There are three key considerations for most parents who are planning a family trip abroad: (a) keeping your family safe, (b) keeping them healthy, and (c) sticking to your budget.
This Ultimate Guide to Safe and Healthy Family Travel compiles the best tips and resources from around the web – all in one place.
Scan the “Jump Ahead” section below for an overview of the topics covered in the guide. Or click to skip ahead to a specific section.
- How to Choose a Safe Family Destination
- How to Get the Best Value from a Family Trip
- How to Build a Personalized Travel Itinerary
- How to Prepare for Safe and Healthy Family Travel Abroad
- How to Keep Your Children Safe While Traveling Abroad
- How to Keep Your Children Healthy While Traveling Abroad
I. How to Choose a Safe Family Destination
As a parent of young kids, you’re constantly aware of the potential dangers all around you. But when you travel abroad with your children, you don’t want to be constantly on guard. You want to unwind, spend time with the ones you love, and soak up each unique experience.
You can make this dream a reality by choosing the right destination for your family.
Keep reading to discover how to create a list of top contenders. Then use the questions and resources below to assess their health and safety risks and determine the ideal vacation spot for you and your kids.
Step #1: Make a List of Potential Destinations
Write down all the international destinations you’ve always wanted to visit with your family. If you don’t have specific places in mind or you want to add to your list, explore the following safe travel resources:
Resource #1: “Top 20 Safe Travel Destinations (And How to Travel Them as a Family)”
This list highlights 20 of the safest travel destinations in the world, according to reports like the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (2017) and the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index (2017).
Resource #2: The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Safe Cities Index”
This report ranks 60 international cities according to “safety indicators” like digital security, health security, infrastructure security, and personal security.
According to the report, the five safest cities in 2017 were:
- Tokyo, Japan
- Osaka, Japan
- Toronto, Canada
- Melbourne, Australia
Step #2: Assess the Potential Risks and Choose a Destination
Use the following tips and resources to assess your health and safety risks and determine the safest travel destination for your family.
As you evaluate potential destinations, be sure to ask the following health and safety questions:
Questions to Ask About Your Destination
Did You Know?
Your travel medical insurance can help you find high-quality, English-speaking medical providers!
Tips and Resources
Tip #1: Check Travel Advisories at Travel.State.Gov
Head over to the “Travel Advisories” page at travel.state.gov. Scroll down and use the “Filter Travel Advisories” box to easily search for the countries on your list. When the country’s name pops up, click the link to view the country’s travel advisory page. This page will provide a detailed explanation of travel advisories for levels 2, 3, or 4.
Travel advisory levels are as follows:
- Exercise Normal Precautions
- Exercise Increased Caution – Heightened risks to safety and security
- Reconsider Travel – Serious risks to safety and security
- Do Not Travel – Life-threatening risks
NOTE: Some travel medical insurance benefits may not apply if your destination country is under a level 3 or higher travel advisory on the start date of your trip, or if your destination country has been under a level 3 or higher advisory in the 60 days prior to your trip.
PRO TIP: Join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided to U.S. citizens by the U.S. Department of State. It allows you to enroll your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Benefits include:
- The U.S. Embassy will provide you with important, real-time updates about the safety conditions in your destination country
- The U.S. Embassy will contact you in case a natural disaster occurs, or civil unrest breaks out in your destination country
- Friends and family can easily contact you in an emergency
Tip #2: Visit the “Country Information” Pages at Travel.State.Gov
The first search bar you’ll see on the “Travel Advisories” page at travel.state.gov is labeled “Learn About Your Destination.” Enter the name of a country you’d like to explore. Then click the search icon. This will take you to a country profile page.
At the top of that screen, note the travel advisory level, the reason for the advisory, and the issue date. Click the “Read More” link to see additional information. Review any recent Embassy alerts directly below the travel advisory section.
Scroll down to the tabs below the “Quick Facts” section. The “Health” tab is one of the best resources available for general health information on a specific country. It provides information on a country’s water quality, the standard of care in local health facilities, and prevalent diseases.
Bookmark the “Country Information” pages of any destinations you’re still interested in visiting so you can easily return to them later.
Tip #3: Use Google to Find Recent News Reports
Do a quick Google search for the phrase “Is it safe to travel in [destination + year]?” This query will turn up relevant news reports on recent crime and health hazards in your potential destination.
Be sure to check the date on any articles you read – only those from the past few months will still be relevant.
Tip #4: Check Out the World Health Organization (WHO) Website
Select a potential destination country from the alphabetized list to view its country profile. You’ll find relevant statistics, news stories, and information about diseases pertinent to that country.
Tip #5: Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website
On the CDC’s “Destinations” page, use the drop-down menu under “for travelers” to select a potential destination. Check the “traveling with children” box and any others relevant to your trip. Then hit “go.”
You’ll then land on the “Travelers’ Health” page for the country, complete with travel health notices, vaccine and medical information, tips for staying safe and healthy, and even a healthy travel packing list.
For an overview of the
Tip #6: Use a Global Risk Map to Assess Your Natural Disaster Risk
While natural disasters can often occur out of nowhere, there are locations where certain types of events are more likely to occur.
Globalriskmap.nicta.com.au provides an interactive map you can use to assess your natural disaster risk in any country in the world. Drag your mouse across the globe to find the destination you’re considering for your family vacation. Then either
On the left-hand side, under the “Data Catalogue” tab, click “Peril Exposure” below “Natural Hazard.” Check the box for “cyclones,” “earthquakes,” “floods,” or “landslides,” and you’ll see the globe update instantly.
Find the color key on the left-hand side under the “Now Viewing” tab.
Tip #7: Visit Travel Forums for Tips and Advice
Travel forums allow you to post questions and get feedback from travelers and locals. If you don’t have a specific question in mind, search for the phrase “safety + [destination]” to find already-existing threads on the topic.
Here are a few of our favorite travel forums:
Tip #8: Explore Expat Websites for Additional Information
An expatriate (expat) is a person who has moved abroad from their native country but maintains citizenship in their native country. Expat websites are a great source of information because they strive to provide everything an individual needs to know to live and work abroad.
Not Sure How to Choose Safe Accommodations Once You've Picked a Destination?
Follow these tips for booking safe accommodations for your family vacation abroad:
1. Check User Reviews
Before you book your accommodations, make sure your resort, hotel, or other lodging has positive reviews from previous customers.
TripAdvisor is one of the most popular review sites. It allows users to review accommodations, restaurants, and activities.
Another site to check out is Oyster, which sends its own “special investigators” to hotels across the world to inspect them in person and review them for vacation goers. The site currently offers ratings for 42,000 hotels in 76 countries.
PRO TIP: Visit reviewers’ profiles to make sure they’re legit and have reviewed multiple places.
2. Check Out Street Views
You can also type the address of potential accommodations into a site like instantstreetview.com to get a – you guessed it – instant street view of your potential host address! This can help you determine whether the surrounding areas look safe enough to ease your mind for family travel.
II. How to Get the Best Value from a Family Trip
Family vacations aren’t cheap. In fact, Resonance Consultancy’s 2018 Future of U.S. Millennial Travel report found that the average vacation costs $4,580 for a family of four – and that’s just in the USA.
Luckily, there are strategies you can take to squeeze the most value out of your international family trip. Here are 12 tips for finding the best deals on flights, accommodations, activities, and food as you travel abroad with your youngsters.
Tips for Getting the Best Value on Flights
1. Travel in the Off-Season or Shoulder Season
Travel tends to peak in spring, summer, and around the holidays. Unfortunately, prices tend to peak at these times as well.
Travel in the off-season to secure the best deals on flights, lodging, and activities. However, be prepared for the possibility of inclement weather.
Another option is traveling in the shoulder season, which typically means decent weather and still-affordable travel. The shoulder season is the season between peak and off-peak. For example, Italy’s peak season is mid-June through August, and its off-season is November through March. So its shoulder seasons are April through mid-June and September through October.
You can also check out this chart highlighting the cheapest and most expensive months to travel to different regions around the world, according to a 2018 study of over 1,000,000 international trips by CheapAir.com.
When to Travel the World for the Cheapest Airfare
CHEAPEST MONTH TO TRAVEL
MOST EXPENSIVE MONTH TO TRAVEL
AFRICA & MIDDLE EAST
CENTRAL AMERICA & MEXICO
2. Fly During Less Popular Times
Choose a midweek departure (Tuesday – Thursday) or snag super early or late departure and arrival times for the cheapest ticket prices. If you’re worried about making a flight at the crack of dawn with your children, consider booking a room at an affordable nearby Airbnb.
3. Purchase Airline Tickets on a Monday
Purchase international airline tickets on Mondays and domestic airline tickets on Thursdays. That’s when flights are cheapest, according to 2017 research from airfare forecasting company Hopper. In fact, Hopper found that booking an international flight on a Monday as opposed to a Tuesday resulted in average savings of $30 a ticket.
If you can’t book on a Monday, the next best day to book an international flight is Thursday – followed by Wednesday.
Avoid booking on a Sunday, when both domestic and international flights are most expensive.
4. Book Your Flights in Advance
A recent study from CheapAir.com reviewed over 1,000,000 international trips taken by U.S. travelers in 2017 to identify the exact number of days prior to a trip when international airfare is cheapest. The site also uncovered the prime window of time when you’re most likely to see the lowest airfares.
Here are the results:
Best Time to Purchase International Airline Tickets for the Cheapest Rates
PRIME WINDOW FOR PURCHASING TICKETS
BEST DAY TO PURCHASE TICKETS
40 days – 7 months before departure
120 days before departure
AFRICA & MIDDLE EAST
96 days – 9½ months before departure
199 days before departure
30 days – 11 months before departure
207 days before departure
CENTRAL AMERICA & MEXICO
14 days – 6 months before departure
70 days before departure
45 days – 8 months before departure
160 days before departure
35 days – 11 months before departure
110 days before departure
54 days – 8 months before departure
197 days before departure
5. Get a Credit Card That Rewards Travel
Travel credit cards allow you to rack up points you can redeem for free flights and hotel stays. Many travel credit cards also offer huge bonuses to cardholders who meet a minimum spending requirement within the first three months.
For example, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card entitles individuals who make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days to receive a bonus plane ticket (for just the cost of taxes and fees) when they purchase an airline ticket.
According to Nerd Wallet, these are the best airline credit cards of 2018.
6. Sign Up for Frequent Flyer Programs
These are loyalty programs offered by individual airlines that allow you to rack up “miles” based on how far you fly or how much you spend. You can redeem these miles for free flights. Many also offer perks such as priority check-in, flight upgrades, and luggage fee waivers.
But you and your spouse don’t have to be the only ones accumulating miles and perks. You can sign your kids up for frequent flyer accounts and let them take advantage of the rewards, too!
See a roundup of the best airline elite status programs here.
Tips for Getting the Best Value on Accommodations
7. Rent a House Instead of Booking a Hotel
Not only do home rentals typically provide a lot more bang for your buck than a standard hotel room, but they also provide a lot more space. According to vacation-rental site VRBO, the average vacation rental is 1,850 square feet. This is significantly more space than the average hotel room, which measures only 325 square feet. This extra space can be great for separating bickering siblings or accommodating a loud snorer.
Plus, you’ll likely have access to a kitchen where you can save money by cooking some meals yourself. And you can recycle outfits if you have access to a washing machine. This could mean packing fewer items – and saving on checked luggage fees (that’s what we call a “twofer!”).
How to Get the Best Value from a Hotel
If home rentals aren't your thing, these tips will help you get the best value out of your hotel stay:
2. Choose a hotel that’s slightly off the beaten path, as hotels in the heart of the city are bound to be more expensive. But be sure to check out your transportation options and make sure the lower price is worth it.
3. Contact the hotel to ask if they offer any discounts or specials for booking directly. And be sure to ask about the cancellation policy!
4. Enroll in hotel loyalty programs to unlock secret prices and take advantage of perks, such as room upgrades and free breakfasts.
5. Sign up for a hotel credit card that accumulates rewards points each time you use it – with extra points when you use it to book hotels or flights. Then, redeem your points for free stays!
8. Check Out Deals Online
Groupon.com/getaways offers packaged deals on vacations around the world. You can browse deals by destination or by interest, with categories like “all-inclusive,” “beach,” or “outdoor and adventure.” Check out Groupon’s “Family Fun” deals here.
HolidayGuru is another great site offering discounted trips and vacation packages. The team behind HolidayGuru checks websites like LivingSocial, Click&Go, and Hotels.com to provide visitors the very best deals. Check out the site’s “Family Holiday Deals” listing here.
Tips for Getting the Best Value on Activities
9. Get Tickets for Attractions Online
Child-friendly attractions like zoos, theme parks, and aquariums frequently offer discounted tickets in advance online. And if you purchase ahead of time, you won’t have to worry about your kids getting restless as you wait in line. And let’s be honest, that’s a pretty big win, right?
10. Seek Out City Passes
See if your destination offers a city pass, which may provide free or discounted access to local sites, attractions, and public transportation.
The Roma Pass, for example, provides tourists to Rome with free admission to a museum of their choice, discounts on events and exhibits, and free use of public transit for 48 hours. It costs just 28 EUR per person (about 33 USD)!
11. Search for Free Entertainment
One approach to discover upcoming free entertainment is to contact the local visitors’ bureau and ask! Also visit the websites of local parks and libraries, which likely provide a community calendar of cheap or free events, like an outdoor concert series.
If you want to hear live music, look for restaurants that schedule performers with no cover charge. Finally, check local colleges and universities for a list of upcoming guest performers.
Still struggling with your budget? Here are the best tips on budgeting for a family vacation!
Tips for Getting the Best Value on Food
12. Skip the Tourist Traps
Restaurants are bound to be pricier near tourist attractions. You’ll often find restaurants a couple of blocks away that serve more authentic fare at even better prices.
But you don’t have to wander around aimlessly searching for hidden restaurants – strike up a conversation with the locals! They’ll be able to give you the inside scoop on the best food at the best prices.
13. Prepare Food Yourself
If you have access to a kitchen where you’re staying, eat some of your meals in! Hit up the local grocery stores to find fresh, low-cost food to prepare for your family.
Just because you prepare your meals at your accommodations doesn’t mean you have to stay there and eat it. Pack up a picnic and take it to the local square or a nearby park for a fun dining experience both you and the kids will enjoy.
See more tips for saving money on food while traveling with your family.
III. How to Build a Personalized Travel Itinerary
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of activities you want to tackle on your family vacation abroad. Use these 5 steps to organize your thoughts and create a travel itinerary personalized to you and your family.
Step #1: Gather Your Most Important Trip Information
Key trip information may include details of the following:
- Departing flight – Airport and airport map, airline, gate number, flight number, boarding date and time, departure time, seat number
- Arrival flight – Airport and airport map, arrival gate number, arrival time, checked bag pickup location, transportation location
- Accommodations – Hotel name (or the name of another lodging), address, contact information, and directions
- Car rental – Name, address, contact info, reservation details, and pick up instructions
- Reservations or purchased activities – Date, time, location, and tickets/confirmation for any activity reservations you’ve made ahead of time
Store this information in multiple locations that are easy to access while traveling. Print it out. Store it in a notes app like Evernote or Google Keep. Email a copy to yourself. Store it in a cloud storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive. You might even consider packing a USB drive with a copy stored there as well.
Basically, store it everywhere you can so it’s accessible regardless of your situation.
Step #2: Make a List of All the Experiences You Want to Have
Evernote is a great app for creating and storing lists like this one.
As you create your list, consider:
- Types of food you want to eat/specific restaurants you want to try
- Museums you want to visit
- Attractions you want to explore (theme parks, zoos, aquariums, etc.)
- Landmarks you want to see
- Events you want to attend
Be sure to consult your family as you create your list – you don’t want to plan something that will bore your children to tears!
PRO TIP: Make a separate list for each city you’ll be visiting. For larger cities, consider further splitting your list into districts.
Best Resources for Exploring Activity Options
- TripAdvisor.com – Discover suggestions and reviews of restaurants and activities in your destination.
- GetYourGuide.com – Find and book attractions or see prices.
- RoughGuides.com/destinations – Get help deciding when to go and what to do – or see example itineraries!
- Shop.LonelyPlanet.com/Pages/Guide-Books – Buy a guidebook for your chosen destination.
- Around Me (App) – Search for nearby activities by category (movie theatres, restaurants, concerts, etc.).
Step #3: Fill in the Details:
As you research, make a note beside each activity indicating the following:
- The estimated amount of time you think it’ll take. While some excursions may take an hour or two, others may be an all-day adventure.
- The estimated cost of each activity. This way you can factor it into your budget – or swap it out for a more affordable activity later on. How much are tickets per person? Can you eat there? Do you think you’ll want to purchase souvenirs?
- Opening and closing hours.
- Seasonality. Make sure your desired experiences will be available during your trip dates.
PRO TIP: Mark each of your “must-do” activities with an asterisk to ensure you include them in your itinerary.
Above example created via Evernote app for PC
Step #4: Map Your Activities to Their Location
Now you should pinpoint the location of each activity using an up-to-date map. This way you can order itinerary items in a way that makes the most sequential sense.
- Create a separate “layer” for each day of your trip or for each city you will visit
- Edit pins to add important details
- Measure the distance between two locations
- Add directions and time estimates for traveling from one point to another via car, bicycle, or foot
Because it’s a Google service, Google My Maps also pulls in relevant information for each location, such as its website, phone number, address, and even reviews.
PRO TIP: Use one color or icon to distinguish your “must-do” activities. You may also choose to categorize locations with different icons and/or different colored pins (e.g. yellow fork & knife icon = restaurant). Use whatever system works best for you.
Not familiar with Google My Maps? Follow the steps in this tutorial from RoamingTheAmericas.com to map your bucket list items to their location!
Step #5: Create Your Itinerary
Open Word, Excel, Google Docs, or the Evernote app.
Then take the following steps to create your personalized travel itinerary:
1. Establish one column for each day of your trip, using the day and date as each column header.
2. Below each header, add the name of the city or district you will be visiting that day.
3. Start filling in the first column by listing your arrival airport and arrival time.
4. Begin adding activities to each column, starting with the sites and attractions you must visit on specific days or at specific times due to open hours or reservations. If you are required to be somewhere at a certain time, list the time first and in bold to make sure you don’t overlook it.
5. Add the relevant details you noted in Step #3 to each item, including time estimates, cost estimates, and opening and closing times.
6. Add the “must do” items (and their relevant details) that you marked with an asterisk in Step #3.
7. Add the rest of the items (and their relevant details) from your master list, placing them in the column that corresponds to their location.
8. In the final column, account for your travel back to the airport, your return flight departure and arrival times, and your travel from the airport to your home.
Be sure to reference your map frequently to ensure you list your stops in sequential order.
9. Factor in breakfast, lunch, and dinner – plus naps or breaks.
10. Include your means of transportation from one place to another and your estimated transportation time.
11. Add an “Alternate Activities” list for each city you will visit in case of transportation issues, inclement weather, or unexpected closings.
Above example created via Google Sheets
Leave Room for Spontaneity
Aside from activities that require you to be somewhere at a certain time, don’t stress about assigning specific time frames to the items on your itinerary. As long as you prioritize your “must-do” activities and note opening and closing times, you should be able to accomplish everything you want to on your family trip abroad.
You may even consider leaving a couple of afternoons wide open in case you get behind schedule or find that you’re exhausted from all the excitement. Or fill this time with something spontaneous later on!
Itinerary Tips for the Most Popular Types of Family Travel
Activity & Adventure Expedition
- When planning for adventure travel, be mindful of your kids’ mental and physical limitations. You don’t want to plan a day full of activities that will leave them exhausted by noon.
- Before booking an excursion, check tour company cancellation policies in case the weather takes a turn for the worse, or you find that you’ve overscheduled your days.
- Add backup items to your itinerary in case the weather prohibits you from outdoor activities.
- Research highly-rated tour operators and read reviews of others’ experiences before booking.
- If your kids aren’t in school yet, consider traveling in the shoulder season for your destination – the season between peak and off-peak seasons. The shoulder season typically means cheaper rates and more manageable crowds.
- Stay updated on your destination’s weather conditions by checking sites like Weather.com and the World Weather Information Service. Also, look for tour operators and hotels that offer hurricane policies and weather guarantees.
- Search the web for the current conditions of any beaches you plan to add to your itinerary. Pay special attention to current hazard ratings and safety alerts regarding potential dangers like strong currents or surges.
- Note whether the beaches you plan to visit are kid-friendly and whether they offer lifeguards, restrooms, and nearby food options.
- Consider your kids’ previous camping experience. First-time campers may be better off visiting a campground in a state or national park that offers toilets and running water.
- Make sure the remoteness of your campsite and the activities on your itinerary are in line with your kids’ expectations. Some families like to spend all their time inside the campground. Others enjoy exploring nearby towns and attractions by day and sitting around a campfire by night.
- To avoid sold-out campgrounds, make reservations ahead of time. Many state and national parks begin accepting reservations for their campsites up to a year in advance.
- Consider purchasing a city pass. These passes often provide free or discounted admission to local sites and museums in addition to free use of public transportation.
- Purchase tickets for concerts and other attractions online. This will ensure the activities you add to your itinerary don’t sell out – and help you avoid standing in a long line with restless toddlers.
- Add museums and events to your itinerary that offer free admission to young children.
- Leave open space in your itinerary to explore hidden treasures that only the locals can suggest.
IV. How to Prepare for Safe and Healthy Family Travel Abroad
Before you take your family abroad, be sure to check the following items off your to-do list. These 11 steps will ensure your family’s preparedness when you encounter an emergency overseas.
1. Check Travel Advisories for Your Destination
Visit travel.state.gov and use the search bar to find the page for your destination country. Then click the link and note the travel advisory level, the reason(s) for the advisory, and the issue date. The safety and security status of a country can change in an instant, so be sure to check back frequently.
2. Join the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
This free service from the U.S. Department of State allows U.S. citizens to “enroll” a trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to receive real-time alerts about the safety conditions of their destination country.
STEP also allows the U.S. Embassy or family and friends to easily contact you in case of an emergency.
3. Schedule a Doctor’s Visit and Get the Required Vaccinations
Go to the "Travelers' Health" page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to see the required and recommended vaccinations for travel to your destination country.
Use the drop-down menu under the “For Travelers” heading to select your destination country. Then, check the “Traveling with Children” box and any other boxes that apply to your trip. Hit “Go” to see a list of required and suggested vaccines for your trip.
Beside each vaccine listed, you’ll see green text that says “Traveling with Children.” This information will help you determine which vaccines are safe to administer to children and at what age.
According to KidsHealth.org, frequently recommended vaccinations for children traveling internationally include:
- Yellow Fever
Children may also have an increased risk of contracting malaria in countries where malaria is prevalent. If you’re traveling to a malaria risk area, ask your pediatrician about antimalarial drugs.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor and pediatrician about 4-6 weeks before your departure to get your vaccinations and ensure everyone is healthy enough for international travel. This will allow enough time for most vaccines to become effective.
Be aware, some vaccines have a long process involving multiple shots. For example, the full vaccination for Hepatitis A consists of two shots administered over six months. It’s best to look up vaccination information as soon as you determine a destination.
Traveling Abroad with Your Baby?
"Although all kids get the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12-15 months of age, any who will travel outside the United States before that should get the vaccine as early as six months of age.”
4. Prepare Written Copies of Your Child’s Medical History
While no one wants to think about the possibility of
That’s why KidsHealth.org suggests preparing a written copy of your child’s medical history to carry with you on your trip. It can be as simple as a handwritten note card that you keep in your purse or wallet.
Your child’s medical history should include:
- Your name and your child's name
- Your address and phone number
- Your child's blood type
- Previous immunizations
- Your pediatrician’s name, address, and office and emergency phone numbers
- A list of current health problems your child is facing
- A list of medicines your child takes, dosage, and the pharmacy's name and phone number
- A list of allergies to medications, food, insects, or animals
- A prescription for glasses or contact lenses
- The name, address, and phone number of an emergency contact back home
5. Prepare Prescription Medications
Carla Blieden, PharmD, MPH of Travelwise Vaccination Services, recommends only taking the amount of medication needed for the number of days you will be away – plus a few days extra in case you experience a long layover or a change in your itinerary.
If you’re taking a trip of a month or longer, or if you or your children will need an early refill of any of your prescription medications, “have your pharmacy call your insurance company for a vacation override for your billing cycle,” Blieden suggests.
Carry all medications in the original container. If you can, make copies of your original prescriptions and bring them with you.
6. Get Family Travel Medical Insurance
Family travel medical insurance is designed to cover you and your family for the unexpected medical expenses you might incur while traveling abroad.
First, check your current health plan to determine whether it provides international coverage – even if your visa does not require health insurance. Many domestic health plans don’t offer this coverage.
If your plan doesn’t cover you and your family after you’ve departed the U.S. – or if this coverage is very limited – then consider travel medical insurance for the length of your trip.
Travel medical insurance is our business, so we know how important it is. But don’t just take our word for it! Important government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of State strongly encourage travelers to purchase travel medical insurance for overseas adventures.
These types of plans cover treatment for unexpected injuries and illnesses incurred abroad and provide emergency travel benefits like Emergency Medical Evacuation. According to the CDC, “the cost of evacuation can exceed $100,000.” Could you afford this cost without insurance?
7. Look Up the Nearest Hospitals and Know the Emergency Number
Before you travel abroad, find the emergency phone number for your destination country in the sidebar of your destination’s “Country Information” page at travel.state.gov. If you’re headed to the Schengen Area, you can also find the information here.
Write down the name, address, and phone number of local hospitals near your accommodations. On the “Country Information” page, click to expand the “Health” tab. Here you’ll find links to the websites of the local hospitals, which will provide their addresses and contact information.
If you purchase travel medical insurance for your family trip abroad, you may also have access to an international provider search engine that allows you to locate doctors and hospitals in your destination country.
Some plans can also refer you to adequate treatment facilities and help with prescription drug replacement via phone.
8. Pack a First Aid Kit
It’s always a good idea to bring along a small first aid kit – especially when traveling with children, who are prone to minor bumps and scrapes. Trips with Tykes recommends infant pain relief medications, teething tablets, and diaper cream for babies and toddlers.
For young children, you’ll want to pack your go-to children’s pain relief medications and children’s cough and cold medicine.
You may also want to have some Pepto-Bismol on hand for cases of travelers’ diarrhea. While diarrhea is unfortunately common during travel, it is especially common for babies and young children, who can become easily dehydrated.
As a side note, drink only bottled water and avoid non-cooked foods (especially salads) for a much better shot at avoiding traveler’s diarrhea altogether.
Not sure what general items to include in your first aid kit? Download our printable "Ultimate Family Travel First Aid Checklist."
9. Research Local Laws and Customs
To keep your family safe abroad, it’s important to make sure you understand and respect the local laws and customs. The “Local Laws and Special Circumstances” tab of your destination’s “Country Information” page is a great place to start researching local laws.
I. How to Keep Your Children Safe While Traveling Abroad
It’s likely that one of your top concerns in traveling abroad with your children is how to keep them safe. The following tips will help you keep your kids safe in transit, while exploring your destination, and in your accommodations.
It’s likely that one of your top concerns in traveling abroad with your children is how to keep them safe. The following tips will help you keep your kids safe in transit, while exploring your destination, and in your accommodations.
In the Car
Before you start your journey, check for potential hazards.
Hazards include approaching storms or natural disasters, heavy traffic, and adverse road conditions.
You can do this by utilizing apps that inform you of these types of hazards in real-time. For weather conditions, check out the Weather Channel app. To help you avoid traffic, crashes, and construction, download an international travel app like Waze Navigation & Live Traffic or Inrix.
Keep in mind wi-fi and cellular reception may not be as prevalent in your destination country as it is in the United States. Plan ahead and check for these hazards when you have the opportunity.
Have a plan in place for traveling with a car seat.
While lugging around a bulky car seat is not ideal, it is important. When you rent a car seat abroad, you have no way of knowing whether the seat has been properly cared for or whether an accident has left it compromised.
The rental company could also provide you a seat that defies the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics for your child’s age and size. Or the car rental company could run out of car seats entirely.
According to USA Today, all U.S. airlines and most international airlines will allow you to bring a car on the plane for free – either as checked luggage or a carry-on item. Travel bloggers The Family Voyage urge you to bring your car seat as a carry-on so you can ensure its safety. They also recommend using your stroller as a trolley to easily transport the car seat through the airport.
See car seat recommendations from travel blog The Family Voyage.
In 2015, Consumer Reports sent child passenger safety technicians to two major car rental companies. They found that most rental car seats were missing their owner’s manuals and many had missing parts.
On the Plane
Use a child restraint system (CRS) to keep your child safe.
If you bring your car seat as a carry-on item, it may be able to double as your CRS. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, this is the safest place for a child on an airplane. “Your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence,” the administration notes.
Make sure your CRS is both government and airplane approved, as not all car seats are approved for airplane use. Look for text printed on your car seat that reads “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
On Public Transportation
Establish a plan in case you and your child are separated on the metro system.
You may direct your child to get off at the next stop and wait for you on the nearest bench. Or you may encourage him or her to get off at the next stop and find a metro employee at the closest ticket window.
No matter your plan, make sure you both know what it is. You can do this by sporadically asking questions like:
- What will you do if you get on the train first and the doors close?
- What will you do if we are separated in the crowd?
- How will you recognize a metro employee?
What Does Your Plan Look Like?
"We had a plan for the Underground and metro in which we would enter and exit in this order: parent, child, child, parent. That way, if a child didn’t make it on or off, there would always be a parent with him or her.”
– Carrick Buss, father and co-creator of family travel blog Along for the Trip
As You Explore Your Destination
Dress children in brightly-colored clothing that is easy to spot.
Calgary’s Child Magazine recommends lemon yellow and lime green because they attract the eye.
Snap a photo of your child before you venture out for the day.
That way, if you get separated and seek help finding your child, you’ll have a recent photo of him or her in that day’s outfit.
Talk to your kids about what to do if they get lost.
At each attraction you visit, establish a “lost area” where you’ll meet in case you get separated. Make sure your kids know who to talk to in an emergency (a police officer, a hotel manager, etc.) – and who not to approach.
DID YOU KNOW?
A parental survey conducted by the Center to Prevent Lost Children revealed that 90% of families have lost a child in a public place at least once.
Arm your children with your contact information.
Include your name and phone number, the name of your hotel or lodging, and an alternate contact number. This could be a business card in their pocket or a hospital-style I.D. bracelet. Jessica Hentze, a contributor to The Survival Mom travel blog, suggests a lanyard with an attached I.D. holder.
Teach your child to attract attention if grabbed by a stranger.
Travel blog IHeartFamilyTravels recommends teaching your child to yell “This is not my parent! Help!” in these types of situations. That way, nearby individuals won’t mistake your child’s screaming for a run-of-the-mill temper tantrum.
Take the proper safety precautions.
Ensure your children wear the proper protective gear for each of your activities. If you go bike riding or horseback riding, for example, make sure your kids are properly fitted with a helmet. If you go boating, make sure your kids wear life vests.
On a tour or excursion, make sure they follow the safety advice of the tour guide. Quiz them on the instructions to make sure they heard and understood the guidelines.
Learn how travel medical insurance can be there for you if your child is injured abroad.
Take precautions to prevent drowning.
Only swim in well-maintained, supervised areas. Keep your eyes on your children and stay within arm’s reach in the water. Use the proper safety devices for smaller children.
While the advice above may seem obvious, it’s important to know that drowning is quick and silent. In fact, it only takes two minutes of submersion for a child to lose consciousness and four to six minutes for a child to suffer irreversible brain damage.
Martin Eichelberger, MD, of Children's National Medical Center, shares that "young kids rarely make a big splash, thrash around, or scream for help like you see on TV. They usually fall in head first and sink to the bottom like a rock."
Beware of dry drowning.
“Dry drowning occurs when, after being submerged in water, a person's vocal cords experience a spasm and close, making it difficult to breathe,” shares Dr. Mike Patrick of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
If your child is submerged in water, keep a close eye on him or her in the 24 hours after the submersion, notes Live Science. Watch for symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest pain, or difficulty breathing. If you witness any of these symptoms, don’t wait – get medical attention for your child right away.
In Your Accommodations
Beware of potential fire hazards.
Peter Greenberg, Travel Editor for CBS News, shared the following hotel safety tips in a segment on CBS This Morning:
- Book a room on a lower floor in case of a fire. You’ll have a better chance of getting your children to safety, and firefighters will have a better chance of fighting the fire on lower levels.
- Make sure there is a hard-wired smoke detector in each room. If you’re above the third story, make sure there’s an automatic sprinkler system in each room as well.
- Before you unpack, make sure you have shared at least two fire escape routes with your children. You should find a map on the hotel room door highlighting the nearest exits.
Child-proof your accommodations.
- Scan each room for sharp objects and potential choking hazards. Check the carpet, underneath the beds, and even in drawers and cabinets.
- Use duct tape to tie up cords, soften sharp corners, and tape off electrical outlets (from IHeartFamilyTravels.com).
- Use disinfectant wipes to clean bathroom surfaces, furniture, and the remote control.
- If you’re using a hotel crib, Parents.com recommends replacing the bedding and examining the slats to ensure none of them are missing, loose, or broken.
See other safety tips for traveling with children – from the top 20 family travel bloggers themselves!
Don’t open the door unless you can verify who’s on the other side – and instruct your children to do the same.
If a visitor arrives at your door with an unexpected delivery or claiming to be from maintenance, call the front desk and verify that they are who they say they are. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
NEVER leave your kids alone in the hotel room.
The 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann is a painful reminder to never leave your young children alone on vacation. Even if you’re just down the street.
Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning.
While this is a rare occurrence, it’s still something to watch out for when staying in a vacation rental.
If you can meet the rental manager in person, ask how the utilities work and whether the air conditioning and heating systems have been inspected recently. Don’t stay anywhere that doesn’t appear well-maintained or properly managed.
You can also pack a portable carbon monoxide detector like this one.
VI. HOW TO KEEP YOUR CHILDREN HEALTHY WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD
From minor aches and pains to mosquito-borne diseases, there are a number of potential dangers you may encounter when traveling abroad. Luckily, there are plenty of steps you can take to mitigate your risk and prepare for healthy travel with your family.
On the Plane
Be prepared to fight jet lag.
This "temporary sleep disorder” caused when your circadian rhythms – which signal to your body when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to be asleep – are synced to your original time zone, rather than to the new time zone you’ve entered.
The extreme fatigue brought on by jet lag can result in gastrointestinal issues, to which travelers – and especially babies and young children – are already more susceptible.
To help your family conquer jet lag, follow these tips:
- Book an overnight flight, if possible. Alternatively, pack sleep masks,
ear plugs, or noise-canceling headphones for each of your children to help them sleep on a daytime flight.
- Slowly begin shifting your children’s sleeping and eating schedules to coincide with those in your destination. Begin at least four days before departure.
- Ensure your children drink plenty of bottled water throughout your flight. Dehydration can increase the severity of symptoms. Babies and young children become dehydrated more quickly than adults.
- Avoid the airport Starbucks and keep your kids away from beverages loaded with caffeine. Caffeine causes a drop in blood sugar which robs your body of its energy reserves.
Be prepared to fight ear pain.
Ear pain on airplanes is brought on by rapidly changing air pressure. Unfortunately, kids frequently experience this discomfort upon takeoff and descent. That’s why it’s helpful to keep a few coping strategies up your sleeve.
KidsHealth recommends providing a child-safe pain reliever to your children 30-60 minutes before takeoff to help ease the pain. Encourage them to swallow, yawn, or chew gum to help their ears adjust. Nursing or sucking on a bottle can help infants.
MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and E. coli are common in environments like airplanes, where groups of people are crowded together in a tight space. In 2014, Auburn University researchers found that MRSA can live on the seat-back pocket of an airplane for a week, while E. coli can survive on an airplane armrest for four days.
Infection with MRSA can cause skin diseases and pneumonia, and E. coli can be especially dangerous to young kids. E. coli can lead to severe diarrhea and hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a disorder which is more frequently fatal in children under five years old.
Thankfully, the following hygiene practices can lower your risk:
- Use disinfecting wipes to wipe down seat-back pockets, tray tables, armrests, seatbelt buckles
- Ensure your children wash their hands after using the airplane bathroom
- Don’t allow your kids to eat directly off tray tables
As You Explore Your Destination
Be careful what you eat.
While you want your children to enjoy the culture and have the experience of trying new foods, it’s important to take steps to avoid contamination and food-borne illness. Especially in developing countries without proper health regulations.
“I would advise parents who are traveling with young children for the first (or any) time not to let children eat anything they have not approved,” shares Kyle McCarthy of Family Travel Forum. Make sure it looks fresh and healthy, and that meat, poultry, eggs, and fish are thoroughly cooked.
If you want to try the street food, only visit places frequented by locals. And in developing countries, FoodSafety.gov cautions you to avoid raw fruits and veggies and foods prepared by street vendors entirely.
Want more advice from the top family travel bloggers? Check out this collection of the best tips and tricks for safe and healthy travel with children!
Determine whether the water is safe to drink.
Check the CDC’s “Health Information for Travelers” page for your destination country. Find the “Eat and Drink Safely” section below the “Stay Healthy and Safe” header. Click the “+” to expand the section and see recommendations for water consumption.
If the tap water in your destination country is unsafe to drink, avoid ice and stick to bottled or filtered water only – even when brushing your teeth.
“Train your children to practice this before they leave for the holiday,” shares YTravelBlog.
Purchase a water bottle with a built-in filter and carry it with you. This will save money and ensure the safety of your water even if you don’t have access to bottled water.
Not sure whether the water in your destination is safe to drink? Review this “Traveller’s Guide to Tap Water” infographic from travel blogger Mapping Megan!
Pack snacks that are high in fiber.
Snacks can help your child avoid hunger-induced temper tantrums. And healthy snacks will help your child feel full longer – and avoid the hyperactivity and eventual crash that inevitably results from too much sugar.
“When planning snacks, think fiber,” shares pediatrician Claire McCarthy, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital. Raisins, whole grain crackers, and fruits and vegetables can help your child combat constipation, which often occurs as the result of trying new foods.
Take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
Unfortunately, bites from parasite-infected mosquitos can cause malaria – the fourth biggest health risk to kids who travel abroad.
Malaria typically results in fever, chills, and flu-like illness. It is especially dangerous for children, who are at increased risk of developing severe complications resulting in shock, seizures, coma, or even death.
To learn whether your travel destination is a risk area for malaria, visit the CDC’s “Health Information for Travelers” page for your destination before your trip.
Take the following precautions to prevent malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses:
- Take preventative, prescription medication before, during, and after your trip. Your doctor will help you decide which medicine is right for you.
- Sleep in air-conditioned rooms, screened rooms, or under bed nets. In risk areas, use mosquito netting over infant carriers.
- Ensure your children wear repellant that includes active ingredients like *DEET, picaridin, *oil of lemon eucalyptus, or PMD.
- In risk areas, ensure your children wear pants and long sleeves outdoors.
*Important Note for Babies and Children Under 3 Years:
Do not use repellents including oil of lemon eucalyptus on children under three years old. Only use repellents with a DEET concentration greater than 30% on children two years or older. Do not use DEET of any concentration on infants under two months old.
Pay attention to your child’s sun exposure.
According to KidsHealth.org, UV light is most intense:
- From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- At high altitudes
- Near the equator
- Where light reflects off water and snow
Have your children wear hats and sunglasses to combat sun exposure. Apply broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of SPF 30+ to your child every two hours.
Explore this “Food and Water Safety: What to Know Before You Go!” infographic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Carry a written copy of your child’s medical history in case of an emergency.
Traveling overseas may mean exposing yourself and your kids to new environments, unfamiliar foods, and foreign bacteria. Since children's immune systems do not fully develop until they are around four or five years old, young children may also be more susceptible to diarrheal illnesses and diseases like malaria.
That’s why you should keep a written copy of your child’s medical history in your pocket, wallet, or purse that includes the details found here.
Don't know what to expect from healthcare abroad? Discover how healthcare works in 13 of the most popular international destinations for families.
Carry your medical insurance ID card.
Store a copy of your travel medical insurance ID card in your pocket or wallet (yes, you may need travel medical insurance, but don’t worry – it’s budget-friendly). This card will contain information like your name, the name and phone number of your insurance provider, your ID number, and your effective date of coverage.
If you or your child needs emergency medical treatment, you will show this card to prove you have insurance coverage.
DID YOU KNOW?
Your domestic health plan may not cover you or your children outside your home country. To find out whether you have international coverage, review your plan details or contact your insurance company and ask.
For emergency medical coverage, supplemental travel benefits, and travel assistance, consider purchasing travel medical insurance, as recommended by the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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WorldTrips’ international travel medical insurance products are underwritten by Lloyd's. WorldTrips is a service company and a member of the Tokio Marine HCC group of companies. WorldTrips has authority to enter into contracts of insurance on behalf of the Lloyd's underwriting members of Lloyd's Syndicate 4141, which is managed by HCC Underwriting Agency, Ltd.