How Doctors Keep Their Own Kids Healthy While Traveling

Doctors reveal the habits they implement while on a trip to reduce their kids' chances of getting sick.
Doctors reveal the habits they implement while on a trip to reduce their kids' chances of getting sick. d3sign via Getty Images

Although the logistics of traveling with children can be a challenge, it’s a wonderful way to broaden their horizons and create lifelong memories.

“We love to travel and take several family trips per year,” said Dr. Yamileth Cazorla-Lancaster, a pediatrician and author of “A Parent’s Guide to Intuitive Eating: How To Raise Kids Who Love to Eat Healthy.” “Traveling is great for kids and families, and I think it is fabulous for children to experience.”

Still, it’s not uncommon for children to pick up some germs or sustain an injury over the course of a family adventure. To help parents keep these concerns at bay, we asked doctors to share how they keep their own children safe and healthy on a trip.

“There are definitely measures you can take to stay healthy while traveling,” Cazorla-Lancaster said. “You will get better over time as you gain experience. Have fun!”

1. Handwashing

“During our trips, I am vigilant about making sure we wash our hands and use hand sanitizer frequently to limit picking up germs along the way,” said pediatrician Dr. Candice Jones.

Sinks are not always easily accessible while traveling, so it’s helpful to carry hand sanitizer. Dr. Krupa Playforth, founder of The Pediatrician Mom, said her family travels with sanitizing wipes, which they find easier to transport than the liquid stuff.

“As much as I wish I had exciting secret tips, the real trick to prevent your kids or yourself from getting sick is not a fancy one at all: Wash your hands, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and ― for my toddler especially ― after long periods waiting during transit, because inevitably his little hands will end up all over every surface imaginable,” she said. “Use soap and water and wash well for 20 seconds at a time.”

2. Minimizing Floor Time

On busy travel days, little kids can get restless and end up playing or rolling around on the floor of the airport, train station, plane, etc.

“A tip I try to use is one that minimizes how much time your child spends crawling around the floor in transit,” Playforth said. “For older children, this means I totally lean into screen time, and for younger kids, I embrace having a snack pack of finger foods ― think: Goldfish, Cheerios, Cocoa Bunnies ― in a pillbox and using busy-boards, water-wow pads and other easily transportable toys.”

3. Researching The Destination

Dr. Rebecca Pellett Madan, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, reviews the CDC’s travel health recommendations for every destination she visits with her family to determine if her child will need special immunizations or medicines to protect against malaria.

“It’s important to do this as early as possible, as these preventative steps may require a visit to our pediatrician or to a pediatric infectious diseases specialist,” she told HuffPost. “It’s also important to administer immunizations as early as possible before traveling, so that the immunizations have plenty of time to become effective. Immunizations typically require about a month to become fully effective. I also review my child’s routine immunization record to make sure they are up to date, especially for measles and chickenpox.”

She also does not allow her children to pet stray cats or dogs, especially while traveling internationally, due to the risk of rabies.

“Make sure your child’s insurance coverage is up to date, and if traveling internationally, you may want to review what coverage you have for any accidents or illnesses that occur overseas,” Pellett Madan added.

That pre-travel research can also include figuring out how to get medical attention should you need it during your trip.

“It is helpful to have a sense of what type of urgent medical care is available at your destination, just in case you may need it,” Playforth said. “In the U.S., this is not a problem usually, but if you’re traveling abroad, knowing what is available and how your insurance works can give you a lot of peace of mind.”

4. Eating Well 

“We do our best to practice good habits and behaviors that support a healthy immune system when we are traveling,” Cazorla-Lancaster said. “We try to prepare our own food for one to two meals per day so that we can prioritize fruits and veggies and eat more whole foods.”

In addition to shopping for local whole foods during the trip, she also packs healthy snacks like trail mix and roasted soybeans.

“Snacks from home that kids are familiar with can help ease some travel anxiety as well,” noted Dr. Jenna Wheeler, a pediatric critical care physician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

Eating well and hydrating are important to keeping kids -- and yourself -- healthy while on vacation.
Eating well and hydrating are important to keeping kids -- and yourself -- healthy while on vacation. ArtMarie via Getty Images

5. Hydrating

“If flying you can take an empty water bottle through security and fill it on the other side. Snacks from home that kids are familiar with can help ease some travel anxiety as well.”

“A lot of our travel is during the summer, so we want to prepare for hydration,” said Dr. Ijeoma Opara, a pediatrician and associate professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine. “We make sure folks are ready with their reusable water bottles.”

Taking plenty of water breaks while you’re out and about and even using hydration multipliers are helpful ways to ensure everyone remains hydrated throughout the duration of the trip.

“Especially when the sun is out during the summer, you want to prepare for hydration and also skin care with plenty of sunscreen and moisturizer,” Opara said.

6. Packing Essential Meds

“I’m a Type A, ‘always like to be prepared’ person, so I do not like to get caught off-guard with a sick kid during travel,” Playforth said. “We always travel with an antihistamine like Zyrtec or Allegra in case of an allergic reaction, and I try to have a fever-reducer on hand as well. I know we can always purchase one if we need it at our destination, but the last thing you want to do in the middle of the night when your child wakes up with a fever is start googling local pharmacies.”

She recommended saving the pharmacy run for the morning by having enough of the essentials on hand to get you through the night.

“I pack various medications for common symptoms of illness, such as Pedialyte, pain relievers, nasal saline and fever reducers,” Jones said.

Topical creams, Band-Aids and bug spray are other helpful supplies to have on hand.

“When my kids were younger, we also always traveled with our Fridababy snotsucker and saline,” Playforth said.

7. Assessing Everyone’s Individual Needs

“The important thing is to know the health status of one’s children and if they have any special needs to ensure those needs are accounted for,” Opara said.

In addition to packing the general medical essentials, she recommended preparing any supplies, equipment, toys or other special forms of support the child needs.

“If your child has any medical issues, it’s especially important to make sure you label and pack all of their medications,” Pellett Madan echoed. “If you need refills prior to traveling, be sure to let your pediatrician know well in advance. My child has croup, and as any parent who has experienced this can tell you, croup has a way of occurring in the middle of the night and when you least expect it. So I try to plan ahead and bring a few emergency doses of croup medication, just in case.”

8. Trying To Keep A Semblance Of Routine

“Travel means a break in routine,” Opara said. “I think it’s helpful to give notice in the week before. Start talking about the trip, generate excitement, ask your child what they’re looking forward to and help them prepare for a break in routine.”

She noted that breaks in routine can lead to behavioral changes, crying and tantrums, so it’s helpful to psychologically prepare kids beforehand.

“And then during the trip try to keep things as close as possible to the home routine,” Opara added. “Have activities or accommodations for that break in routine, and be prepared for what might transpire.”

The change can be even more challenging when you travel a far distance.

“We make sure that we are getting to sleep on time and do what we can to recover from jet lag quickly when we travel across time zones,” Cazorla-Lancaster said.

9. Relaxing And Embracing The Chaos

“I think it’s important at all times, but especially on vacation, to remember that you can only control what you can control,” Playforth said. “Kids get sick, and often they pick inopportune times. It does not mean you did something wrong.”

To support your mental and physical health, try not to let stress overwhelm you.

“As any parent knows, part of parenting is embracing the chaos,” Playforth added. “And if your child gets sick, it’s OK if you need to take some down time and modify your itinerary.”