Staying healthy while traveling: cold and flu season tips for kids and adults
As parents who travel with kids constantly, we’re in all kinds of places throughout the year, including airports and train stations during cold and flu season. It’s rare that our household gets sick and I think that in large part it’s due to our daily habits and making the kids wash their hands constantly. There’s more to it though, so we’re going to share how we keep our family healthy while traveling and how to work through it when the crud hits.
I think we have all been there when we are on the road, either alone or with our kids, and somebody gets sick. I know for our family it’s happened a few too many times despite how healthy we actually are. I just think the back to cold and flu season in 2009 and traveling to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico with our extended family… I can’t talk about it; too awful and too many lessons learned. In the meantime here is how we approach health and traveling, particularly with kids, during the cold and flu season.
What you'll find...
Hygiene and staying healthy while traveling
I feel like it goes without saying that we should be washing our hands whenever we are traveling. Whether that means that we are washing our hands in an airport bathroom or in the random side-of-the-road sandwich shop in the middle of desert, it doesn’t matter. Every opportunity we get we wash our hands and that is one of the reasons that we stay as healthy as we do.
Another thing we do is leverage hand sanitizer. I’ll never forget the first time we introduced the kids to hand sanitizer and they were totally weirded out. They both held their hands out and looked at their shiny skin, completely confused because it was wet but it was dry but it was wet but it was shiny… Getting past the strange cold sensation of hand sanitizer was something our kids did have to face (they’re particular fellows). Once we conquered that, our travels became less stressful and more healthy.
Here’s a quick travel visual for why hand sanitizer and thorough washing is invaluable:
The person in front of you on the moving sidewalk in the airport sneezed and then your kid puts their hand in it. Baby wipes and hand sanitizer immediately!
You just took your kids to a festival and they had to use the port-a-potty because kids always have to use port-a-potties. Boom: hand sanitizer while you’re in the port-a-potty and then baby wipes and hand sanitizer when you’re out of it.
Note: This is how we approach hygiene on the road and staying healthy while traveling, basically when we can’t control all of the elements around us. No doctor has specifically told us to go this route, but it’s what we’ve been doing for the last 6 years and it works for us.
Staying clean and germ free is important all of the time, but during January and February, cold and flu season is really at a peak and it’s so stinkin’ easy to catch something. Do yourself and your family a favor and go the extra mile to stay healthy while traveling.
Prevent spreading germs
Until we had kids I had never heard the term “be a vampire.” Yeah, that’s actually something I’ve heard parents say countless times and now it’s something that we say to our kids. What does “be a vampire” mean? It means that you hold up your arm in front of your face while you are sneezing just like a vampire would pull their cape around. Doing this prevents your own germs from getting all over the loads of other travelers all around you.
We try to teach our kids that they are responsible for their own actions, whether that means sharing or keeping their germs to themselves, so being a vampire is a fun way to prevent every other person on an airplane from getting whatever it is that just made both kids sneeze in unison.
Tip: turning something as important as covering your mouth into a game is a great way to get buy-in from kids. The phrase “cover your mouth” is heard all too often and now rarely fazes the kids.
Prevention tips to stay healthy while traveling (and at home): wash your hands, cough into your elbow, stay in when you are sick, stay up to date on immunizations that prevent wintery illnesses likely flu
*note: we are not advocating flu shots necessarily. We do not do them in our house due to allergies, but they have been proven effective for many in recent years.
Taking care of sick kids on the road
If you’ve been following our travel blog for some time and you know that we bounce all over the country in all kinds of weather. Over the years we’ve shared all kinds of fun and tips, but not too many people have seen the gross and disgusting side of being parents on the road… because really, sometimes it’s gross and nobody want to hear about it.
I wish we could say that we’ve never had an experience where we had to lock the family in the hotel room for several days while we were in a beautiful place. This summer we got to spend several days in Newport Beach, California… across from the beach… looking at the waves… kids’ temperatures over 100 degrees and just watching cartoons in bed.
What happened?: after spending several days traveling through airports, amusement parks, and beaches the kids were physically drained even though we followed our standard nap and sleep schedule. Add the heat and the germs from thousands of other people and you have the recipe for disaster, hence experiencing Newport Beach from our hotel room.
How did we deal?: we were very careful and to keep them cool and calm. Finding ways to make a hotel room enjoyable wasn’t too difficult since we don’t have cable at home, so we were able to use a few kids shows and some snuggles to keep them happy and allow them time to recover.
Moral of the story: if somebody in your family is sick take care of them instead of trying to make the most of your vacation time.
Travel is only as good as the people who are able to experience it. In addition to the general safety and responsibility as parents to take care of our kids, we also want to be sure that if we are being active with them that they are able to partake in the fun. There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending a day or two resting to ensure that your kids can recover from sickness, whether it’s in the winter or the summer, at home or in a beachfront hotel.
Traveling wise as a parent
We are careful not to tout ourselves as perfect or knowing everything there is to know about being parents, but here’s the moment we are going to declare our smarts and share expert advice:
after years of traveling with kids, we have come to know that when our kids don’t look their best we need to reel it back and re-evaluate our plans. Our gut feelings are all too accurate when it comes to how our family is feeling and we know to listen to that.
This might mean that we are in Disneyland and we need to go back to the hotel for the afternoon so they can have an extra long nap. It means that we don’t go to the beach and play in the waves, but we do sit together in the shade and read stories and drink water.
Being a wise parent and keeping kids healthy while traveling is as simple as knowing what your own limits are. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you are tired and trying to make it through, chances are that kids are going to actually be a little more tired and also apt to put out more energy than they actually have, thus straining themselves so needing more rest than they let on.
Once you can detect this you have reached parenting level Stealth MI6. I think that is every parent’s ultimate goal anyways, so paying attention to keeping kids healthy while traveling is Step 1 to being that master parent/super-spy.
Things to remember for treating sickness
We try as much as possible to not give the kids medicine. We do this both because we aren’t doctors and also because we don’t want them becoming used to taking medicine or even thinking that it’s a treat. Having said that, when we do have to give them medicine these are the rules that we always follow (and for ourselves too):
- Always read the Drug Facts label before administering any over the counter (OTC) medicine – this includes homeopathic options
- Never give oral cough/cold medicines to kids under the age of 4 – you’ll see the OTC medicine directs you to a doctor for consultation (for a good reason)
- It’s important to see a doctor if you might have the flu on day 1 or 2 or your symptoms, especially if you are considered high risk, such as children under 2 years, adults over 65, pregnant women, or anyone with complicated/severe illness or underlying health problems
Treating sickness, particularly when we’re talking about staying healthy while traveling, is just as important as preventing it. You don’t want to become ill or have your kids get sick and then pass it on and create more problems by not taking the proper steps to nip it in the bud or keep others healthy.
Enjoy the moments with the kids
This is my third time writing this paragraph. I just can’t not make it sound selfish.
Enjoy the moments with your sick kids. Whether it be when you are traveling or just at home, the moments when they are feeling down and need that extra snuggle are the moments when you can really show them how much you love them and care about them. We wrote before about the science and the power of hugs and it’s true, particularly when were talking about sick kids and keeping healthy while traveling. A little extra patience and one extra story isn’t going to hurt anybody and is going to do a world of good.
Okay, that doesn’t sound too selfish actually, but I still do love the moments when I’m needed a little extra.
All in all, keeping your family healthy while traveling boils down to keeping everybody germ free and being wary of developing sickness. As long as you can keep these two points in mind, you should be able to explore through the cold and flu season without fear (but with caution).
Want to pin this so you’ve got some easy reminders for how to stay healthy while traveling? Go for it! And share any tips you have too!
This article is part of our partnership with CHPA’s Educational Foundation and Know Your OTCs. The purpose is to share tips and keep people. We are not medical professionals and our opinion and tips are our own. 🙂
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”