Many families travel when school’s out of session, which over the winter holiday season means traveling when illness is abound. I get a lot of questions this time of year about how to safely travel with kids.
- Bring favorite comfort items, such as a stuffed animal or blankie, to help kids relax for sleep. If possible, travel with your own pillows.
- If you’re staying at a hotel, ask for a quiet room, such as one away from the pool and the elevator.
- Be sure to verify that there will be safe sleeping areas for every child, especially infants, before you travel.
- Try to keep kids on their regular sleep schedule. It’s tempting to stay up late to enjoy the most of the vacation, but in reality that will only serve to make little monsters of your children if they’re sleep deprived.
- If your kids nap well in the car, plan on doing long stretches on the road during nap time. If kids don’t sleep well in the car, be sure to plan to be at your hotel (or wherever you’re staying) at sleep times so they can stay in their usual routine.
- Some families leave on long trips at the child’s bedtime to let them sleep through the drive. Just be sure the driver is well rested to make it a safe trip!
- If you’re changing time zones significantly, plan ahead. Jet lag can be worse when traveling east than when going west. Jet lag is more than just being tired from a change in sleep routine, it also involves changes to the eating schedule. Kids will often wake when they’re used to eating because the body is hungry at that time. Try to feed everyone right before they go to sleep to try to prevent this. Breastfed infants might have a harder time adjusting because mother’s milk production is also off schedule.
- Tired, sick, and hungry all make for bad moods, so try to stay on track on all accounts. Sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythm, so try to get everyone up and outside in the morning to help reset their inner clocks. Keep everyone active during the day so they are tired at the new night-time.
Keeping track of littles
- Toddlers and young kids love to run and roam. Be sure that they are always within sight. Use strollers if they’ll stay in them.
- Consider toddler leashes. I know they seem awful at first thought, but they work and kids often love them! I never needed one for my first – he was attached to parents at the hip and never wandered. My second was fast. And fearless. She would run between people in crowds and it was impossible to keep up with her without pushing people out of the way. She hated holding hands. She always figured out ways to climb out of strollers – and once had a nasty bruise on her forehead when she fell face down climbing out as I pushed the stroller. She loved the leash. It had a cute monkey backpack. She loved the freedom of being able to wander around and I loved that she couldn’t get too far.
- Parents have a number of ways to put phone numbers on their kids in case they get separated. Some simply put in on a piece of paper and trust that it will stay in a pocket until it’s needed. Others write it in sharpie inside a piece of clothing or even on a child’s arm. You can have jewelry engraved with name and phone number, much like a medical alert bracelet. Just look at Etsy or Pinterest and you’ll come up with ideas!
- It’s a great idea to take pictures of everyone each morning in case someone gets separated from the group. Not only will you have a current picture for authorities to see what they look like, but you will also know what they were wearing at the time they were lost.
- The great news is that air travel is much safer from an infection standpoint than it used to be. Newer airplanes have HEPA filters that make a complete air change approximately 15 to 30 times per hour, or once every 2-4 minutes. The filters are said to remove 99.9% of bacteria, fungi and larger viruses. These germs can live on surfaces though, so I still recommend using common sense and bringing along a small hand sanitizer bottle and disinfectant wipes to use as needed. Wipe down arm rests, tray tables, seat pockets, windows, and other surfaces your kids will touch. After they touch unclean items sanitize their hands. Interestingly, sitting in an aisle seat is considered more dangerous, since people touch those seats during boarding and when going to the restroom, so if you’re seated in the aisle pay attention to when surfaces need to be re-sanitized. Sitting next to a sick person increases your risk, so if there is an option to move if the person seated next to you is ill appearing, ask to be moved.
- Most adults who have flown have experienced ear pain due to pressure changes when flying. Anyone with a cold, ear infection or congestion from allergies is more at risk of ear pain, so pre-medicating with a pain reliever (such as acetaminophen) might help. If you have allergies be sure to get control of them before air travel. The best allergy treatment is usually a nasal corticosteroid.
- It has often been recommended to offer infants something to suck on (bottle, breast or a pacifier) during take off and landing to help with ear pressure. Start early in the landing – the higher you are, the more the pressure will change. Older toddlers and kids can be offered a drink since swallowing can help. Ask them to hold their nose closed and try to blow air out through the closed nostrils followed by a big yawn. If your kids can safely chew gum (usually only recommended for those over 4 years of age) you can allow them to chew during take off and landing.
- Airplane cabin noise levels can range anywhere from 60 – 100 dB and tend to be louder during takeoff. (I’ve written about Hearing Loss from noise previously to help you understand what that means.) Use cotton balls or small earplugs to help decrease the exposure, especially if your kids are sensitive to loud noises.
- The Car Seat Lady has a great page on knowing your rights when flying with kids.
Cruise ship issues
- Learn about cruise-specific opportunities for kids of various ages. Many will offer age-specific child care, “clubs” or areas to allow safe opportunities for everyone to hang out with people of their own age group. Cruises offer the opportunity for adventurous kids to be independent and separate from parents at times, allowing each to have a separate-yet-together vacation. Travel with another family with kids the same ages as yours so your child knows a friendly face, especially if siblings are in a different age group for the cruises “clubs”.
- Talk to kids about safety issues on the ship and make sure they follow your rules. They should always stay where they are supposed to be and not wander around. There’s safety in numbers, so have them use a buddy system and stick with their buddy. Find out how you can get a hold of them and they can get a hold of you during the cruise.
- Of course sunscreen is a must. Reapply often!
- Be sure kids are properly supervised near water. That means an adult who is responsible for watching the kids should not be under the influence of alcohol, shouldn’t read a book, or have other distractions.
Car seats (for planes, trains and automobiles)
- I know it’s tempting to save money and not get a seat for your child under 2 years of age on a plane, but it is recommended that all children are seated in a proper child safety restraint system (CRS). It must be approved for flight, but then you can then use the seat for land travel.
- I always recommend age and size appropriate car seats or boosters when traveling, even if you’re in a country that does not require them. Allowing kids to ride without a proper seat will probably lead to problems getting them back in their safe seat when they get back home. Besides, we use car seats and booster seats to protect our kids, not just to satisfy the law.
- So… my section header was meant to be cute. Trains don’t have seatbelts, so car seats won’t work. But they are a safe way to travel. Car Seat for the Littles has a great explanation on Travel by Train.
When should pregnant women and new babies avoid travel by air?
- A surprising number of families either must travel (due to a job transfer, death in the family, out of state adoption, or other important occasion) or choose to travel during pregnancy or with young infants.
- Newborns need constant attention, which can be difficult if the seatbelt sign is on and needed items are in the overhead bin. New parents are already sleep deprived and sleeping on planes isn’t easy. New moms might still have swollen feet and need to keep their feet up, which is difficult in flight. Newborns are at high risk of infection and the close contact with other travelers can be a concern. And traveling is hard on everyone. But the good news is that overall young infants tend to travel well.
- It is advisable to not travel after 36 weeks of pregnancy because of concerns of preterm labor. Pregnant women should talk with their OB about travel plans.
- Some airlines allow term babies as young as 48 hours of age to fly, but others require infants to be two weeks – so check with your airline if you’ll be traveling in the first days of your newborn’s life. There is no standard guideline, but my preference would be to wait until term babies are over 2 weeks of age due to heart circulation changes that occur the first two weeks. Waiting until after 6 weeks allows for newborns to get the first set of vaccines (other than the Hepatitis B vaccine) prior to flight would be even better. Infants ideally have their own seat so they can be placed in a car seat that is FAA approved.
- Babies born before 36 weeks and those with special health issues should get clearance from their physicians before traveling.
- Overall traveling with an infant is not as difficult as many parents fear. Toddlers are another story… they don’t like to sit still for any amount of time and flights make that difficult. They also touch everything and put fingers in their mouth, so they are more likely to get exposed to germs.
- Teach kids (and remind yourself) to not touch faces – your own or others. Our eyes, nose, and mouth are the portals of entry and exit for germs.
- Wash hands before and after eating, after blowing your nose, before and after touching eyes/nose/mouth, before and after putting in contacts, after toileting or changing a diaper, and when they’re obviously soiled.
- Cover sneezes and coughs with your elbow unless you’re cradling an infant in your arms. Infants have their head and face in your elbow, so you should use your hands to cover, then wash your hands well.
Make sure all family members are up to date on vaccines.
- Everyone over 6 months should have a flu shot if it’s flu season (fall-winter).
- Kids and adults should have all their routine vaccines.
- If you’re traveling internationally, check out the country-specific recommendations for vaccines (and other interventions, such as insect repellents and prophylactic antibiotics). I’ve written more on this at Traveling Around the World.
Take pictures of your passport, vaccine record, medicines, insurance cards, and other important items to use if the originals are lost. Store the images so you have access to them from any computer in addition to your phone in case your phone is lost.
Have everyone, including young children, carry a form of identification that includes emergency contact information.
Create a medical history form that includes the following information for every member of your family that is travelling. Save a copy so you can easily find it on any computer in case of emergency.
- your name, address, and phone number
- emergency contact name(s) and phone number(s)
- immunization record
- your doctor’s name, address, and office and emergency phone numbers
- the name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier, including your policy number
- a list of any known health problems or recent illnesses
- a list of current medications and supplements you are taking and pharmacy name and phone number
- a list of allergies to medications, food, insects, and animals
- a prescription for glasses or contact lenses
Don’t overschedule. Your kids will remember the experience, so make moments count – don’t worry if you don’t accomplish all there is to do!
Take a look at some of the Holiday Health Hazards that come up at vacation times from Dr Christina at PMPediatrics so you can prevent accidents along the way.