Summer travel can be a fun and rewarding time for kids to learn about nature and the world, to explore new places and activities, and to relax and enjoy time together as a family. But your trip can go south quickly if you are underprepared — and even if you overprepare by overpacking the schedule. To make sure your vacation is memorable in all the right ways, prepare in advance to head off the hazards that can trip up your plans; build in downtime to recharge; and stay flexible and open to new adventures. Here are some tips:
Stick together: If you’ll be around crowds, set up a place to meet in case your group gets separated. Tell kids how to find a “safe stranger” — like a uniformed official or a parent with children — to ask for help. If your kids are old enough, teach them your cell phone number and your first and last name.
Update vaccinations: Check in with your pediatrician to make sure your kids are fully updated on their recommended immunizations before traveling. To learn about specific vaccinations and medications that might be needed in the countries you’re visiting, make a trip to a travel clinic or check cdc.gov/travel.
Pack extra medication: If your child takes prescription medications, pack extras in your carry-on luggage in case your bags get lost or your plans change. While you’re at it, bring along a small first-aid kit with some acetaminophen or ibuprofen in case of pain or fever, an antihistamine for allergies, bandages for blisters, etc. As you would at home, keep all medications out of sight, in bottles with childproof caps.
Prevent ear pain on planes: Pressure changes during takeoff and landing can cause ear pain for everyone on the plane, and babies let us know about it by their own special response. Sucking and swallowing help relieve the pressure, so try breastfeeding infants or giving them a bottle or pacifier on the way up or down. For older kids, chewing gum, sucking on a lozenge or drinking some water or juice can help.
Get a jump on jet lag: Going on a big trip? Plan to start with a couple of low-key days while you adjust to the new time zone. Spending the first day outside can help kids’ internal clocks adjust. Get the family to bed at a reasonable time and keep naps short, if needed, to avoid difficulty falling asleep later.
Treat traveler’s diarrhea with hydration: Diarrhea is a common reaction to new foods and drinks in new places. While products like Pepto-Bismol are fine for adults, they shouldn’t be given to young children. Instead, the mainstay of treatment for kids is hydration. Oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte or water and diluted juices can keep kids hydrated when they have diarrhea. If you don’t see a wet diaper every four to six hours, or if an older child goes more than six to eight hours without urinating, dehydration could be an issue.
Keep watch around water: Keep kids in your direct line of sight when they’re in the water, no matter how strong their swimming skills are. With youngsters and weak swimmers, stay within arm’s reach, and don’t rely on flotation devices to fully protect them. At pool parties, assign an adult to be in charge of watching all the kids, and pass the duty on if that person needs to take a break.
Beat the bugs: The best way to avoid mosquito bites is to stay inside at peak times — usually dusk. If that’s a no-go, insect repellents with DEET work well, but follow the instructions and wash up afterward. If you are planning a family hike, closed-toe shoes and long pants will help everyone avoid ticks.
Stave off stress: Traveling, with all its excitement and newness, can cause both positive and negative stress. Either way, it can cause strain. To ease stress for little ones, let them bring a few things from home that are comforting and familiar.
My top advice for the whole family is this: Don’t overbook your vacation. Plan a few things that you all agree are “must-do” activities for the trip, and a few others that would be fun to toss in if time and energy permit but are OK to skip if not. Allow time to just hang out. Sometimes, we all need a little time to recharge before charging back out into the world.
Dr. Enea is a pediatrician at our Beaverton office.