outlet covers, cabinet locks and whatever else you use at home.
  • If staying at someone's house, you may not be able to childproof the entire place. Ask if there is one room you can completely childproof, so you can relax better while your child is there. Think about the biggest dangers, such as medications, cleaning fluids, knives and things that your child could choke on. Ask if those and any other particularly dangerous things can be moved and/or locked out of reach during your stay.
  • For infants and toddlers, a portable crib can serve as both a bed and a safe place to play.
  • Consider bringing safety gates with you to block stairs or keep your child in a safe room. Your host may appreciate it if you use the kind that open out, as opposed to ones that need to be climbed over.

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Do Your Homework

  • Write down your child's medical information, especially medication allergies, health problems and prescription medications. If you forget the name of the antibiotic that gave him the rash, find out before you go! Keep the list with you at all times. If your child needs to see a doctor while you are traveling, the doctor will need to know these things.
  • Bring the name and phone numbers of all doctors your child sees, including specialists, in case you or a doctor you see needs to contact them.
  • Ask your doctor about the best hospitals in the area where you are traveling, so you'll know where to go if necessary.
  • Make sure you bring your health insurance cards, and check with your insurance company about coverage out of your area. Most companies will cover emergency care if your child needs it, but you may need to call for approval or go to a particular hospital.

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If Traveling Outside of the Country ...

  • For travel to certain countries, your child may need special vaccines. To find out the latest recommendations, visit the Travelers' Health section of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Do this at least six to eight weeks before traveling, as many of the vaccines need to be given at least a month before travel and you may need an appointment at a special travel clinic to get certain ones.
  • Find out about the particular health risks in the country where you will be traveling, such as malaria or dengue, so that you can talk to your doctor before you go about how to prevent them. The CDC's website can help with this. The CDC and InteliHealth's Healthy Travel area also have lots of useful, practical information about topics such as safe food and water and traveler's diarrhea.

It sounds like a lot, but mostly it's just a matter of planning. And it can make a big difference when it comes to making your trip memorable for all the right reasons.

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Claire McCarthy, M.D., is an assistant professor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, an attending physician at Children's Hospital of Boston, and medical director of the Martha Eliot Health Center, a neighborhood health service of Children's Hospital. She is a senior medical editor for Harvard Health Publications.

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