With summer break on the horizon, families will no doubt be thinking about planning their vacations. But how can they make sure everyone gets there and back in one piece?
We asked Dr. Joydip Roy, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare of the Mid-Atlantic (covering Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia) and Dr. Rachel Plotnick, a pediatrician of 17 years at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center Pediatric Group, for tips on staying healthy in the air, over the sea and on the road.
Know the Risks
Both Roy and Plotnick say the most important place for families to start when preparing for travel is with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), where they can find an up-to-date guide for travel concerns and what vaccinations are recommended online before traveling to their destination. Plotnick recommends all new vaccines be applied at least one month before travel so that they will have time to take full effect.
Avoid Common Travel Pitfalls
Once you know whether or not it’s safe to travel, you can make preparations to ensure you are aware of—and can avoid—these common travel pitfalls.
Jetlag happens when our bodies are out of sync with the time zone we’re going to, Roy says. This usually happens when traveling to a time zone with a difference of two or more hours from the one you’re used to. Roy says jetlag can leave people feeling tired and discombobulated—and children are just as susceptible to jetlag as adults.
To avoid jetlag, Roy advises getting plenty of rest before travel, staying well hydrated before and after your traveling, avoiding alcoholic beverages on the plane and getting plenty of sunlight once you reach your destination.
Getting sick is always a concern in a family. It seems like once one kid catches a cold, it’s just a matter of time before it spreads to the rest of the house. On vacation, the risk of catching a bug increases because of the stress travel places on our immune systems and because of the increase of high-traffic areas little hands just can’t stay away from.
As a mother of three herself, Plotnick understands the struggle to keep everyone on board with disease prevention. She recommends explaining the process, especially when traveling with very young children.
Everyone should remember to wash their hands frequently, especially after touching high-contact surfaces like railings, door handles and light switches. In addition to handwashing, it can be a good idea to bring along disinfectant wipes to sanitize hotel spaces, hand sanitizer for dining out and masks for close quarters.
Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends on its website that people use antibacterial hand wipes or alcohol-based hand cleaners that contain 60% alcohol or more.
Nobody books a ticket just to see the inside of a bathroom stall. Taking care of your digestive health can be the difference between a relaxing day at the beach and a frantic search for the next restroom. When you’re on the go, it can be easy to let nutritional standards slide in favor of quick and easy foods, but Plotnick warns parents to make sure they and their children are getting at least one to two meals per day that are nutritious and high in fiber.
Parents should also make sure everyone in the family is staying hydrated. Being dehydrated can cause children to feel irritable, in addition to being a potentially serious health concern, according to hopkinsmedicine.org. One trick to staying hydrated is to let everyone pick out their own refillable water bottle before the trip and remind everyone to fill theirs up before leaving the house or hotel in the morning. (This works best if the parents are doing it, too!)
Food allergies add an additional layer of risk for many families. Allergens can be more challenging to avoid if there is a language barrier. Some allergens are more prevalent in different parts of the world, and there is always a risk involved when trying foods you’ve never had before. Be prepared by having any allergy medication your family uses with you and finding out ahead of time where the nearest emergency care is. Restaurants in some states are allowed to keep epinephrine on site for use in emergencies.
Your Travel Health Kit
Before you go, be sure to check local laws for the state or country you are visiting to make sure any prescription medications you need to bring aren’t restricted or illegal. Roy also recommends bringing enough of your prescriptions to account for any travel delays. All prescriptions should be clearly labeled and stored in childproof containers for safety.
This also applies to eyeglasses and contacts. Every member of the family using contact lenses or prescription glasses should have a spare pair in case something happens to the pair they’re using while away.
Other things to pack include general pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin; Band-Aids; sunscreen; sunburn relief; tweezers; antacids; medication for motion sickness and insect repellant.
Have a safe trip!