Planning a big trip and traveling with kids is stressful for any parent- but having one of your kids get sick while you’re away from home brings the stress to another level. Here are 5 easy tips for staying healthy while traveling with kids.
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1. WATER: Filtered water, and lots of it!
When we’re at home, water is my answer to everything: from tummy aches to runny noses, headaches and sore throats- or even when someone needs to wake up and pay attention. I am always telling my kids to drink a glass of water- because really, isn’t water the forgotten nutrient!?
Staying healthy while traveling is more difficult. We tend to get dehydrated more easily because our schedule gets messed up and we “forget” to drink, because of the dry environments on airplanes, or because we’re trying to avoid 50 bathroom breaks on a long road trip. Drinking water is crucial to staying healthy while traveling! It helps us avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT) by keeping us hydrated AND encouraging us to get up and move as we make our way to the bathroom.
Help your kids keep hydrated by letting them each have their own water bottle- so you can track who is drinking and who isn’t. In the airport, keep it empty until you pass security. When traveling in countries where there isn’t potable water, buy bottled water frequently– and make sure the bottle is completely sealed so you can assure it is not just tap water. We also avoid ice unless we are sure it is from a clean source- and in some extreme cases even use bottled water for teeth-brushing. Keeping hydrated helps fight jetlag by keeping you alert, helps your ears pop less, keeps your immune system strong to fight new germs, and won’t give you a sugar crash like sugary drinks will.
2. SLEEP! What parent doesn’t need more sleep?
I have traveled all over the world, but by far my hardest trip sleep-wise was when we were in Ireland with my 2 1/2 year old daughter, AND I was 7 months pregnant. Not only was the jetlag difficult, but our room didn’t have any shades on the windows and being summer at such a northern latitude, we only had darkness from
midnight until 5am. My toddler would happily scream “ES DE DÍA MAMI!!!” (“it’s daytime!!!!”) while I begged and cajoled and tried to convince her that no, NO, it was not daytime. For almost 3 weeks we battled her to go to sleep at night and sleep past 5am- but thankfully we traveled by car a lot during the day and she would sleep naps as we toured the island.
Sleep is another one of my cure-all answers, because I really feel like a well-rested child (or adult!) is much more likely have a strong immune system. Adequate sleep is the key to staying healthy while traveling!
To fight jetlag, make sure your family gets LOTS of sunlight during the day, and darkness during sleep hours so that your body’s natural sleep patterns can adjust. Your circadian rhythms are affected by signals in the environment like light and activity so get your kids outside and running around even if they’re a little tired, and dim the lights and quiet them when it’s time for them to sleep. Some parents adjust sleeping schedules in the days leading up to the big trip; at the minimum, once you’re in your destination adjust your clocks and activities to the new time.
3. PREVENTION with MEDICATION & SHOTS
Staying healthy while traveling includes prevention of sicknesses. Obviously you should all be caught up on immunizations before traveling, but there are additional considerations when going abroad. If you go to the Centers for Disease Control’s travelers’ health page, you can input your destination and find out what health risks are present, plus what immunizations are required or recommended. I would strongly advise visiting a travel health clinic in addition to your regular doctor, because they are more familiar with remote locations. Once my regular doctor had prescribed a malaria pill for me- but when I went to the travel clinic they immediately told me that it was an outdated pill with serious side effects- and prescribed a different pill. I am so glad my hair wasn’t falling out for that trip!
Some parents prefer pre-travel, alternative supplements to boost the immune system such as echinacea, or vitamins C, A, and E. There are vitamin packs such as Airborne, Emergen-C, and GoTravel: Immune Support Supplement for Traveling that all claim to boost your immune system so your body is better able to fight off infections– and some family travelers swear by these! Check with your pediatrician or doctor to know which (if any) would work for your family. If you do have to bring an epi-pen, diabetes medicine, or other necessary prescriptions, keep them in their original packages. You are allowed to bring with syringes and other medically necessary items if you follow the TSA’s requirements and arrive early to the airport.
Breakfast on the road- we are almost in MO! A photo posted by Becky (@kidworldcitizen) on
4. NOURISH YOURSELF!
It is very, very easy to only sustain yourself (and your kids) on junk food, crackers, vending machine snacks, etc. While this is a bad idea in regular life, it is even more terrible when traveling! Eating well might take some planning, but having a healthy gut makes life so much more pleasant- and keeps your immune system stronger against other viruses. I remember after running the Berlin marathon with my husband we rushed back to the hostel and looked for something (anything!) to eat. FYI- nothing is open on Sunday mornings in Berlin. The hostel we were staying at sold snacks at the front desk, so our after-run nourishment- after 26 miles!- was ketchup-flavored potato chips and snickers. I’m getting sick just thinking about it! Luckily when we made it to the airport and found some amazing salads with grilled chicken:).
If you’re in another country, don’t be afraid to stop at the grocery stores or ask around for farmer’s markets, fruit stands, or bakeries. You can also bring certain foods with you (no meats, cheeses, fresh fruits, or vegetables) to help in “emergencies.” My daughter doesn’t like meat, so when we were in China I brought with 3 cans of black beans (seriously) because I knew she would eat them with the white rice that we could obviously buy anywhere. We also bring peanut butter with us for quick protein on fresh bread we buy in country.
Get inspired to pack food on road trips with this fantastic list of healthy foods you can bring with you on road trips.
5. WASH THOSE GRUBBY HANDS!
My last tip is one that we learn in kindergarten: wash your hands with soap and water! After the bathroom, after riding public transportation, after visiting animals at a zoo or farm- and always before eating. Many, many, many places will not have soap in the bathroom (at least where we travel:), so bring some soap or sanitizer with you to keep those germs from getting in your mouth. Keep an eye on kids if you have a thumb-sucker or nail-biter, and traveling probably isn’t the time to suck off the pacifier yourself before sticking it back in your baby’s mouth (guilty as charged).
I love traveling with kids and of course staying healthy while traveling!!! These tips have worked for me- do you have any to add that I may have forgotten?