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Traveling With Children

Traveling with children can bring great rewards as well as great challenges for parents. With worldwide travel becoming more and more common, many families are taking children with them to all parts of the globe. Many of the same precautions that apply to adults also apply to children. However, because of children's limited immunity to diseases, food and water precautions, as well as limiting their exposure to disease, are even more important.

Immunization information for children:

It is important to contact your child's physician regarding immunizations that are required for your child as early as possible before travel. The timetable for certain immunizations may need to be accelerated and there may be other special immunizations that are necessary, depending on the region of the world to which you are traveling.

For more information, refer to the Immunizations section of this module.

Taking food, water, and insect precautions:

Be especially careful about exposing children to different foods and water. Children should not be fed any food that is uncooked, and should avoid fruits and vegetables in developing countries, as children are particularly susceptible to traveler's diarrhea and other gastrointestinal infections. Also take extra precautions when mixing infant formula with water.

Keeping children away from insects and animals is also important in preventing the transmission of disease. While insect repellents are advised in many areas, consult your physician regarding the use of these, as many of the repellents recommended for adults are too strong for young children.

Flying with children:

Airplane travel can be exciting, yet frightening and painful for young children. Children are especially vulnerable to the sensation of "popping" ears during take off or landing, and often experience pain with this. Due to an air pocket in the middle ear that is sensitive to air pressure changes, the changing altitude as the plane takes off or lands can cause discomfort in the ears. Small children are especially affected by blocked ear canals because their Eustachian tubes - the tube which connects the middle ear with the nasopharynx - are narrower than those of adults.

Swallowing or yawning usually can help "pop" the ears (activating the muscle that opens the Eustachian tube) and ease the discomfort. Use of a bottle or pacifier in very young children can also help "pop" the ears. Do not allow a baby to sleep as the plane descends.

Older children may be helped by chewing gum or drinking a cup of juice.

Handling motion sickness:

Children seem to be more prone to motion sickness than adults. Further, while antihistamines can be effective in preventing or relieving motion sickness, their use is restricted by age. If your child suffers from motion sickness, discuss this with his/her physician before you travel and ask what medications may be appropriate for your child. Other ways to relieve motion sickness include the following:

  • Eat a light meal or snack before and during travel.
  • Sit in the area of a moving vehicle that has the least motion. In an airplane, this is over the wings; on trains and buses, it is near the front of the vehicle; and on a ship or boat, the deck has the least amount of movement. While the front seat of the car has less motion than the back seat, it is not safe, and children should always be secured in car safety seat or seat belt in the back seat.
  • Encourage children to sleep during travel.
  • Give children sunglasses to wear to reduce visual stimulation.

Other helpful hints for traveling with children:

  • Check with your travel agent regarding the best airplane seats for children. If traveling with young infants, request the bulkhead seats on long-distance flights, as often these have infant beds that attach to the ceiling of the aircraft.
  • Arrange for special children's meals in advance, particularly if your children are picky eaters. Also carry along favorite foods and snacks, in case there is a shortage of meals. Be sure to also take along enough infant formula and baby food for a 24-hour period.
  • Unless you are certain that child safety seats are available at your destination, bring along your child's seat from home. Many children also like the security of having their own car seat.
  • Be sure to bring along plenty of games, toys, and books to keep your children quietly occupied. The advent of children's rolling suitcases allows even young children to carry on many of their favorite belongings.
  • When visiting large attractions, make sure to prearrange a family meeting place in case you become separated from other members of your family.
  • Make sure your children know what to do if they get lost in a strange city, particularly, in a foreign country. Some experts advise giving children a necklace or card, which includes your address and phone number while abroad, which they keep with them at all times. Do not include information about their names, however.

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Online Resources of Travel Medicine

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