Traveling with children in tow can prove to be challenging at times, but with careful planning and early preparation, your family holiday can turn out to be an enjoyable experience for all in the family.
Here are some things you can do before and during the trip to keep your children safe and healthy:
Among the list of to-do’s to take care of before the trip, getting the required travel vaccination should take the top spot. Do make an appointment with your doctor around 4 to 6 weeks before your departure to find out if you or your child require any travel for protection against diseases during your travel.
Some common travel vaccination that doctors recommend include:
- Hepatitis A and B
- Japanese B Encephalitis
Travel Medicine and Kit
If your child has a medical condition and/or needs to bring along medications during the trip, do get a letter from the doctor with all the relevant details clearly stated. Some airlines have strict regulations on medication, so having a memo from your doctor would help to make the check-in process smoother.
In addition to the prescribed medication, it is also wise to pack a travel kit filled with basic first aid items such as:
- Insect repellent
- Fever and flu medication
- Oral rehydration salts and diarrhea medication
Some children may be prone to motion sickness, which involves symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and giddiness when traveling on vehicles such as cars, buses and planes.
Although there is medication that can be prescribed to help you manage the symptoms of motion sickness in your child, you can also do the following to help them feel more comfortable while traveling:
- Avoid the consumption of full meals up to two hours before traveling. If your child feels hungry while in transit, do offer foods that are easily digestible such as bread, juices or canned fruit.
- Try not to let your child read or draw/ color while traveling as this will provoke dizziness. Encourage them to look out of the window to enjoy the scenery or let them play their favorite mini board games or dolls/action figures.
- When traveling by car or bus, let your child sit in the front seat and look up to the horizon.
Jet lag involves the feeling of being maladjusted in your biological clock with the time zone of the place where you are traveling to. Symptoms of jet lag include feeling tired and sleepy during the day, inability to sleep at night and gastrointestinal problems.
While children tend to have an easier time in adjusting their nap and bedtime schedules while traveling to a place with different time zones, here are some things you can do to reduce the symptoms of jet lag:
- Getting ample rest before the long-haul flight
- Sleeping on the plane, and upon arrival at the destination, try to sleep at the night time and avoid daytime naps
- Keep the schedule free and easy on the first day of your arrival
Safety of Food and Drinks
Part of the fun while traveling stems from trying out the local cuisines at the destination, but it is advisable to explore with caution – especially when it comes to young children.
Depending on the hygiene level of food preparation and drinking water, it is best to opt for bottled water or boiled water for consumption during the trip. Similarly, do go for food that is cooked thoroughly and consume them while it is hot to avoid contamination. It is best to avoid food options such as street food, raw meat and seafood, and unpasteurized dairy as these can cause stomach discomfort which leads to food poisoning.
To protect yourself and your children from bugs and mosquitoes while exploring outdoors, it is advisable to wear long sleeves and pants. For extra protection, apply insect repellent onto exposed skin and clothing. Insect repellents that contain 7 to 20% DEET are suitable for children, while adults should use repellents with 20-35% DEET. Do take extra care to wash the skin area that has come into contact with the repellent with soap and water at the end of the day after coming indoors.
For countries that are classified as high risk for malaria, it is best to get anti-malarial medication from your doctor a few weeks before the trip to protect you from the disease.
Children must be supervised at all times while they are swimming or playing in water. To keep them safe while swimming during your trip, it is best to opt for pools that have been chlorinated and skip freshwater streams, lakes and beaches. Apart from the likelihood of being contaminated with human sewage or animal feces, these swimming places might also pose a risk of getting bitten or stung by jellyfish and corals.
Before you head out for an outdoor excursion during the day, make sure to apply sunscreen with a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) of more than 15 to protect your children from the harmful UV rays and getting sunburnt. Do remember to reapply over your skin after a swim or heavy exercise – and wherever possible, do avoid midday sun as the strong rays during this time are damaging to the skin.
Getting bitten or scratched by wild animals such as stray dogs, squirrels and monkeys would put you at risk of contracting rabies, which is a serious viral infection that affects the brain and nervous system.
While you can protect yourself by getting the 3-dose anti-rabies vaccination before your trip, taking the following precautionary measures would also help:
- Avoid petting or approaching unfamiliar and wild animals – once you are bitten, other bacterial infections can be transmitted which puts your health at risk
- If your child is bitten by animals, wash the affected area with soap and running water, and apply antiseptic to the wound. Head straight to the nearest health facility for immediate medical attention.
The list of things to consider above may seem exhaustive, but they are essential to keep your children safe during your family holiday – and for everyone to have a good time. Should your children or you and your spouse feel unwell after returning from the trip, do see your family doctor for further evaluation and treatment.
Reviewed by Dr Herbert Tan, Family Physician and Resident Doctor of MindChamps Medical @ West Coast.