Every international traveler should pack a good travel health kit in their carry-on luggage. But what should you pack if you have kids? I get asked this question very frequently from parents at my pediatric practice. Many parents who ask me are either going abroad to visit friends and relatives or going on an international vacation to a tropical destination. Here is a list of what I think should be in your travel health kit, with your child in mind.
1. Prescription medications. Keep these in their original bottles or packaging. It is also a good idea to bring a copy of your prescriptions. Your pharmacist can print this out for you. For certain countries, like Japan and UAE, certain medications, like stimulants or other controlled substances, are limited or prohibited. Check the U.S. Department of State website, travel.state.gov for up to date information on country specific restrictions. You may need a letter from your prescribing doctor stating what medications (include generic name) you will be bringing and how much medication you will need if you are bringing controlled substances. For injectable medications, like insulin, a letter from your doctor will also be helpful. If you are bringing an Epi-pen or Auvi-Q on board the flight, a physician’s letter will not be necessary.
2. Special travel prescriptions, like antibiotics and malaria prophylaxis medication. Many medications purchased abroad can be completely fake or falsely packaged. Do not buy these medications overseas!
3. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen medication. These medications will be good for fever or pain. Remember to buy small bottles (less than 3.4 oz) or chewable tablets for kids over 2. Again, do not buy these medications overseas. A travel medicine specialist told me that even paracetamol (which is like acetaminophen) purchased in developing countries can be fake or with false doses.
4. Antihistamines, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) if your child is over 6 or has a history of allergies. These medications come in fast melt tablets or liquid that are easy for small children to take. Be careful to use the correct dose for your child since overdose of antihistamines can be dangerous! Ask you doctor if you have any questions. Diphenhydramine can be helpful for motion sickness and allergy symptoms, like hives, sneezing, nasal congestion, or itchy eyes. Many parents ask me about using diphenhydramine to help their kids sleep on the long plane ride. Boy, do I wish there was something that was safe and works for young children! About 5% of young children have a paradoxical agitation reaction to antihistamines. This reaction would be far worse on the airplane. For most children, this medication simply just does not work unless your child is already super tired. Despite this information, many parents still want to try using diphenydramine. In fact, I know many physician parents, who have also tried it with limited success. In summary, I do not recommend sedating your child with antihistamines on the airplane due to the possible risks.
5. Antibacterial ointment, like bacitracin, for those cuts and scrapes you or your child may get.
6. Basic first aid items, like bandages, gauze, antiseptic, tweezers.
7. 1% Hydrocortisone cream, for itchy insect bites or itchy rashes.
8. Diaper rash cream, if your child still uses diapers. And don’t forget to pack a LARGE supply of diapers in your carry-on luggage. When my daughter was 2, I almost ran out of diapers on my flight from Mexico. Talk about a stressful experience!
9. Anti-motion sickness medication, like Dramamine. This medication can be especially helpful if you know your child already gets motion sickness or if you will be going on a cruise. There is an OTC Dramamine for kids >2 years. Since this medication is an antihistamine, remember what I said about the possibility of paradoxical reactions in young children? It may happen in your child.
10. Digital thermometer, if you don’ trust your “mommy touch” or if you have a very young infant with you.
11. Oral rehydration solution (ORS) packets, which will be very important if your child gets diarrhea. You can also buy these in pharmacies in developing countries. Or you can buy them/order them online before your trip. Make sure you get the yummy flavored ORS salts!
12. Antibacterial hand wipes and hand sanitizer. I may be a little germophobic but I usually wipe down the area around my child’s airplane seat and table when we first sit down after boarding our flight. I also recommend washing hands frequently and thoroughly during the flight and always before eating. Hand sanitizer is helpful but doesn’t kill all the viruses, including the dreaded Norovirus, a.k.a “No want this virus.”
13. Sunscreen, at least SPF 30. I really like the new sunblock sticks, that have zinc or titanium oxide as the main ingredient.
14. Insect repellant. Buy the kind with 20-30% DEET. OFF makes these really convenient DEET wipes, that are handy for travel. DEET repellant is safe for infants >2 months of age.
15. Emergency contact and health insurance card. Write down your emergency contact’s information, health insurance info, and travel health insurance/medical evacuation info. If your child has an allergy or a chronic condition, like diabetes or asthma, write this down on the card as well.
16. Extra change of clothes for you and your child. You just never know if your child is going to have an accident or spill juice all over you. When we went to Cancun, Mexico, my daughter was 2 years old at the time. She spilled juice all over herself twice. I felt embarrassed when other people on the airplane noticed that she was no longer wearing pants. I wish airlines believed in lids for their cups.
These are the basic essentials of a travel health kit. For children, who have chronic health conditions, like asthma, diabetes, or severe food allergies, talk to your doctor about other emergency medications you may need.