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International Travel with Kids

By Kelli Shidler, M.D.

Family of three site seeing in England.

Nothing says “best family vacation ever” quite like adventurous wildlife excursions, exotic cuisine and beautiful foreign landscapes. However, nothing says “worst family vacation ever” like being near all of these things, but unable to enjoy them due to illness or a travel mishap.

Before You Leave

Prior to an international vacation, it is very important that families have their vaccinations up-to-date. Not only will it protect you if you travel to a country with different health standards and diseases, but some countries require documentation of certain vaccinations before travelers are allowed to enter.

With young children, vaccine considerations are especially important due to their less mature immune system and the fact that some will require multiple doses over long periods of time. Talk to your pediatrician about how you can safely and effectively vaccinate your child before your trip.

When planning your trip, also visit with your pediatrician about health implications for your child, especially if he/she has a chronic health condition. Gastrointestinal or digestive complications affect infants and young children differently and often require different treatment than an adult. For this reason, parents are encouraged to talk to their child’s pediatrician about how to recognize and treat gastrointestinal difficulties.

Dine with Discretion

Traveling to a foreign country is largely about taking a break from the ordinary and trying new things, but there are some experiences that just aren’t worth the inconvenience (like illnesses from foodborne and waterborne pathogens). Fortunately, if you are smart with your meal choices, you have a good chance of avoiding this tourist activity.

Do not eat raw food. This seems like a no-brainer, but depending on the location, this rule reaches beyond meats to include fruits and vegetables as well. Fruits are usually safe if you can peel them yourself. Avoid unpasteurized fruit juice, milk and milk products, such as cheese and yogurt.

Depending on where you are, tap water may not be safe for drinking, cooking or brushing teeth. This includes making formula for infants. The safest option is breastfeeding, but there are ways to make safe formula as well.

  • Bring your own formula. Quality standards in other countries may not be the same as those in the U.S.
  • Use bottled water to mix formula or boil the water for at least one minute before adding powder, and add powder within 30 minutes of boiling.
  • Use the formula within two hours of preparing.
  • Cool formula to the proper temperature by placing the bottle in an ice bath. Make sure the nipple of the bottle does not touch the ice, contaminating it with potentially unsafe water.

Quick Tips for International Travel

  • Visit cdc.gov/travel and access travel advice based on where you are going, who you are traveling with, why you are going, etc. The site will provide you with local safety tips, vaccine recommendations, packing lists and current health notices.
  • Ensure that you have proper identification and contact information to be kept on your child at all times. You might put a card with your child’s name, your name and your phone number on it in your child’s pocket or backpack.
  • Consider how you will travel safely. Not all countries have traffic laws like the U.S., so you may need to bring your own car seat or rent a car to ensure that you and your family can be safely secured when traveling.
  • Touch up on safety procedures. Does your child know what to do if he/she is separated from you or if there is a fire or inclement weather? If you will have the chance to go swimming in a lake, ocean or river, make sure your child understands the danger of currents, drop offs and tides.
  • Pack a snack bag. If you are out and about with a hungry child, it’s a good plan to have some safe food on hand in case your picky eater doesn’t like any of the safe options available.
  • As fun as it is, traveling can be stressful for children. You may find it beneficial to bring a familiar comfort toy for your child to play with throughout the trip.