One caveat: I am an internist, not a pediatrician, so I know how to treat adults who are sick, but when it comes to sick kids I’m just a dad. That said, there are some basic health care tips we have found to be helpful traveling with a child. The bottom line can be summed up as preparation.
Before leaving home, make sure your child is up to date on immunizations. Common diseases are just that – common. You can prevent many common diseases with simple vaccinations. Remember that influenza season is winter, so if you will be in the Southern Hemisphere your child will need the flu shot in July. Take a copy of your child’s vaccination record with you. If your pediatrician isn’t sure what your child needs, or just says “don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” find a travel clinic for some expert advice. My pet peeve is hearing anecdotes of people who decided not to take malaria prophylaxis and didn’t get malaria. Do you really want to play the odds game with serious and preventable diseases?
Simple medications are usually the best. Tylenol is a safe, effective treatment for pain and fever. Benadryl will help with allergies and, when sleep is the best medicine, can help your child get some rest. It will also sometimes help with nausea. Don’t forget oral rehydration solution – when your child gets diarrhea or is vomiting, rehydration is the most important thing you can do. Hyland’s teething tablets have a loyal following and are a harmless way to deal with troublesome fussiness. Upset tummies do well with gripe water, but keeping it cold might be a challenge. If you don’t have anything else with you, grate some fresh ginger into hot water to settle an upset stomach. Whatever you choose to bring, make sure you pack it in your carry-on luggage. From experience, there’s nothing worse than being sick during the flight while your medicine is securely locked in your checked bags.
It’s unlikely you’ll need it, but having an idea of where you might go for medical care if you need it can provide peace of mind. Most large cities have clinics or hospitals with English speaking physicians. A good place to start is by joining the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers for free, and look for their directory of approved providers in 125 countries. For less common illnesses, you can find providers with a specialty in travel medicine through the International Society of Travel Medicine. The ISTM is also a good place to find a travel clinic for advice and immunizations prior to your travel. If you are traveling to Southeast Asia, you can find some useful information here.
Your home medical insurance may not cover any medical expenses overseas, so you can get temporary travel insurance for any large expenses you encounter. It is extremely unlikely that you will need this insurance, as many countries with social health systems will treat you for free, and those that don’t will often charge a pittance (my experience in a Chinese hospital cost me less than $100). Travel medical insurance is useful in those rare cases when you need to fly out of the country. We have taken this type of insurance when traveling to places where we weren’t confident of finding high-quality care if needed. You can compare insurance quotes here.
In the end, don’t let worries about potential illnesses keep you from traveling. Kids get sick at home, and we treat them with some TLC and allow their amazingly resilient bodies to heal themselves. If you are prepared with some basics and some good information before you leave, you and your child will be able to enjoy more of this fascinating world together.