It’s a joy to be able to share the wonders of travelling with your children. I started travelling when each of my boys were two-and-a-half months old, and I really cherish the memories we’ve made together around the world, and the precious time spent with them on our journeys.
However, facing medical trouble while travelling can be terribly harrowing.
The first time Kyan, my eldest son, fell sick was while we were travelling. He was 6 months old and we were on a cruise in South America. We had disembarked for an overnight stay in Patagonia and were spending the night at The Singular, a hotel deep within the beautiful but very remote Torres del Paine National Park. I had packed a large bag of medicines and supplies for our trip but, assuming we would be fine without them for just one night, left them on the ship.
That was the night he chose to come down with a forty degree burning fever! We drove over an hour to the nearest pharmacy where we could buy some paracetamol. Thank goodness he didn’t have any complications, and recovered fully, but what a scary lesson!
From my experiences as a doctor and travelling mama, I‘ve gathered some medical tips that I hope will be useful to other journey-bound mamas!
How early can you start travelling with your kids?
While most don’t consider travelling until a baby is 6 months, I have often seen newborns on flights when I travel. In my opinion it is prudent to avoid travelling until baby is at least one month old for a few reasons:
Risk of exposure to infections and viral illnesses
Neonates are particularly susceptible to complications from illnesses. Because of this, when a baby less than 28 days old contracts a fever (known as neonatal pyrexia) he or she will have to be admitted for a full work-up including a spinal tap and intravenous antibiotics. My second child, Luke, spiked a fever when he was exactly 30 days old and had to undergo this, which was heartbreaking for mummy!
It’s too tiring
Parents are still getting used to having a baby, which is tiring in itself, without taking on the stress of travelling with a newborn too!
It’s disruptive for babies when they haven’t developed a routine yet
Understandably there are situations when travelling with your newborn is necessary, in which case it’s best to:
- Get clearance from your paediatrician (some airlines may require a doctor’s letter for very young babies to fly so be sure to check);
- Keep flights short and direct;
- Make sure you have enough help.
Picking your Destination
It’s best to go with what you are comfortable with. It’s likely you will never need medical treatment while travelling but it’s something that must be considered. Accidents do happen, kids do get sick – it’s good to have an idea if medical care is readily available and good.
It’s also a good idea to check health travel advisories because certain destinations may have specific healthcare considerations that you need to be prepared for. For example, places at high altitude are best avoided if your child has respiratory problems (like asthma), places with endemic illnesses will need necessary vaccinations or whether the place has been exposed to radiation (avoid going too close to Fukushima for now!)
It’s a good idea for kids above 6 months old to get a flu vaccination to reduce the risk of falling sick while travelling.
Also always check if there are any vaccinations or medications recommended for your specific destination. For example Malaria prophylaxis is needed if you are heading to South Africa and Yellow Fever vaccination is needed for trips to South America and sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, some countries require proof of immunization for a visa to be issued.
Preparing for Emergencies
Make sure you are covered with travel insurance. You might have to do a bit of research to decide which plan is best for you – weighing factors such as cost, how much coverage you need, whether it is a per-trip or annual plan or whether your insurance covers medical evacuation in case of emergencies (highly recommended!). Find out the hotline number to call in case of emergency, and keep it on you when travelling.
It’s always a good idea to visit a doctor before your trip, who can provide medications to bring along. Here’s what I usually pack:
- Fever (oral medications as well as a suppository – in case your child can’t swallow or keep meds down);
- Runny nose;
- Diarrhea, including rehydration sachets;
- Allergies and itch (antihistamines).
A First Aid Kit including:
- Nail scissors;
- Alcohol wipes;
- Hand sanitiser;
- Insect repellent;
- Steroid cream for rashes;
- Antibiotic cream for cuts.
Eating and Drinking Overseas
Here’s a few helpful tips to prevent catching a tummy bug while travelling:
- Bring lots and lots of antibacterial wet wipes to wipe your child’s hands frequently, and make a point of washing hands before meals.
- Especially for young children, avoid raw food, and (this goes for adults too) street food particularly in developing countries.
- Always check if tap-water is potable, and if not, avoid using it for tooth-brushing, and don’t take your baby for a bath if he or she is going to swallow mouth-fulls of water.
- Most hotels have kettles – try and boil water for drinking, or just buy bottled water.
- For feeding pre-weaned babies, directly latching a breastfeeding baby is often the most straightforward way to go as it is sterile, and convenient.
- If your baby is on formula – you will need to bring bottles, a bottle brush, baby bottle detergent in a travel-size container, and a sterilizer when you travel. It makes sense to invest in a travel sterilizer (if you’ll be travelling often), otherwise you can also buy microwaveable sterilizer bags (however it is not always easy to get these microwaved) and sterilizer tablets (however it is not the most effective form of sterilization).
There are pharmacies and general stores in some places overseas, like CVS or Duane Reed in the US and Boots in the UK, where you can buy pre-mixed formula in disposable bottles like this. These make life a breeze! No searching for hot water, frantic mixing of powder and water, and hassle of cleaning and sterilizing bottles after. Just remove the disposable teat from its sterile seal, pop on the pre-mixed formula bottle and you’re ready to go. I’ve always wondered why we don’t have these in Singapore!
For newly weaned babies and toddlers, I carry packets of baby foods when I travel and often just bring a spoon and bib and feed baby straight out of the packet.
It’s also a good idea to travel with lots of children’s snacks. I like individual wrapped biscuits or other healthy snacks like individual boxes of raisins and packets of cereal.
Having the right perspective
Travelling with children can seem daunting for the unintiated, but with a little preparation, a relaxing and unforgettable holiday with the kids is absolutely possible. After all practice makes perfect – the more you travel with bubs, the more used to it you get and the easier it becomes.
Happy travelling, mamas!
Dr. Elaine Kim is a mother of 2 boys – Kyan, 2 years, and Luke, 8 months. She is a doctor in palliative care, and looks after terminally ill patients in their homes with HCA Hospice Care. Outside of medical work, she is a partner in Trinity Bridal in Hong Kong and Trinity Gallery in Singapore, and designs jewellery for Atelier Solitaire, a fine jewellery brand that she co-founded. Travelling often for work, leisure and volunteer missions, she writes about her trips, regularly contributing stories to various publications as well as serving as a travel advisor to luxury travel management, Quintessentially Travel. You can follow Elaine’s adventures on Instagram here.