What to Do When Your Child Gets Sick While Traveling

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Our family spent nine months traveling around the world, visiting six continents and 31 countries with our 2-year-old son. Two-year-olds often get sick during a nine-month period at home and in daycare, so of course he got sick while we were on the road. We learned how to care for our child while traveling, and although we are not doctors, we do have some tips for other parents who find their child under the weather when traveling.

8 Tips: Caring for a Sick Kid When You’re Away from Home

#1: Talk to your doctor.

Before traveling to exotic locations with your child, visit your pediatrician and make sure there are no health concerns for countries you are planning to visit or any inoculations your child may need before visiting. Letting your doctor know about your travels may also help if your child gets sick while traveling and you need your doctor to fill a prescription for you. For our travels, our son needed Yellow Fever vaccinations prior to traveling to Africa and South America, as well as malaria pills (crushed up in his orange juice) for Africa.

#2: Be preventative.

Keep illnesses at bay by making sure you wash your child’s hands (and your own) often. When traveling, you are exposing yourself and your child to lots of germs, especially when on planes, trains, and cruises, as well as crowded attractions. Carry antibacterial wipes to stay clean and be diligent about using mosquito repellant to ward off dangerous diseases we are unaccustomed to in the U.S.

#3: Get lots of rest.

Staying healthy while traveling means getting lots of rest. When you run yourself ragged, you will all increase your chance of getting sick. But if your child does get sick, make sure they take lots of naps and get to bed early. Sleep will help them get better faster.

#4: Don’t panic.

Don’t let one cough or sneeze freak you out. Most kids with a cold can still manage and get their rest sleeping in their stroller, well bundled. Treat a cold as you would at home with over-the-counter-medications, and keep an eye on your child to make sure things don’t escalate. Remember, keep your child well hydrated – sick or well. Lots of water is important when traveling. 

#5: Watch their temperature.

Be sure to travel with a thermometer so you can check for a fever if your child gets sick. A low-grade fever may be something you can manage with over-the-counter medication, but if it gets into the danger zone – over 101° – go to the nearest hospital or clinic. On our son’s first trip to Dubai, he wound up with a high fever. We cancelled our travel plans to the beach and took him to the doctor, who was worried about him getting tuberculosis. She strongly recommended we stay at home (which we did) and gave us appropriate medication. In a couple of days, he was better, but we missed the beach. Thankfully, we were close to a doctor if things got worse with him.

#6: Cancel your plans.

If you child has a slight fever or is throwing up, it’s best to cancel your plans for the day. Stay at your hotel or AirBnB and let your child get rest and sleep in the comfort of “home.” One parent can get food from a local grocery while the other stays with the child. If it is a travel day (by plane, especially), you need to gauge the illness to determine whether you should push on or cancel your plans. It can be risky to travel and not be close to a doctor or hospital, such as on a 10-hour flight. Travel plans can always be adjusted. It could be a pain, but it’s better than something terrible happening to your child.  

#7: Travel with medicine.

Visiting a pharmacy and buying over-the-counter medications in a foreign country can be unnerving. You may not be able to connect with the right words for the medicine you need, or may be uncomfortable purchasing medicine in another language. Pack items like children’s pain reliever, fever reducer, cough medicine, antibacterial ointment for cuts, and bandages. You can pack these items in checked luggage.

#8: Be patient.

When your child gets sick, he’ll need some extra loving. Don’t get upset if whining increases; they are likely to be super cranky and maybe even a bit annoying when they are sick. With extra coddling and patience, it will be easier to manage. If your child gets sick, put yourself in his shoes; imagine what you would need to feel better and offer the same to your child.

No one wants to get sick when on vacation, but it does happen. Be prepared for kinks in your travel plans, but don’t let fear of illness stop you from taking a trip with your young child. For us, our trip was priceless. We grew closer, created forever memories, and are eager to travel together again.

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