Travelling with a sick kid: One mum’s story and lessons learnt
What to do when your child is sick and you need to travel? Read this mum's story and her tips for other parents...
It’s like Murphy’s Law for Mums – you plan an amazing family vacation and boom! One of your kids (or all of them), falls ill with perfect precision and timing.
This happened to me recently (of course it did!) and I’d like to share with you my story, as well as the lessons I learnt from my experience which I've turned into tips for other parents.
Along with our good friends, we had been planning an incredible holiday for months. Between our two families we have four kids – the younger boys are both four years old, my friend’s daughter is seven and my older son is six years old.
We were all excited to spend time together, especially the kids. But, a couple of days before we were to leave, the two younger boys’ temperatures shot up – scarily so – at almost exactly the same time and on the same day. They were both running fevers close to 40°C.
A visit to the doctor revealed they both had a severe viral throat infection, complete with swollen, red tonsils. The doctor reassured us that there was nothing to be overly concerned about, to expect fever spikes, and to give the boys about a week to recover.
We decided to continue with our travel plans with this reassurance, so off we headed to our beautiful, beachy destination in Penang with four very excited children, even though the younger two had slightly dampened spirits because of their illness.
Here are some things I learnt from this experience that I think will be useful to other parents too, both as preparation to travel with a sick child, and preparation to travel in general with kids.
First things first – decide
If your child falls ill like mine did before you set off on your journey, make an informed decision about whether it’s worth going ahead with your trip or not.
For example, if you have a 24 hour (or longer) travel time and you have the option of delaying your flight, then it may be worth doing that over dealing with an extra-cranky child in the plane.
Our flight time was just over an hour, which we decided was quite doable given the circumstances.
Also, take into consideration the seriousness of the illness. Since we were told by doctors that it was okay to travel, we decided to go ahead with our plans.
But had either doctor cautioned us against travelling, then we would have had to carefully review our decision, because after all, a child’s health must take precedence over all other things.
If you are going to be travelling with a sick kid, meticulous preparation is a must. Here are some of the things you should be carrying with you on the flight:
- A good digital thermometer.
- Drinking water for the child. I have never had any issues with taking a full bottle of water (over 100 ml actually) with me on flights, sick child or otherwise.
- Medication. if your child has been prescribed medication, ensure you carry these with you on the flight. Pack them in a re-sealable zip-lock bag and keep them in an easy-to-reach spot in your handbag, or baby bag. Remember to take the doctor’s prescription with you, too.
- A notebook. This is handy for jotting down the times you give your child’s medication. Since my child had very high fever spikes, I had to manage it with fever medication – in this particular case, alternations between Baby Panadol and Nurofen. According to NHS Choices UK, it’s okay to alternate between these two medications every three hours, which is what I had to do. Noting down the times I gave these doses meant I avoided the potential risk of overdosing.
- If your child has a blocked nose, remember that he may experience worse-than-usual ear pain during take-off and landing due to the change in air pressure. If you are still breastfeeding, try to nurse during these times as the sucking action can help relieve the pain. If you are bottle-feeding, give your child a feed, or use a pacifier. Ask your doctor in advance about an appropriate de-congestant for your child. I also keep a small tub of Vicks VapoRub (for kids) with me as it’s mild enough to dab on either side of a child’s nose, or on the bottom of their feet with socks on.
- A blanket or jacket for that chilly airplane cabin. But if your child is running a high temperature, resist the urge to bundle him up in warm clothing or blankets. Light cotton clothing is much more appropriate in this case, so ensure you pack some.
- Lots of entertainment. Don’t be scared to pull out the big guns in entertainment if you need to, i.e., laptop, iPad etc, of course loaded with appropriate material to keep your little one occupied. If there ever was a time and place for electronic devices to be handed over to kids, I firmly believe it is during a flight -- even more so when you have a sick kid in tow!
- A change of clothes for everyone and plenty of wet wipes in case your child vomits. If you know that throwing up will be involved in your child’s illness, ask your doctor about anti-nausea medication for the flight.
- Rehydration solution: This can be a literal lifesaver if your child is vomiting, has diarrhoea or has both. It is available from most pharmacies and dosage instructions are clearly marked on the packaging.
- A cooler bag: If you child has been prescribed antibiotics that need to be kept cool, pop the bottle in a cooler bag and remember to put it in the mini fridge of your hotel room as soon as you get there.
Head to the next page for more, including how I managed my child's fever during our 'holiday'!
Source medical care
A quick Google search will reveal the nearest hospital or doctor close to your hotel or accommodation of choice in your holiday destination. If you are staying in a hotel, speak to the hotel management or concierge in advance about the closest hospital and doctors.
It’s also worthwhile looking into travel insurance that will cover full or partial medical expenses, should you need medical care for your child while travelling.
A symptom of our kids’ infection was high fever spikes – we were told by the doctor to expect this, so we were well prepared.
As explained earlier, I had to alternate between Baby Panadol and Nurofen to manage my son’s very high fever spikes.
But what really helped was also sponging him with a towel soaked in lukewarm water, especially focusing on his armpits, groin and forehead. I could literally feel the cloth drawing out the heat from his body!
Once, we also had to immerse him in a tub of lukewarm water when his high fever stubbornly refused to drop.
- Do not use cold water, ice, or rubbing alcohol, which will lower the child's body temperature too quickly.
- Sponge for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Stop if the child starts to shiver.
The reason it’s important to prevent fever from rising over 40°C is to prevent febrile fever fits. You can read all about this in the following articles.
Forget that old saying “starve a fever, feed a cold”. Adequate and good nutrition during illness will help your child fight off an infection more effetively, especially if it is a virus and antibiotics are useless.
We ordered mostly room service for our little one – lots of chicken soup and congee, and other soft foods that were easy for him to eat, given that his tonsils were so swollen.
Of course, if your child has lost his appetite in general, just let him eat what he wants (remember to take along his favourite snacks). But do keep in mind that the more nourishment he gets, the more energy his body gets to fight that bug.
Mums and dads, as you can imagine, it certainly wasn’t a dream family holiday.
But we all got through it in one piece and still managed to squeeze in some fun moments. We were also lucky that the older kids didn’t get sick. This meant that we were able to enjoy a few bonding moments with just the older children – a rare occurrence when a younger sibling comes along.
Do remember to also look after yourself if you know you're going to have to travel with a sick child. Too often, parents neglect their own health in favour of their kids'.
But you need to be in tip-top condition in order to provide the best care for your child. So don't forget to throw in some multivitamins for yourself into your suitcase. I also find that echinacea is amazing at warding off colds, and Sambucol (which contains elderberry extract) is great at boosting immunity, both in kids and adults.
Parenthood has the ability to throw many curveballs in your direction -- being prepared for them as much as you can, in my opinion, is essential for survival and sanity!
Have you ever travelled with a sick kid? What are your own tips for other parents on how to cope with the experience? Do share them with us in a comment below.