Dec 9, 2016, 12:00:00 AM CST Mar 20, 2023, 2:20:39 PM CDT

How to stay healthy while traveling

Planning a family vacation? See tips to avoid getting sick and suggested health essentials for your suitcase

Family loading a car getting ready to go on a trip Family loading a car getting ready to go on a trip

Whether you're taking a day trip to a nearby town or traveling across the country, it's always important to keep your family's health top of mind when planning a vacation.

Any time you have increased exposure to large amounts of people, there can be increased risk of spreading germs or illnesses. In addition, traveling itself can disrupt regular healthy eating and sleeping habits. This can affect the immune system's ability to fight infection.

See how to avoid getting sick and keep your kids healthy while traveling so you can enjoy a happy and healthy family vacation.

Get tips specifically about traveling safely during COVID‑19.

Keep your family healthy while traveling

When you're planning your family vacation and as you embark, take these simple precautions to keep your family healthy:

  • Research your destination: Check to make sure your destination is safe for your family. This is especially important during the COVID‑19 pandemic. You can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website website for updated travel information and to ensure no travel warnings are in place.
  • Make sure everyone is up to date on vaccines: Vaccines protect children from many illnesses. If you are traveling during flu season, it's especially important to get your flu shot before you hit the road. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age or older. Depending on your destination, some regions may require specific vaccinations prior to travel as well. Ensure every member of your family who is eligible for the COVID‑19 vaccine is fully vaccinated before traveling.
  • Don't travel if you are sick: To help prevent the spread of illness, reconsider travel plans if a family member gets sick prior to vacation. The added stress of travel can prolong the recovery process, and you can spread germs to others.
  • Wash your hands: Proper hand hygiene is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs. Make sure to wash hands after using the restroom, before eating, after coughing or sneezing or whenever hands are visibly dirty. For on-the-go convenience, pack a travel-size hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings: Germs don't restrict themselves to just the enclosed area of a plane, car or train. Be mindful of other areas frequently touched by travelers such as bathrooms, doorknobs, handrails, ticket kiosks and security bins. Clean hands after touching these surfaces and encourage children not to touch their faces. You can also bring a small pack of cleaning wipes to disinfect surfaces as needed.
  • Encourage healthy habits while traveling: Even though vacation can mean a break from regular schedules, try to maintain healthy sleep and eating habits as much as possible. Getting enough rest is important for growing children, as is eating a healthy, balanced diet. Encourage children to stay hydrated even when you're on-the-go by bringing a portable water bottle.
  • Talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns: If you have any other questions, and especially if your child has a chronic condition, talk to your pediatrician before you travel. It's helpful to keep your pediatrician's phone number close-at-hand while you're traveling, too, in case you have any questions while on the road.

Vacation packing checklist: Health essentials

When it comes to packing for a vacation with kids, the checklist can feel long. In addition to healthy snacks and weather-appropriate clothes, consider packing a travel health kit with the following kid-appropriate medicines and first aid items. You never know when you may need them and if you'll have easy access to a pharmacy or drug store.

Medicines to pack for vacation

  • Children or infant acetaminophen or ibuprofen: These fever and pain-relievers can help with a headache or aches from a cold.
  • Antihistamines (topical or oral): Topical creams, as recommended by your doctor, can help soothe the itch that comes with bug bites, hives or mild allergic reactions. Oral antihistamines can help if seasonal allergies act up.
  • Children's upset stomach relievers: Antacid, anti-gas and anti-nausea formulas for kids can bring some relief for little ones suffering from a stomach virus or motion sickness when traveling.
  • Children's cough and cold medicine: Children's cold and flu medications may help reduce any related symptoms. Please note that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not recommended for young children.

As you're traveling and in a new environment, keep medications out of reach of children, since many can be dangerous when not used properly.

First aid items to pack for vacation

  • Infant or child thermometers: If your little one has the chills, it might be the seasonal breeze, or it may be a fever. Find out for sure by carrying a thermometer with you.
  • Adhesive bandages and antiseptic ointment: Most hotels or your friends and relatives probably have these on hand, but if only a favorite superhero or princess bandage will soothe your child's cuts or scrapes, make sure you pack them. Antiseptic ointments can also stop little cuts from becoming infected.
  • Cotton balls and swabs: For cleaning up cuts and scrapes, these are a must-have for family travel.
  • Tweezers and a needle: Splinters can spoil any child's fun, so be ready with these to quickly dislodge any painful invaders.
  • Diaper rash ointment: If you're packing diapers, make sure this comes along in your diaper bag, too.

Other helpful items to pack for vacation

  • Tissues: It's a good idea to bring plenty of tissues on the road (or in the air, if traveling by plane). From viruses to allergies to the sniffles, having tissues will keep you prepared. Make sure to throw away tissues in a trash can after use and then to wash hands.
  • Nasal aspirator for baby: Babies can't blow their noses, so saline spray and nose suction can help remove mucus.
  • Antibacterial gel: You've taught your child to wash their hands after going to the bathroom and before meals, but that's not always possible on the road. For waterless hand washing, pack travel-size hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Sunscreen: If you're going to be outside, keep your child's skin safe from harmful rays with a sunscreen that has SPF 30 or higher. Sunburns can happen even when it's cloudy and cold.

Lastly, if you're traveling with young children, don't forget to pack the car seat. See tips for traveling with a car seat whether on a road trip or traveling by air.

Get care now

You can also videoconference with a health care provider 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with Virtual Visit by Children's Health Virtual Care. Learn more and download the Virtual Visit app today.

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