Must-know health information for travelling with your kids
We must state outright that we are not health experts and if you have any concerns over health related issues and travelling you should consult a registered health care professional. The advice contained below is based on our own research and experience on this topic and compiles a number of helpful links to external sources for you to plan your family travel.
- Family Travel Health Advice
- COVID-19 and Family Travel
- Commonly asked travel health questions for family travellers
- Further Resources: Official Health Resources For Travellers
Family Travel Health Advice
Generally speaking, children are more liable to become ill than adults from travel-related illnesses as they have weaker immune systems. The most common illnesses and ailments include insect bites, sunburn, skin rashes and diarrhoea.
Being prepared for how to handle both minor and major ailments while travelling should help put your mind somewhat at ease. Some of the really basic travel health advice for kids includes;
- Drink bottled water, boiled of filtered water only – and keep hydrated
- Practice good hygiene – hand washing, using antiseptic wipes and lotions, hand sanitising where soap and water is not available
- Always put on sunscreen and “slip, slop, slap” when out in the sun, remembering the sun’s rays can be far more penetrating in different parts of the world, particularly the southern hemisphere, where the ozone layer is much thinner (visit Sun Smart if planning a trip Down Under) or at higher altitudes
- Make sure you follow travel advice on vaccines for your destination and keep alert to any World Health Organisation (WHO) alerts (see resources at the end of this page)
- Take a basic first aid kit with you, including things like infant paracetamol (or equivalent pain reliever – don’t forget a small syringe/measuring spoon), sticky plasters, insect repellent, antihistamine cream, tweezers
- Take out travel insurance. Whilst some countries have reciprocal health cover, many do not. Particularly when travelling with children it’s just a risk not worth taking
- Keep important emergency numbers programmed in your phone and with your travel documents
COVID-19 and Family Travel
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the landscape of travel safety for families for years to come.
Beyond the fear of catching and spreading the disease (see all our tips above – you should already be taking all these healthy steps with your family!), there’s the mountain of paperwork now needed to prove your health status. No one system has been adopted internationally (yet!).
For a family trip to Paris, for example, passengers from the EU or non-Schengen countries will need a digital covid certificate for France (which applies to all EU countries). Travelling on to the UK however, only travellers vaccinated in the UK can get their hands on the NHS COVID Pass.
Unvaccinated children, for the most part, are being treated alongside the parent/guardian they are travelling with. In some instances, travelling with an unvaccinated child even if you are vaccinated will involve a period of mandated quarantine. The age limit for a “child” varies vastly by country so you really need to read the fine print before you travel.
It is an evolving process that hopefully will become clearer and more streamlined for international travellers as we move into 2022. There are promising signs that more airlines are signing up for the IATA Travel Pass which streamlines approved vaccine certificates globally.
We will post links and updates here as they become available (see our resources section below).
Commonly asked travel health questions for family travellers
Is it safe to travel while pregnant?
- Pop over to our pregnancy travel advice page
- Latest information on Zika virus and current warning countries
How early can I travel after having a baby?
The pragmatic answer to this is as soon as you have your travel documents for your new child. This is more than just their birth certificate; you will also need a passport for international travel.
If the child is born away from your home country you will likely need things like document translations and to apply for citizenship in your home country before the passport will be issued, and there won’t necessarily be an embassy in your origin country to rely upon an immediate turnaround. You may also need a residency Visa or re-entry permit to return from your travels.
From a health perspective, however, assuming there were no complications during delivery for either you or the child and a passport is not required, you could, in theory, fly within a couple of days – do check with the individual airline however as rules vary from two days to one week.
Also, note that some airlines may ask that you provide a doctor’s letter if your child is less than two weeks old stating that they are fit to fly.
As for the mother, recovery time will vary greatly depending on your birth experience but you may want to wait until your 4-6 week check-up and getting a clean bill of health from your doctor or midwife before flying.
If you have had a cesarean or episiotomy think about your ability to sit for hours on end immediately following the birth.
The only other advice I have found that may severely restrict air travel in the very young is if they have heart and lung problems or respiratory issues you should restrict travel, and do not travel with an ear infection or within two weeks of ear surgery. See the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) website for more on this topic.
You may also like to visit our travelling while pregnant page for more on pregnancy-related health issues – and our advice on travelling with a newborn.
Can you travel before a child has their first routine vaccines?
Yes, there are no regulations stopping you from travelling before infant vaccine programs as outlined by WHO or your home country designate, this is purely parental choice.
I am not aware of any airlines that will request this information as a condition of travel (please comment below though if you are aware otherwise!)
If you are travelling to countries where additional vaccines might be required such as yellow fever, you will likely have to wait until the baby is at least six months old due to the risk of developing brain infection (encephalitis).
Additionally, babies under two months old should not be given anti-malaria tablets (Source: NHS Choices). An excellent reference for travellers health, along with diseases and preventative vaccines travellers should be aware of is the CDC Centres for Disease Control & Prevention.
Travelling with chronic illnesses and allergies
For more on flying and travelling with chronic illnesses, please refer to these detailed resources:
- Travelling with Diabetes Type 1 – Advice from the Globetrotter GP and interview with a Type 1 diabetes traveller
- Flying with Type 1 Diabetes – Specific advice on dealing with security, supplies you should bring and using your medications onboard from That Diabetic Girl
- Flying with a nut allergy – Interview with parents of a nut allergy sufferer with their tips on how to carefully plan travel
- Travel with Alzheimer’s – Important considerations whether you should take relatives with Alzheimer’s on vacation and steps to make it easier on the family
Can I give my children sedatives for flying?
Ah, the GREAT SEDATION DEBATE – I touch on this topic a few times in this travel advice section and flying with kids, but this is probably the best place to set out some of the pros and cons of this strategy of getting through flights with children.
Most of the suggested medicines that purport to promote relaxation in children are safe, over-the-counter, regulatory body-approved drugs that you can purchase without a prescription, though some pharmacies may restrict sales to you based on the child’s age.
Most suggested drugs are antihistamine-based medications (depending on your country, these could be called Benadryl or Phenergan Elixir), usually used to fight the symptoms of allergies or motion sickness, but have the side effect of usually making a child drowsy, hence their popularity as a sedative for flying.
What most parents get up in arms about in this debate is that you are using a medicine (or ‘toxic chemicals’ as I have seen the most ardent describe it!) for its side effect rather than treating a cause.
Of course, if your child required an antihistamine or another form of medication, you probably wouldn’t hesitate to provide them with the ‘toxic chemicals’ they need.
So should I try medication to settle my child on a plane?
If you have read this far, I am sure you are more interested in getting some factual information than being judged for your actions and drawn into one of the more controversial parenting debates.
To be clear, there is no definitive evidence that using an antihistamine will settle your child during a flight, nor that it will help ‘cure’ jet lag; conversely, in some children, it can have the opposite effect of making your child more hyper and difficult.
If you are having difficulty calming and settling your child, you may want to try homoeopathic remedies first. I have heard of people using chamomile drops or placing lavender drops on pillows and blankets.
Other OTC homoeopathic remedies I have heard of though never tried, are Jet Zone and No Jet Lag; we understand these to only be available at present in the US.
If, however, you want to be fully prepared for all eventualities at 38,000 feet, then you might want to pack some antihistamine medication in your carry-on as part of your in-flight arsenal.
Some parents (usually after a past horror experience) will routinely give their children medicine at the point of departure as a proactive measure to promote drowsiness.
However, I recommend that you speak to a paediatrician before reaching for the Benadryl and think about the other consequences that medicating may have on the rest of your trip.
The doctor may well diagnose other issues that are causing your child to be distressed during flight, such as an inner ear infection that requires a different course of action.
If you do decide to take the medication route, you may want to test it whilst on solid ground to make sure your child does not have any adverse reaction to the drugs and know your child’s current weight to determine the correct dosage.
I would not medicate just to make others around you comfortable, an old parenting adage but honestly – do what you think is right by the child – if they are highly distressed (not you or anyone around you staring) then do what you think is in their best interest to get them through the situation.
If, despite medication, your child still screams every time you fly, you may want to reconsider the frequency and length of your travels until your child is older, and consult a paediatrician.
Want more on “The Great Sedation Debate”?
In the “for” corner: Why I drug my children – Daily Mail; this article went global in 2013 and is still referenced in many other forums after a British mum bravely comes out on her use of sedatives for flying.
And against – a medical opinion Kids Travel Doc. Of course, you could try typing the word ‘sedation’ or ‘Phenergan‘ into just about any parenting website and witness the onslaught if you have the time and patience for this to read between the lines.
Further Resources: Official Health Resources For Travellers
- WHO COVID 19 Dashboard
- WHO International Vaccines Guide (all non-COVID essentials for travellers)
- Fit for travel – NHS (UK) travel advice for children
- NHS – health when flying – Jetlag advice guide
- Center for Disease Control & Prevention -CDC (USA) travel advice
- Smart Traveller Health Tips – Australian international health advice
- Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists – Pregnancy travel advice