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As a frequently traveling mom of two, I dread the winter travel months a little bit. While heading home for the holidays is tons of fun, the merriest time of year also coincides with cold and flu season. Chances are good that someone in the family will come down with a cold or other minor illness just before a big trip or while we are already on the road.
Traveling with kids can be tough enough, but traveling with sick kids is even tougher. Somehow my family has managed to survive all types of minor illnesses over the years – colds and coughs, ear infections, stomach bugs, and more. We lived to tell the tale and so can you. Here are the essential tips you need to know about travel with a sick child – whether on a road trip, by air, or anywhere else.
Tips for Travel with a Sick Child
1. Check with your pediatrician.
First things first – I’m not a doctor and chances are neither are you. But I do come from a family of many doctors. That means I have the good sense to know to check with one before traveling with a sick kid to make sure it is safe. For mild illnesses, your pediatrician will usually give you the go-ahead as I’ve gotten several times before. But it is nevertheless important to call because a physician can offer specific advice about your child’s exact ailment to make the travel experience less unpleasant.
2. Check with your airline.
One of the hardest dilemmas parents face when traveling by air when a child gets sick is whether to cancel the trip. Airlines have exorbitant change and cancellation fees that most families can’t afford to swallow. It’s often easy to delay a road trip a few hours or even a day or two, but you just don’t have that luxury with flights.
Nevertheless, sometimes your child is just too sick to travel when a flight time draws near. Although many times you are out of luck and out money (unless you have travel insurance), airlines can sometimes surprise you and be compassionate. It never hurts to give your airline a call, explain the situation, and even offer a doctor’s note to see what the airline might possibly do to make the situation less financially onerous. If you are flying Southwest Airlines, always call because the airline does not charge change fees!
3. Pack the right medicines (in your carry on!).
Before hopping on a flight or getting in the car for a long trip with a mildly sick child in tow, you need to be prepared with the right medicines. For helping to handle the usual winter colds and coughs in our 7 year old daughter, my family relies on Children’s Robitussin and Dimetapp (*use as directed). I just stocked up on the dynamic duo at Walgreen’s in anticipation of our family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas travels.
Remembering the right medicines is half the battle but also remember to pack them in your carry on bag. You need to make sure the medicines you need are always accessible, particularly in the case of a flight delay or lost bag situation. If you are forced to check your carry on luggage due to space restrictions, always make sure you retrieve medicines before surrendering your bag.
Finally, remember that medicines are an exception to the TSA’s 3.4 ounce liquid restriction. You may need to undergo special screening to bring them for your kids, but you are absolutely allowed to take them through checkpoints if medically needed. Bring a doctor’s note if you are particularly concerned (and keep all prescriptions in their original bottle).
4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Fevers that accompany colds and other minor bugs also have a dehydrating effect, as does air travel. The two can work a double whammy on your child and make the sickness much worse. Pack a reusable water bottle for each child before any trip and fill it up in a water fountain once you pass through security. That way you are never waiting for the airplane drink service to keep a sick child hydrated.
5. Watch out for those ears!
Young kids often have trouble with ear pressurization on airplanes even when healthy, but equalization is even harder when they have a respiratory or sinus-related ailment. For babies, I always made sure to give a bottle or nurse on take off and landing to help with ear pain. For older children, a water bottle, sippy cup, applesauce pouch, gum or anything to chew on helps.
6. Pack clothing changes.
Sickness can strike at any time and in any place – and in all shapes and forms. While usually respiratory bugs like colds are the most common illnesses my family has encountered while traveling, kids catch all sorts of stuff – like the time my toddler caught a short-lived but nasty stomach bug while we were in Panama. He picked a particularly inopportune moment to throw up all over me while we were in an Uber headed out for a day of sightseeing. Even colds and coughs can sometimes have the unfortunate side effect of a young child losing his or her lunch. Kid sickness is just messy.
The result? I still pack changes of clothes for myself and my kids in our carry on bags or daypacks whenever possible. Because you just never know!
7. Take it easy.
When you are traveling with a sick kid, be prepared to deviate from your planned travel schedule. Kids need rest to get well. This often means, of course, missing out on that extra outing or attraction you really wanted to see at your destination.
I remember well spending nearly an entire day in Mexico last year sitting in the hotel room so my son could get well from food poisoning. We missed out on an amazing beach excursion, but that just means we’ll have to plan another trip and go back, right? (I’ll find any excuse to justify traveling more!)