Recently, a mother called our nurse advice line concerned about her family’s travel plans. They are visiting family in New Jersey for the holidays this month and she is concerned about the measles outbreak in the area and the risk of exposure for her 13-month-old son. She wanted to know if he should receive a booster dose of the MMR vaccine.

Holidays are a time for making memories and enjoying family, but travel can also create anxiety about your family’s health. I hope these basic travel tips can help relieve some of that stress.

Public travel can lead to the rapid spread of germs, whether you’re confined to the small space inside a plane, bus or train, or even if you’re just stopping at a public rest area. You should encourage everyone in the family to wash their hands more frequently when traveling, especially before meals. 

Mini travel kits can be very useful. They should include water, snacks, hand wipes/sanitizer and tissues/napkins. For younger children, you should include age-appropriate items, such as diaper rash ointment and disposable place mats. 

Sadly, we have been experiencing outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles. If you’re traveling to an epidemic area, children 6 months or older who have not received both sets of the MMR vaccine should receive a booster dose before traveling – as long as it has been at least one month since the first dose.

Along with staying healthy, it’s equally important to make sure you travel safely. In motor vehicles, make sure you have the proper car seats and protection for younger kids or babies, especially if taking a rental car after flying out of town. Everyone in the family should keep seat belts on at all times. Parents need to model safe behavior by keeping their seat belts on as well, even in a taxi or when cruising on an airplane. For smaller children, make sure to bring a Federal Aviation Administration-approved car seat for the flight. While children under 2 years old can sit on a parent’s lap, it’s usually better to allow them to have their own seat and the ability to safely sit on their own, if possible.

Along with safety and physical health, parents need to consider their children’s mental health. Traveling can be stressful for kids, too. The biggest issues parents face when flying with babies and small children are keeping the kids entertained for long trips and minimizing the discomfort of taking off and landing. To decrease ear pain from middle-ear pressure changes, infants should nurse or bottle-feed during those times, while older children can chew gum or drink fluids with a straw. 

Make sure to bring age-appropriate entertainment for the long trips, regardless of the mode of transportation. When traveling by car, parents should make more frequent stops so children can get up and stretch. Plan to stop at least once every two hours. Of course, this is not possible when flying, so distractions are more important to make the ride more enjoyable for your kids and for surrounding passengers.

Whether it’s over the river, through the woods or wherever you may be going, I hope everyone has fun, safe and healthy travels. Chag sameach.

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