One of the best parts of going on vacation with your kids is picking out fun souvenirs to bring home with you. But, there’s one souvenir no one wants to come home with – the flu. Sniffles, stomach bugs, and other icky viruses can really put a damper on your family trip. Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do for yourself and your youngsters, to reduce your risk of getting sick before and during your travels.
Next time you hit the road, follow these steps to protect your health, so you can focus on cultivating fantastic family memories (instead of foreign germs!).
Step 1: Get Educated Before You Leave
Avoiding illness becomes more of a challenge when you don’t know the risks posed by the place you’re visiting. Before booking your trip, take the time to research your destination. Look into whether the hygiene conditions of food and water are lower than you’re used to, and whether there are insects or wildlife that might carry disease.
At the same time, book doctor appointments – for you, and your children. It’s recommended that you see your doctor 4-6 weeks before your trip. Even if you don’t need a checkup, your physician can share advice on defending against infection overseas, and offer necessary vaccines and immunizations if applicable.
Step 2: Start a Habit of Hand Washing
Getting your kids to wash their hands regularly can be difficult – anyone with a three-year-old can attest to this! – however, try to emphasize this habit before (and during) your vacation. Hand-based hygiene becomes increasingly important during times of travel. If you’re traveling on an airplane, or visiting destinations packed with tourists, you’re exposing yourselves to a range of potential illnesses from the people around you.
Frequent hand-washing, or the use of anti-bacterial hand gel, can be particularly effective in fighting the spread of infection – reducing your chances of everything from a common cold to travel diarrhea (talk about a trip-ruiner!). Try making a game out of it, or implement a fun hand-washing song, to get your kids excited about washing their hands during your family adventure.
Step 3: Avoid Local Water – But Stay Hydrated
Water is a particularly tricky concern when traveling. You need to make sure that you and your kids stay properly hydrated – while avoiding risky water sources. Even if you’re not headed to a hot climate, you are likely to be more active during a trip, so you’ll need plenty of water to protect your system against germs and illness.
Contaminated drinking water is one of the leading sources of health problems for travelers – and it can cause anything from gastrointestinal stress (vomiting and diarrhea), to serious bacterial disease. In some cases, you and your kids may get sick simply because the pathogens in foreign water are different from what your immune system’s used to. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to avoid tap water, and seek out bottled water instead. If bottled water isn’t an option, and you must use local water at some point, boil the water before drinking to kill off germs.
Step 4: Keep Up with Good Nutrition
Following a healthy, balanced diet at home often revolves around cooking your own meals – but when you’re on the road, proper nutrition can be challenging. You probably won’t have access to a kitchen, so it’s easy to turn to eating out for all of your meals. Just because you’re heading to a new restaurant, or stopping at a foreign convenience store, doesn’t mean you should ditch all hope of nutrition. Try to get plenty of fruit and vegetables into your children’s diet, and your own – and avoid any foods that seem suspicious.
Here’s a good rule of thumb to follow when traveling in a foreign place: if the food you’re considering isn’t baked, boiled, or peeled – don’t eat it. For instance, a refreshing salad may sound great in a tropical climate, but unwashed lettuce (or items washed in contaminated water) can make you sick. When choosing a place to eat, search for somewhere that’s packed with people. The more people, the more likely the food will be fresh – thanks to high customer turnover.
Step 5: Get Plenty of Rest
Remember that traveling can be stressful – even during a fun vacation – so make time for plenty of rest in between adventures. Schedule periods of relaxation (or rest breaks) into the day, so you’re not on the move constantly. These rest breaks also provide good opportunities to fuel up with some water and snacks, to keep yourself hydrated and healthy.
Do what you can to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep every day – just like you should at home. When you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be functioning at your best, and neither will your immune system. Though maintaining a perfect sleep schedule isn’t always possible, making an effort to stick close to your regular routine will help keep you, and your, children healthier.
Help Your Immune System While Traveling
When you travel, you become particularly susceptible to illness because you’re exposing your body to a range of new stresses, bugs, environments, and various germs. Combine a turbulent car, plane, or train journey with the naturally low immune system of children, and you open a wide range of new opportunities for disease and sickness. Your immune system works hard to keep your body healthy, but it can only do so much, especially in situations it isn’t accustomed to. Help your body out by giving yourself enough rest, water, and nutritious snacks; and take extra precautions to stay germ-free. The above tips, combined with destination-specific research and doctor recommendations, can help you to build up a defense against the common causes of illness during travel – so you and your whole family will stay healthy and happy during your vacation.