In terms of the general health and safety of your destination itself, check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for the latest travel advice for all countries. If you’re nervous about travelling with your kids, it may reassure you to make a note of the contact details of a GP and/or an emergency clinic in your destination in case of sudden illness, although hotels and other accommodation providers (or a nearby chemist) should be able to put you in touch with a local doctor in-situ. Also make a note of the local number to call for the emergency services (add it to your phone contacts).
For advice on family travel insurance, see our Travel Insurance page.
Always travel with a compact first-aid kit containing the medical basics:
Calamine lotion (good for sunburn as well as bites)
Heat and Sun Protection
Sunburn in childhood can double the chances of skin cancer in adult life. The British Skin Foundation recommends that children should use a minimum SPF30 product with UVA protection. Many parents prefer to use a higher SPF50, which we would also recommend. Keep sun exposure to a minimum for young children and especially babies under the age of 6 months. So try to keep them in the shade whenever possible and certainly during the hottest time of the day, keep them covered with T-shirts and hats or simply out of the sun. The sunscreen can help during the times when they are exposed to the sun. Follow the product instructions on how and when to apply.
As a general rule, sunscreen should be applied 30mins before your child goes outside so it can properly dry, then be reapplied every 2-3hrs, and always after swimming. And remember that it’s not just when going abroad that protecting children is important – come summer, children spend much more time outdoors and it has been estimated that they get 25% cent of their lifetime exposure to the sun by age 18.
When travelling to a warmer country, bear in mind that kids, especially young ones, are far more sensitive to heat in general than adults. Make sure you all keep out of the sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon (11am–3pm). When you do step out, as well as a cream with high SPF and possibly also UV protective swimwear, wear cool cotton clothing and hats (with under-chin straps if your child insists on taking them off). Portable UV-protection pop-up tents and play tents can create a space for outdoor feeding and changing, as well as shade for swim-weary kids. Or buy a big parasol.
Make sure you always have water to hand and encourage everyone to drink regularly. If self-catering, pop mini juice cartons and ¾ full bottles of water in the freezer so you’ll have cold drinks throughout the day. Invest in an insulated cool bag with plates, cutlery and cups.
See our features on the best suncare products for kids, mums and dads.
Medicines and Health Conditions
Any prescription medication used by a member of your family should be kept in your carry-on luggage – in its original container complete with chemist’s label – or it won’t get through airport security. Additionally, bring photocopies of prescriptions in case medication is lost or runs out, together with the generic name of your prescription medicine in the event that a pharmacist in your destination knows it by a different brand name. It’s also advisable to bring a doctor’s letter detailing your family’s medical conditions and any medicine that he or she has prescribed for you.
Think also to bring along spare glasses for any wearer in your family, since these are easily lost or broken.
If your child has a severe allergic reaction to food such as peanuts, consult the Anaphylaxis Campaign for up-to-date guidance. Though such allergies are very difficult to live with, it is possible to travel with affected children, although you need to be prepared to be assertive when it comes to their requirements. Additionally, choosing to holiday in a predominantly English-speaking country will help when it comes to communicating your concerns and needs. Make sure you learn the words for food that is dangerous for your family member in the local language prior to travel, and never take it for granted that familiar food is prepared with the same ingredients that you are used to at home. Be ready to suggest alternative ingredients or dishes to those readily offered. Most importantly, call ahead to a restaurant or hotel where possible, as this will greatly facilitate the staff’s ability to accommodate your requests.
If you or your child has a food allergy or another illness (such as epilepsy, diabetes or asthma) that needs swift treatment and fast thinking, consider investing in a MedicAlert E-HealthKEY, which alerts doctors to the carrier’s condition and gives them access to their records.
Consult the NHS travel health website Fit for Travel for destination-by-destination guide to any immunisations needed when travelling abroads. If you do require some, seek advice from your GP or practice nurse as soon as you start planning your holiday (ideally 6–8wks before departure) to make sure you have time to get them all do in time, or find a specialist travel health clinic.
Children and pregnant women are particularly at risk of dying of this dangerous disease, for which no vaccination exists. You may wish to avoid affected destinations, including much of sub-saharan Africa, with young kids – if an under-10 does get malaria, they can get very ill very quickly, and if help is hard to come by this can be very frightening.
If you do travel to a malarial zone, it is essential to avoid bites, especially between dusk and dawn. You can do this through the frequent application of a good insect repellent, the wearing of long clothes and the use of a mosquito net (available for cots as well as beds), among other measures (such as burning a coil). You may also choose to give your child the anti-malarial medicine (prophylactic) suitable to the particular region you’re visiting, although some parents choose not to – for their alleged side effects and because none is deemed 100% effective.
For more information on malaria and indeed on any matters relating to health for people travelling abroad from the UK, see the NHS site Fit for Travel. As the site points out, you should always discuss your particular needs with your own doctor or nurse before travelling.
Another useful resource is the National Travel Health Network & Centre.
On arriving at your chosen accommodation, check that it’s child-proof and secure (some hotels and villa offer child-proofing items, from plug-covers to stair-gates, so do ask). If your child is very young, crawl around to spot potential hazards. Even without special equipment, there are ways of make an environment safer: for instance, use tape to cover electrical sockets, and prop open heavy doors that might trap small fingers, put fragile glassware and breakable furniture out of reach, and check all windows are secure, especially if you’re above ground level (balconies and balcony doors are an obvious danger spot that need scrutinizing). Study fire regulations and emergency evacuation procedures and share them with your children if they’re of an appropirate age. Lastly, check that the hot water in your accommodation isn’t scalding and if it is, take measures (alert staff, adjust thermostat settings, or set the anti-scald lock if there is one). Note that hot-water taps are denoted by the letter C in Italy.
Avoiding Getting Separated from a Child
This is every parent’s or carers nightmare, especially in city centres and at crowded attractions. With older kids, pre-arrange a prominent and easily accessible rendez-vous point; with younger ones, tell them to stand still if they get lost. Try to dress them in a bright, easily distinguished colour that will help them stand out in a sea of kids or in a crowd, and put a piece of paper in their pocket with your name and mobile number (including your country code, e.g.
), or write it on their hand. Tell them never to divulge their name to a stranger unless they find a policeman or –woman, and make sure they know your name, so when they’re asked they don’t just refer to you as ‘Mummy’ or ‘Daddy’. For your part, carry an up-to-date photo of your child. In themeparks, take advantage of any free ID wristbands offered.