Parenting is a juggle between risk and benefit: minimizing danger without removing all experiences and opportunities. Taking a vacation is no exception: you don’t want to put the kids at risk, but you don’t want them to miss the thrill of getting away either.
With a little planning, travelling with kids is easy and fun, and most risks can be reduced to just about zero. How much planning you have to do depends on where are you going, how you are getting there, what you plan on doing, your kids' ages, and any special needs they may have.
Start with a checklist
Depending on your family’s circumstances, making a pre-travel checklist may seem a bit much. But using a checklist puts you in good company: along with engineers, pilots, and military commanders, surgeons use them. They all do so because making a mistake can be catastrophic with no opportunity for a ‘do-over’. With travel, it may not be life or death, but do you really want to miss your flight because you forgot your child’s passport? Or get ill because you didn’t get the recommended vaccinations for a country you are visiting?
Use these pages to figure out what applies to your family travel plans and create the checklist from the relevant information.
Find out about your destination
Consult your government’s travel advisory website for up-to-date travel safety and security information and other advice you may not have thought of. For example, if you are travelling with your child but not your spouse or ex-spouse, you might want to complete a travel consent form so no-one thinks you are kidnapping your own child!
If you are going to somewhere hot, you should be thinking about the sun. What is the right kind of sunscreen for your child and how often should you apply it? You need to think about how to avoidsunburn and what to do if your child gets it. Avoiding sunburn is also your child’s responsibility. They can learn all about it on the sun safety for kids page.
Even when you are covered up, the sun – and heat – can cause other issues. To protect yourself and your family, learn the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. And don’t forget about beingsafe in the water as you cool off and have fun.
If you are headed for a winter destination, you should think about all the extra clothing you should pack to be properly dressed for the cold. You should also know the signs of common cold weather injuries and how to avoid them. Winter destinations usually mean being on the slopes, on the ice, or in the wilderness. Here are some tips about staying safe while having fun doing your winter activities.
Vaccinations and infectious diseases
Depending on where you are going, you and your children may need vaccinations in addition to the shots your child should already get at home. To find out if this is necessary, and to see if there are other health precautions you should take on your holiday, visit your government’s foreign travel health website.
If your destination is out of the ordinary or perhaps on the wild side, you may also wish to visit a travel medicine clinic. There, you can get medical advice, health insurance, and any neccessary vaccinations. There is also a wealth of books offering great advice on taking children to both near and far-flung places.
You should also remember that when you return home, you are not necessarily out of the woods. If you or your child get a fever days or even weeks after your vacation, tell your doctor about your travels: there is a possibility you might have brought a bug back with you.
Pack a first-aid kit for common ailments
Although at most destinations you will be able to buy pain relievers and medicines for diarrhea, it's a good idea to bring these things anyway. Put together a small first aid kit with these items and any other medication your family needs. Remember to bring the paper presecription with you as well.
Keep your kids happy and safe in transit
Depending on the length of your journey, you may want to preemptively deal with boredom and bad behaviour by bringing lots of games and toys to keep kids occupied during the trip.
Travelling by air
Dr Pat has great advice about travelling with children on airplanes – even if the kids aren’t yours. And in this new world of security and its intrusions, the good doctor also has some suggestions about how to explain measure such as ‘pat-downs’ and body scanners.
Travelling by car
Most kids and parents are more familiar with car travel. At this point, everyone should know that kids big and small need to be in a car or booster seat. If you are renting a car, make sure you can rent a child safety seat as well.
If your kids are prone to car sickness, they can read all about it on our Just for Kids motion sickness page. There, they can learn tips on how to avoid getting sick and giggle at the word "barf," which features prominently on the page.
Keep food safety in mind
Food poisoning is a great way to ruin a vacation. Find out how to protect your family from food-borne illness.
Travel advice for kids with special needs
A health condition shouldn't prevent your family from having a great time on vacation. For advice on some specific conditions:
Tailor your activities to your kids' age and abilities
Depending on how old your kids are, their level of maturity, and their interests, you may wish to adjust your plans to suit. You know your kids best. Some general advice:
- Make sure they stay active.
- Let them know what the rules are.
- Plan for rest breaks and a reasonable pace, given their ages and abilities.
- Make sure they are supervised as necessary.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, a vacation is a special time when you and your family can enjoy each other's company in a new and different setting. Make the most of it. Bon voyage!