How to Avoid Getting Sick on Vacation
For the second time in as many months, a horrific gastro bug just ripped through my house. Usually I’m the last one to get it, and I’ll sit smug in the knowledge of my superior handwashing protocols. And then I’m the one who’s flattened for days, instead of for about 18 hours.
Imagine how upset and frustrated you’d be if this was you on your one and only week away with the kids? Instead of lounging at the beach or pool, you’re shivering in your “towel nest” on the floor of the bathroom? I’ve been there. Fun times!
FYI: Disney-speak for a puddle of vomit is, “Protein Spill.”
In my previous life, most on-vacation ailments were totally self-inflicted. Usually it was too much sun, too much alcohol, or too much rich food–or any and all combinations therein. But as we all know, the babies, toddlers, and children we know and love introduce us to wide array of new and gross and previously unimaginable illnesses. And trust me when I say, Dr. Google is not your friend when doing an image search of “rash.”
So how can we prevent our beloved germ machines from spoiling our hard-earned family vacations? Not only do we not want to play nurse instead of sandcastle architect, we want to avoid getting sick on vacation ourselves!
I’ve focused on traveler’s diarrhea and vomiting here in this far-too-long intro because it’s typically the most common vacation ailment. According to a study conducted by Leger and Valneva, it is estimated that 30 to 70% of travellers who visit a tropical or subtropical region will have at least one episode of diarrhea, which may last three to five days.
But there are LOTS of ways that a trip can be derailed by accidents or by illness, especially with kids.
10 Tips to Stay Safe and Avoid Getting Sick on Vacation with Babies and Kids:
#10 – Sun Safety
Whether it’s your summer vacation getaway or a week in Mexico or the Caribbean to escape winter, practicing sun safety is essential to stay healthy. Sunscreen and/or SPF swimwear is a must for every member of your family. Don’t forget about protecting heads and eyes with hats and sunglasses. For sure this is easier said than done. My kids HATED wearing hats. I bought baby sun hats with ties instead of Velcro that were harder for them to rip off. And we kept them so busy and engaged they eventually forgot they were wearing them.
Stick to the shade, take along a portable beach umbrella if need be, and take a break inside during peak UV times between 10am and 3pm. Make sure to drink lots and lots of water and offer extra feeds to exclusively breastfed babies.
#9 – Water Safety
Even if your kids are strong swimmers and are used to being around water, you can never be too careful. Stay within arm’s reach when in or near the water, bring your own infant or toddler life jacket if you’re not sure your hotel or resort will provide them (or have enough) and if your kid’s a bolter, put them in it full-time while at the beach or by the pool. If you’re not a strong swimmer and are heading out on a boat excursion, wear a life jacket or floatation device yourself.
Tropical beaches can also introduce your children to tropical creatures, and not necessarily in the nicest ways! Both of my children were stung by jellyfish in Negril, Jamaica. And (I would never have believed it had I not seen it) a little crab pinched my daughter’s toe in Florida and hung on for dear life.
In both cases, prompt attention prevented reactions more serious than screaming and wailing. The jellyfish stings were initially eased by rubbing gin on with napkins at the beach bar (no joke) until the doctor could take a look. We then washed them with vinegar. My daughter required a steroid shot in the butt because the welts were quite raised. I’m sorry to say my initial reaction to seeing the crab attached to my daughter’s foot (she thought she stepped on a seashell and it was stuck) was to yell for my husband, who (sorry, Crabby) grabbed him and flung him onto the sand.
#8 – Accident Prevention
We had to basically pad our entire home to keep our kiddos (and our possessions) safe when they were newly mobile. Unfortunately, hotels and family hosts aren’t always so accommodating. If possible, request a ground or lower floor hotel room with a terrace instead of a balcony (also helpful with managing a stroller) and ensure any doors and windows aren’t easily opened by clever toddlers. And always travel with a roll of duct tape–packed in checked luggage, not carry-on–which can quickly baby-proof a hotel room by covering electrical outlets, securing blind and electrical cords, and padding super-sharp corners on furniture.
#7 – Insect Bite Prevention
Not only are insect bites itchy and unpleasant, now with the extra added fun of Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses, they can make you or your children quite sick. Instances of Zika, Chikungunya, Dengue, and Malaria in the Caribbean and Mexico are rare, but rare is not never. Make sure you pack an effective, child-friendly insect repellant. Use it if you are out and about during mosquito peak times like dawn and dusk, and if you will be heading off-resort on hikes or nature walks.
Don’t put insect repellant on babies younger than six-months-old. Never put it on a baby or toddler’s hands (that usually go straight into their mouths).
We loved this UV stroller net–which we used during stroller naps on our travels–and it also helped with some peace of mind with regard to insect bite prevention as well.
#6 – Pack a First Aid Kit
Have essential baby first aid items and other basic medicines on hand. That will help see you through any unexpected maladies without needing to immediately rush out to find a pharmacy. And keep this kit together in your carry-on bag, in case any checked luggage ends up MIA for any length of time. When traveling with babies, toddlers, and young children, things to include in this kit are:
- travel-sized disinfecting liquid (like alcohol or peroxide)
- small tube antibiotic ointment
- few cotton swabs
- assorted bandages
- acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- travel-sized diaper cream
- oral re-hydration unfrozen freeze pops
#5 – Food & Water Safety
Most large resorts in areas with water sanitation issues have their own in-house water purification systems. But, you can never be too careful when your kids are little. It’s best to stick to bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth. I was always paranoid about my kids drinking their bathwater, so I put less water than usual in their tubs and avoided anything cup-like as bath toys.
If you’re nervous, adopt the Peace Corps’ saying to avoid getting sick on vacation, “If you can’t peel it or heat it, don’t eat it.” You are the best judge of how necessary that will be depending on where you’re staying and what your family will be eating. But also keep in mind that just eating a lot more (and a lot more rich food than you may be used to) can set your stomach off. As can an excess of alcohol, especially if you’re out in the sun and not drinking enough water. Controlling yourself at the buffet can be key to avoid getting sick on vacation.
#4 – Hygiene Tips
The sad truth is, most people don’t wash their hands properly after they use the washroom, if at all. Or they still cough into their hands (instead of their elbow) if they’ve got a cold. And then they touch all of the things that you touch in common areas. Then you absentmindedly nibble on a hangnail or see your toddler pop their thumb in their mouth and, bingo! It’s a cold or flu or Norovirus for all!
This can happen in the nicest and cleanest of places. For me, it was Walt Disney World. For lots of other people, it’s a cruise ship or fancy all-inclusive resort.
To prevent this, you have to wash your hands. A LOT. And sadly, most alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective against some germs like Norovirus.
One of our first flights with my son was during the height of the H1N1 flu hysteria, and I was pretty scared at the thought of him getting sick. So I travel with some heavy duty wipes that are proven by the EPA to kill Norovirus and other nasties. I wipe down surfaces that my kids are likely to touch (armrests, tray tables, laminated safety card) and hope for the best. And I’m the biggest nag about hand-washing and not putting hands in mouths. The CDC suggests an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is the only effective hand sanitizer available.
#3 – Travel Vaccinations
For the most popular vacation destinations, your local immunization schedule is usually enough to protect you against illnesses that may still be present in other parts of the world but have been eradicated in North America. However, there are a number of travel vaccinations that may be required if you’re headed outside of the usual family vacation options in the Caribbean and Mexico.
There are safe options now too to help reduce the risk of Cholera (still present in the Caribbean) as well as a strain of E. coli bacteria called Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) that is the most common cause of diarrhea in travelers and is typically found in food that is not adequately cooked as well as contaminated water and ice. A quick query with your doctor or pharmacist a month prior to your trip is advised to discuss travel vaccination options.
#2 – Local Medical Care
Before your trip, make a note of the medical options closest to your hotel or resort. They may be an on-site first aid office, a local tourist clinic, or even a local hospital. Even the smallest and most remote Caribbean destinations often have excellent medical care available. But, your best bet is knowing in advance which are closest and easiest for you to access prior to actually needing medical attention.
#1 – Travel Insurance
When traveling with kids, good travel insurance coverage is a must. Even if you have a plan with work, double check that your family is included in the policy. Confirm exactly what is covered. You may need to supplement with additional coverage. Have a glance at the policy before your trip and familiarize yourself with the process of using it before you actually need to. That way you won’t be surprised by hefty premiums that may need to be paid in advance and reimbursed later. Or, that you need to call to be referred to a pre-approved set of practitioners for your destination.
I am not doctor or a medical professional of any sort. So, I advise that you check with yours before making any concrete travel plans. My tips about travel safety and how to avoid getting sick on vacation are based purely on my own experiences. But, I’d love to hear yours! Please don’t hesitate to get in touch by leaving a comment here, or reaching out via Facebook or Twitter.
- Healthy Travel Resources & Tips for Traveling Sick
- Tips for Flying with a Sick Baby
- Beach and Sun Safety for Babies & Toddlers
- What to Do if Baby Gets Sick on Vacation
- Tips for Visiting the Caribbean & Mexico with a Baby or Toddler
- Travel Vaccinations for Babies & Toddlers
- Essential Baby First Aid Kit Items for Travel
- Information & Tips for Traveling with a Baby or Toddler
This post was written with support from Valneva Canada. As always, all opinions remain my own.