Staying Healthy While You Travel by Dr. Arti Jain

201003-b-homepage-3When your family travels, being away from your household’s usual eating and sleeping routines means it’s more likely that someone might get sick. Kids can be especially vulnerable to travel-related problems such as motion sickness, diarrhea, and infections.

Special Considerations for Travel Abroad

If you’re heading overseas, start preparing well in advance.

– Find out what vaccinations your kids (and even you) might need.
– Different countries have different risks and requirements and may require specific vaccines.
– Some vaccines require more than one dose and are given in a series.
– Most immunizations should be given at least 1 month before travel, so try to schedule a doctor’s visit 4-6 weeks before your trip.
– Although all kids get the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12-15 months of age, any who will travel outside the United States before that should get the vaccine as early as 6 months of age.
– Also, kids of any age can get malaria so if you’re traveling to a country with a malaria risk, talk to your doctor about antimalarial drugs.

Common Travel Troubles – Here are some health issues that your family is likely to face:

Jet Lag

When you fly across time zones, it can take time for your internal body clock to catch up with the local time. In addition to tiredness, jet lag can also cause an upset stomach and even insomnia. Here are some tips for dealing with jet lag:

– Try to adjust your family’s sleep schedules 2-3 days before departure.
– Get plenty of rest before your trip. If possible, sleep on the flight.
– Make sure everyone drinks plenty of water during the flight. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages.
– On a long flight, try to stretch regularly and even walk up and down the aisles when they’re clear and it’s OK to do so.
– After arrival, encourage kids to be active outside or in brightly lit areas during daylight hours.
– Try to follow local time at your destination (for example, try to keep kids awake until their usual bedtime).

Ear Pain

It’s common for kids to experience ear discomfort during a plane’s takeoff and descent caused by pressure in the middle ear as it tries to keep up with the rapidly changing air pressure. Encourage kids to swallow, yawn, or, if they’re old enough, chew gum. It may help infants to nurse or suck on a bottle.

All of these things can help kids’ ears adjust. You may also want to give your child a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, 30-60 minutes before takeoff or, if it’s a long flight, before landing.

Motion Sickness

– Before you leave, have kids eat a light meal or snack. Provide foods that are easily digested, such as complex carbohydrates, and avoid fatty foods.
– Try to avoid eating during short trips. For longer trips, sip drinks and eat light, small meals and snacks.
– If your child is feeling sick, provide some blander foods, like crackers.
– Encourage kids to look outside the car, rather than inside. They should focus on still objects — not moving ones (like other cars) — or a distant point.
– Keep the window open a little to allow fresh air to circulate.
– Use a headrest to minimize head movement.
– Make frequent stops, if possible, at places like rest stops and parks.
– Ask your doctor about medicines to prevent travel sickness.


Water in many developing countries isn’t treated in the same way as water supplies in developed nations and may contain bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Take precautions to ensure the water is safe:

– Consider drinking only bottled water when traveling.
– Use only purified water for drinking, making ice cubes, brushing teeth, and mixing infant formula and foods.
– If you use tap water, boil it first or purify it with an iodine tablet.
– If you’re breastfeeding your infant, continue to do so.
– Remind kids to practice the good hand-washing techniques.
– Keep pacifiers, teething rings, and toys clean.
– Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer handy.
– Make sure all dairy products are pasteurized.
– Fresh fruits and veggies should be cooked or washed well and peeled.
– Meats and fish should be well cooked and eaten just after preparation.
– Avoid food from street vendors.

Be Prepared

When you pack, include any medications and other medical supplies you and your family use regularly.

Other items you might want to pack:

– over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever like acetaminophen
– a small first-aid kit that includes antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, bandages, and other OTC medications your doctor may recommend
– sunscreen
– insect repellent (the most effective ones contain DEET)
– waterless alcohol-based hand rubs for when soap and clean water aren’t available
– Do some research before your trip to find the hospital or medical care facility closest to your destination, particularly if your child has a chronic health condition. If you’re traveling overseas, try to find one where English is spoken.
– It’s also wise to carry a written copy of your child’s medical history.

And Don’t Forget . . .

While you’re away, it’s important to take the same health and safety precautions as you do at home. These include:

– Sun smarts. Broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15 and hat and sunglasses to keep the sun off of your child’s face.
– Water safety. Because life jackets and goggles — may not be available at your destination, consider bringing these from.
– Buckle up. If you’ll rent a car, you might want to bring your child’s car seat with you, As always, kids weighing less than 40 pounds should be properly restrained in a car seat. Kids between 4 and about 8 years old should use a belt positioning booster seat.

Before you leave, consider asking your doctor for other information about how to protect your family from illness and injury during travel. Doing a little planning in advance can help ensure that when the time comes, all you’ll have left to do is relax and enjoy your vacation!


Dr. Arti Jain – Doctor Jain is a very caring pediatrician practicing in the Santa Clara County California area.  You can contact her:  Tel (408)-378-6171 or email her:  You can read more on her website:

Scrappy Tip from Kimberly: For more great advice on traveling healthy, check out this site from positive healthwellness.