9 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe on Vacation

Traveling with children can be enriching and educational, but sometimes risky. On top of the usual safety hazards (accidents, choking, stomach bugs), kids can have stronger reactions to exotic ailments when abroad. This checklist can help with prevention.

Safe Travel with Children
Photo: Illustration by Michael Brandon Myers

Check Their Vaccinations

It’s important to be up-to-date on immunizations, says Nicole Cohen, associate chief for science for the CDC’s division of Global Migration & Quarantine. In some countries, kids can be exposed to diseases like polio and typhoid fever. Check with your doctor or a travel clinic to see which additional vaccinations are recommended.

Assess the Risk

A single statistic—the infant mortality rate—can tell you how vigilant you need to be about such matters as auto safety and infectious diseases, says Karl Neumann, a pediatrician who specializes in travel medicine. For the latest health warnings for your destination, visit cdc.gov/travel.

Rent from a Reputable Company

Book your car in advance from an international operation, Neumann advises: your car is more likely to have standard safety features than if you go with a small, local outfit. And unless you’re in a very safety-conscious region (like Scandinavia), always bring your own car seat.

Buy Insurance

If there’s a medical emergency, you don’t want your kids to be stuck in a substandard hospital overseas. A number of travel-insurance companies offer evacuation coverage, which pays for transportation to a U.S. hospital of your choice. MedjetAssist is one of the best rated.

Kid-Proof Your Room

Inspect your accommodations. If you have young children, scour the premises for threats: looped window cords, choking hazards, and pieces of furniture that could topple. Bathrooms can be particularly dangerous. “The hot and cold water taps may be marked incorrectly,” Neumann says. Keep bathroom doors unlocked.

Make Them Wear Shoes

Parasitic infections are a problem in some countries, and kids are especially prone because they tend to put their hands on their mouths and run around barefoot. “It’s important for children to wear shoes when they are outdoors, especially in more rural areas,” Cohen says. Bring along hand sanitizer or sterile wipes.

Be Vigilant About Food and Water

Kids are susceptible to stomach bugs that will leave them dehydrated. When the water isn’t potable, use boiled or bottled water for everything, including mixing formula, washing bottles, and brushing teeth. Treat vomiting and diarrhea with oral hydration salts, which are widely available, especially in the developing world.

Avoid Animals

Children are more likely to approach an unfamiliar animal, Cohen says. Instruct kids not to walk up to dogs, monkeys, or other large mammals. In Asia, Africa, and parts of South America and Mexico, rabies is a problem. The virus is spread in the saliva of infected animals. Seek medical help immediately if your child gets bitten.

Have a Medical Plan

If your child gets sick, the first thing you should do is call your doctor back home, Neumann says. If that’s not an option, contact the U.S. embassy for a recommendation. Also consider checking with iamat (iamat.org), a nonprofit that connects travelers with qualified, English-speaking doctors in more than 90 countries.

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