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5 Tips for Traveling Internationally with Children

Find out how to keep your tiniest jet-setters healthy during your trip

Traveling with children

Taking international trips with children can be an amazing experience that broadens their horizons and creates memories that will last a lifetime.

However, travel of any kind can be an adjustment for kids of all ages, and it’s important to take steps ahead of your trip to protect their health.

To help guide parents and guardians on the steps to take before traveling with kids to another country, pediatric infectious diseases physician Tibisay Villalobos, MD, Chief, Section of Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, is sharing tips she and her colleagues provide to families at the Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Travel Clinic.

1. Research your destination’s vaccine requirements and current health climate

Many countries have vaccine requirements for travelers that may differ from typical vaccines given in the United States. In addition, there are some conditions that are common in other countries that can be prevented by taking prophylactic medications.

If your family is traveling internationally, in addition to their routine childhood immunizations, your child may need:

  • A yellow fever vaccine
  • A Japanese encephalitis vaccine
  • A typhoid fever vaccine
  • Other vaccines for special circumstances
  • A prescription for malaria prevention medication

Before traveling to another country, you should look at the vaccine requirements for entry as well as any public health concerns that may be relevant to your trip. This will help guide you toward the shots or preventative care your child may need before you leave.

“You can get these vaccines and preventative medications at a pediatric travel clinic,” Villalobos says. “Even if you and your child have visited the country in the past, things could have changed since your last visit. Be sure to do your research and make an appointment with a pediatric travel clinician well before your trip.”

Did you know?

The Pediatric Travel Clinic at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital is the only travel medicine center dedicated to kids in eastern Pennsylvania. The program offers complete travel health consultations by clinicians with fellowship training in infectious diseases and/or certification in travel medicine.

2. Prepare children ahead of your trip

International travel can be stressful for kids, as it upsets their routine and features a lot of new things.

To lessen their anxiety, it can be helpful to take steps a few months ahead of your trip to help them adjust:

  • Talk to your child about what to expect during travel. This could include a description of airports, planes, boats or other transportation methods.
  • If new foods will be part of your trip, try incorporating them into your regular family meals. This may allow your child to get comfortable with certain tastes and seasonings ahead of time.
  • If you are traveling somewhere with a noticeable time difference, start modifying your child’s bedtime and the time they wake up by 15 minutes every few days. Continue doing so until you reach the times they will go to sleep and wake up at your destination.
  • If your child is frequently car sick, speak with your pediatrician to request medications to prevent motion and altitude sickness while you travel.
  • Talk to your pediatrician about ways to keep your child occupied and distracted while traveling. For flights, they will often recommend giving children something to eat or to suck on (such as a pacifier or bottle) during take-off and landing.

3. Prevent traveler’s diarrhea

One common health problem that affects jet-setters of all ages is traveler’s diarrhea, which can be caused by illness, stress and new foods.

“The best ways to prevent illnesses that cause traveler’s diarrhea in foreign countries are only drinking pre-sealed beverages, avoiding ice in drinks and not swallowing water while swimming or bathing,” Villalobos says. “If you or your child does come down with a case of it, be sure to stay hydrated and take over-the-counter medications that you typically use for diarrhea back home.”

4. Take steps to prevent bug bites

Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and flies are known to spread disease, so prior to taking a trip to a foreign country, look into how prevalent these pests are in the area.

“If you are traveling to an area where insects are a problem, we recommend mosquito nets, bug spray and wearing long sleeves, long pants and high socks,” Villalobos says. “Taking these steps, and getting recommended vaccines and preventative medications, can help keep you safe from insect-borne diseases.”

5. Be prepared for emergency medical care

Accidents happen during international travel, and researching the health care options around where you are staying ahead of your trip can save you time in the event of an emergency.

It’s also a good idea to look into your health insurance’s travel policies and consider travel insurance packages that include emergency health care coverage.

Pre-travel care for kids close to home

The Pediatric Travel Clinic at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital is the only travel medicine center dedicated to kids in eastern Pennsylvania. The program offers complete travel health consultations by clinicians with fellowship training in infectious diseases and/or certification in travel medicine.

The clinic provides:

  • Health education on the specific risk factors associated with your destination
  • Travel-specific immunizations
  • Information about prevention of malaria and other insect-borne diseases
  • Information about prevention and treatment of various travel-related conditions
  • Specific advice for teenagers going on mission trips, medical volunteer trips, school trips, family sabbaticals, gap year programs and more
  • Evaluation and care for children returning from international travel who became ill during their trip

To make an appointment at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Travel Clinic, call 610-402-3888 four to six weeks before your trip.

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