A mother prepares her two children to board a flight.
A mother prepares her two children to board a flight.
A mother prepares her two children to board a flight.

Traveling With Children

Traveling with children can bring great rewards—and great challenges. Worldwide travel is becoming more common. Many families take children with them to all parts of the globe. Many of the same precautions that apply to adults also apply to children. However, because of a child's limited immunity to diseases, food and water precautions, as well as limiting their exposure to disease, are even more important.

Immunizations for children

Contact your child's healthcare provider about immunizations that your child needs as early as possible before travel. The timetable for some immunizations may need to be accelerated and there may be other special immunizations that are needed, depending on where you are traveling.

Taking food, water, and insect precautions

Be especially careful about exposing children to different foods and water. Don't feed children any food that is uncooked. Also, avoid fruits and vegetables in developing countries, unless you peel them yourself. Children are particularly susceptible to traveler's diarrhea and other gastrointestinal infections. Take extra precautions when mixing infant formula with water. Use purified water for drinking, preparing ice cubes, brushing teeth, and mixing infant formula and foods. You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a disinfecting agent. Take special precautions when cleaning pacifiers, teething rings, and toys that fall to the floor or are handled by others.

Keeping children away from insects and animals to prevent the spread of disease. Some travelers question the safety of repellents in children. Reports of toxicity from DEET, the repellent in use since the 1950s have been rare and were linked to inappropriate application. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC approve and support the use of DEET (up to 30% to 50%) in children older than 2 months.

The CDC recommends the following to help protect your children against mosquito bites:

  • Use clothing that covers your child's arms and legs

  • Use mosquito netting to cover cribs, strollers, and baby carriers

  • Do not use insect repellent on infants less than 2 months of age

  • In children older than 2 months, do not apply repellent onto a child's mouth, eyes, hands, or to broken or irritated skin

  • On children younger than 3 years old, do not use products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-mentane-diol

  • If using an insect spray, spray a small amount on your hands first and then apply it to your child's face. Be sure to avoid your child's eyes and mouth.

  • Never spray the repellent directly on your child's face.

If your child has symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes, contact your healthcare provider and describe where you have traveled. In a baby less than 2 months of age, a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher always requires a medical evaluation. Call your provider or get medical care right away if your infant is less than 2 months old and has a fever.

Flying with children

Airplane travel can be exciting, yet frightening and painful for young children. Children are especially vulnerable to the sensation of "popping" ears during takeoff or landing, and often experience pain with this. Due to an air pocket in the middle ear that is sensitive to air pressure changes, the changing altitude as the plane takes off or lands can cause discomfort in the ears. Small children are especially affected by blocked ear canals because their eustachian tubes the tube which connects the middle ear with the nasopharynx are narrower than those of adults.

Swallowing or yawning usually can help "pop" the ears (activating the muscle that opens the eustachian tube) and ease the discomfort. Use of a bottle or pacifier in very young children can also help "pop" the ears. Try to keep the baby awake as the plane descends.

Older children may be helped by chewing gum or drinking a cup of juice.

Handling motion sickness

Children seem to be more prone to motion sickness than adults. Further, while an antihistamine can be effective in preventing or relieving motion sickness, its use is restricted by age. If your child suffers from motion sickness, discuss this with his or her doctor before you travel and ask what medicine may be appropriate for your child. Other ways to relieve motion sickness include:

  • Eat a light meal or snack before and during travel.

  • Sit in the area of a moving vehicle that has the least motion. In an airplane, this is over the wings; on trains and buses, it is near the front of the vehicle; and on a ship or boat, the deck has the least amount of movement. While the front seat of the car has less motion than the back seat, it is not safe, and children should always be secured in a car safety seat or a seat belt in the back seat.

  • Encourage children to sleep during travel.

  • Give children sunglasses to wear to reduce visual stimulation.

Other helpful hints for traveling with children

  • Check with your travel agent regarding the best airplane seats for children. If traveling with young infants, request the bulkhead seats on long-distance flights, as often these have infant beds that attach to the ceiling of the aircraft.

  • Arrange for special children's meals in advance, particularly if your children are picky eaters. Also carry along favorite foods and snacks, in case there is a shortage of meals. Also be sure to take along enough infant formula and baby food for a 24-hour period.

  • Unless you are certain that child safety seats are available at your destination, bring along your child's seat from home. Many children also like the security of having their own car seat.

  • Be sure to bring along plenty of games, toys, and books to keep your children quietly occupied. The advent of children's rolling suitcases allows even young children to carry on many of their favorite belongings.

  • When visiting large attractions, make sure to prearrange a family meeting place in case you become separated from other members of your family.

  • Make sure your children know what to do if they get lost in a strange city, particularly, in a foreign country. Some experts advise giving children a necklace or card, which includes your address and phone number while abroad, which they keep with them at all times. Do not include information about their names, however.

  • If your child has a chronic illness or a weak immune system, talk to your healthcare provider about special travel precautions you will need to take.

  • If your child is an older adolescent traveling in a student group, consider the need for counseling regarding the treatment of common travel-related illnesses, the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, prevention of sexual assault, and drug and alcohol use during international travel.

  • If your children are visiting friends and relatives in developing countries, ask your healthcare provider about increased risks and prevention strategies related to such things as malaria, tuberculosis, and intestinal parasites.

  • Consider taking a basic first aid course before traveling. Encourage older children to take the course with you.

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