From long plane rides to cramped road trips, family vacations can spell trouble, but parents can take steps before leaving home to help their families return with fond memories rather than horror stories, a paediatrician says.
"Having three kids, I know how stressful it can be travelling with children, especially young children. Listening to 'are we there yet?' [and] trying to manoeuvre through security or just trying to cure boredom from being crammed in a car or airplane can challenge anyone's patience," Dr Hannah Chow, Loyola University Health System paediatrician and assistant professor in the paediatrics department at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, said.
No matter how fun or exciting the destination, the process of getting there can be downright boring for kids, but the doctor noted that the cure for boredom is variety. In preparing for a trip, parents can purchase inexpensive games, books and new toys at a local dollar store, she pointed out.
"Bring books, movies, games, toys, and don't forget extra batteries and chargers, or when the power fades you'll have some very upset kids. It's always a good idea to pack extra headsets as well because these are easily broken or lost," said Chow. "My husband always says whoever invented the car DVD players deserves the Nobel Peace Prize."
Given the uncertainties of travel, parents should also not venture far from home with their kids without packing adequate healthy snacks, the expert noted.
Packing travel bags for kids
For road trips, she suggested packing a cooler with nutritious snacks such as fruit, chopped vegetables, drinks, crackers, sandwiches and fruit snacks.
Families travelling by plane are more limited in what they can bring, but it's critical to have snacks in the event of delays or technical problems. The paediatrician advised that parents pack cereal, granola bars, fruit snacks and roll ups, oranges and trail mix. Individual drink mixes that just need added water are also a good idea, she said.
Before families even leave home, parents should also pack a first aid kit, cautioned the paediatrician. Since a wide range of unexpected injuries can happen when far from home, the expert advised including the following items:
- Over-the-counter medications for pain, fever and colds.
- Several adhesive bandages and tissue.
- Motion sickness or Dimenhydrinate drugs for children 10 years and older. A paediatrician should be consulted for motion sickness drugs for younger children.
- Itch erasers for mosquito bites. These remedies can be found in convenience stores or pharmacies. Parents should keep in mind they may sting at first.
- Hydrocortisone cream for itchy rashes.
- Bug spray with less than 10 percent DEET if the vacation destination is near woods or areas known to be full of insects.
- Powdered electrolyte solution. By adding water, this powder will serve as a pedialyte solution to help children who get the stomach flu keep from getting dehydrated.
Chow warned, however, that parents should not ask their paediatrician to call in antibiotic prescriptions while away from home. "This impacts our ability to provide accurate medical care for your child. If you have prescription medications, make sure you have enough for your trip. I've had to explain to parents I am not licenced and cannot call in a prescription in another country," said Chow.
Vaccines before heading overseas
Parents who plan to bring their children on trips to foreign countries should first check travel vaccination websites for information on any additional vaccines that may be needed, noted the doctor.
She also advised would-be travellers to consult a travellers clinic before leaving home. "Travel vaccines are typically out-of-pocket expenses but worth the money. The hepatitis A vaccine is routinely given to children and I recommend it for adults who travel as well. It protects against a virus transmissible through contaminated food and water," explained Chow.
When overseas, parents should remember the following tips: don't drink tap water; avoid ice; do not eat raw food from street vendors; and bring tissues to serve as emergency toilet paper.
"My sister's friends learned the hard way not to eat Peruvian guinea pig prior to a plane flight. Make sure everything is well-cooked and bring a small bottle of antibacterial soap just in case," added Chow.
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more travel safety tips for parents.
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