Picture this: It’s January and you’re sitting on a beach with your toes in the sand and enjoying the sound of crashing waves as you stare out at the ocean and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Your baby of 6 months is napping on the towel next to you shaded by a sun umbrella and you smile as you watch your rambunctious 4-year-old playing happily with his dinosaur in the sand. Ahhhhh, vacation. What is not said in the aforementioned statement is what it took to get to paradise. There was saving, preparing, booking, planning, packing, driving, and flying. There were travel delays, tantrums, an in-flight "poo-plosion", and a forgotten toy. Nevertheless, you and your family persevered and here you all are (this is a true story, by the way, from yours truly). I often get asked about tips and tricks to travel with kids and whether or not it’s worth it. While the definition of vacation has changed with children, I would call it more of an adventure than a vacation. I’m here to tell you from experience, it’s always been WORTH it (see pictures below). I’ve broken up this post into three sections and I hope it helps inspire you and gives you the confidence to go explore our great big beautiful world.
PRE-TRIP: Once you’ve figured out where you’re going, it’s time to get excited and start doing your research as to what you’re going to need to do to prepare for your trip. A good place to start, especially if you’re traveling internationally, is to make sure your family is all up-to-date on all immunizations. Also, if you’re traveling internationally, you will want to make sure you don’t need any additional vaccinations in addition to the routine school immunizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a great resource for travel advice and needed vaccines (see here). You can also contact your local health department’s and make an appointment with a travel clinic. Finally, don’t forget to have your entire family get their flu shots if you’ll be traveling during flu and cold season. The more you can do to stay healthy and prevent illness, the better.
It’s important to be organized with all of your trip documents. If you’re flying internationally, make sure each member of your entire family has a passport and that the passports aren’t due to expire for at least 6 months from your travel dates. If you have to apply for a passport, don’t delay, it can take awhile to receive them after your application is submitted. It’s also not a bad idea to make photocopies of your passports/IDs, health insurance card, travel itinerary and important phone numbers. Stash those away in a carry-on as well as your checked baggage. I’ve gotten in the habit of doing that, in addition to keeping those items in google document that I can pull up anywhere that I can connect to the internet. That way I have a paper copy (should the internet not be available) and another one that I can access digitally as well.
PACKING: Packing for a trip is quite the task, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years traveling it’s that less is more and to pack light. Yes, even with kids. You really don’t need as much as you think you do, especially if you’ll have laundry available. Of course, what you pack will depend on the time of the year you are traveling and your final destination. A trick I use is to always make a list prior to packing, that way I can check things off as I go and know I haven’t forgotten anything. About a week before the trip I start setting out piles of clothing and other necessities so I can easily visualize them and check them off finally as I pack them in their respective baggage. I also have gotten in the habit of packing an extra outfit or two for each person traveling (more if you’re traveling with an infant) and swimsuits in my carry-on. That way, should your checked luggage not arrive at your final destination or something unexpected happens while traveling, you’ll have something clean to change into. You guys, I can’t tell you how often this has saved me while traveling.
If you are traveling with young children, make sure you bring along their car seats or arrange to have them at your destination. Many airlines will let you check car seats with no additional cost, but it’s not a bad idea to bring it on the plane for your child to use. Kids are safest when in a seat that is appropriate for their age, weight and height. If your child weighs more than 40 lbs, then he or she can use the aircraft safety belt. For those traveling with children less than 2 years of age and where purchasing an extra seat is not financially feasible, try to look into ways you could secure an extra seat for no additional cost. I always try to look into flights where it looks like there are a lot of empty seats and keep my fingers crossed that we can land an extra seat.
Last, but probably most important, make sure you plan ahead if your child is taking daily medications like those for asthma or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Make sure you have enough medication for the entire trip and always have it on your person, in other words, put it in your carry-on luggage, not in your checked baggage! You should bring Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Motrin) with you as well just in case your child becomes ill enroute and make sure you know the appropriate dose for your child’s current weight.
TRAVEL/FLIGHT: The big day is finally here and you are headed on your adventure. I know for most families, myself included, it’s the actual travel day that brings the most anxiety. This may be especially true if you’re traveling with an infant or toddler. You have visions of being “that family” on the flight whose child won’t stop screaming or throws a fit (Yes, I’ve been “that family” and I’ve lived to tell the tale). While I can’t promise you this won’t happen, what I can do is offer some suggestions to help avoid it or get through it. Make sure you bring plenty of distractions and snacks. One of my tricks is going to the Target dollar section or The Dollar Store and picking up a handful of random toys. I have found calculators to be a big hit as well as stickers and notepads. You would not believe how long you can entertain a preschooler as they try to finger tiny stickers onto a notepad. Make sure you don’t show these fun new toys to your kids until the flight and then you can pull out a new toy every 30 minutes or so (depending on the length of your flight) and hopefully it’ll provide some distraction. A colleague of mine also recommends wrapping up small toys that either your child loves or hasn’t seen in awhile. They will be thrilled at just opening it up (and recognizing their favorite toys) and others are obsessed with playing with the bows or wrapping paper. For snacks, pack a variety and pack things you know your children love. This not only saves you money in not having to buy overpriced airport or in-flight food, but gives you control over what your children are eating. I also recommend packing a few “special treats,” maybe some little candies, as rewards for listening and good behavior. You guys, I’m not above bribery when you’re just trying to get through a flight or long car ride-it works!
From a health standpoint, I always recommend wiping down your seating area once you get on the flight with a wipe that has antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. I personally use Clorox® Disinfecting Wipes On the Go (see here). You also want to bring plenty of hand sanitizer for when soap and water is not available. As you know, your kids touch EVERYTHING and then they stick their fingers in their nose or in their mouth or rub their eyes. Any effort you make in trying to minimize what they come in contact with is a good idea in my book. Nobody wants to be sick on vacation.
Finally, the Benadryl conundrum. I often get asked whether or not it is a good idea to give children Benadryl while traveling. Forgive me for being so blunt, but NO. It is NOT a good idea to give Benadryl to your child while traveling. Benadryl is an antihistamine and recommended for those who suffer from allergies. Anytime you give a medication orally it enters the bloodstream and has a myriad of effects within the entire body. Benadryl given orally has effects on the brain, skin and gastrointestinal system. One of the more common side effects of Benadryl is sedation, meaning it makes you sleepy. I can see why some parents would find this effect desirable if they’re heading on a long flight hoping it might help their little one sleep, but the response to this medication varies from child to child, not to mention it can be harmful. Some unwanted side effects can include stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth and, more rarely, an actual allergic reaction to the drug, heart palpitations, skin rash or other neurological changes. While some children may get sleepy on it, others can go completely bonkers. I’m talking “who are you and what have you done with my sweet child?” kind of crazy. This is called a paradoxical reaction. While a paradoxical reaction isn’t exactly harmful to a child, it’s definitely not something you want while traveling, especially confined on an airplane. One of our main roles as parents (and my role as a pediatric provider) is to protect our children. Anytime you use a medication not for its intended effect, you are playing with fire. We should never drug our children for our own convenience. I’m sure there are some pediatric providers (and parents) that may disagree with me on this topic and recommend this option to parents traveling with children. If that’s the case, please, do not try this method out for the first time while traveling. Practice first at home and make sure the dose you are giving is correct for your child’s weight. Also, NEVER use this medication in children less than 1 year of age (unless it’s being used for an allergic reaction under the direction of your child’s health care provider) as the sedation effect can have a much greater sedation response in younger children.
Traveling with kids can seem daunting, believe me, I know (see below for some proof of travel photos!). It can seem especially daunting if you’ve never done it before. But, honestly, at the end of the day, it’s not anymore daunting than parenthood itself. Parenting is hard, wherever you do it. You might as well parent in fun and exciting new places from time to time, right? I can’t think of a greater gift to give your children than to discover new places and spend time with them as a family. Now, go EXPLORE!
Information presented adapted from:
Mary-Faith Fuller, CPNP
I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has worked at ABC Pediatrics since January 2014.