Traveling with children
Ear pain - flying; Ear pain - airplane
Traveling with children presents special challenges. It disrupts familiar routines and imposes new demands. Planning ahead, and involving children in the planning, may lessen the stress of travel.
Talk to your health care provider before traveling with a child. Children may have special medical concerns. The provider can also talk to you about any medicines you might need if your child becomes ill.
Know your child's dosage of common medicines for colds, allergic reactions, or flu. If your child has a long-term (chronic) illness, consider bringing a copy of recent medical reports and a list of all medicines your child is taking.
PLANES, TRAINS, BUSES
Bring snacks and familiar foods with you. This helps when travel delays meals or when the available meals do not suit the child's needs. Small crackers, unsugared cereals, and string cheese make good snacks. Some children can eat fruit without problems. Cookies and sugared cereals make for sticky children.
When flying with babies and infants:
- If you are not breastfeeding, bring powdered formula and buy water after you get through security.
- If you are breastfeeding, you can bring breast milk in larger quantities than 3 ounces (90 milliliters), as long as you tell security people and let them inspect it.
- Small jars of baby food travel well. They make little waste and you can dispose of them easily.
Air travel tends to dehydrate (dry out) people. Drink plenty of water. Women who are nursing need to drink more fluids.
FLYING AND YOUR CHILD'S EARS
Children often have trouble with pressure changes at takeoff and landing. The pain and pressure will almost always go away in a few minutes. If your child has a cold or ear infection, the discomfort may be greater.
Your provider may suggest not flying if your child has an ear infection or a lot of fluid behind the eardrum. Children who have had ear tubes placed should do fine.
Some tips to prevent or treat ear pain:
- Have your child chew sugar-free gum or suck on hard candy when taking off and landing. It helps with ear pressure. Most children can learn to do this at about age 3.
- Bottles (for infants), breastfeeding, or sucking on pacifiers can also help prevent ear pain.
- Give your child plenty of fluids during the flight to help unclog the ears.
- Avoid letting your child sleep during takeoff or landing. Children swallow more often when they are awake. Also, waking up with ear pain can be frightening for the child.
- Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen about 30 minutes before takeoff or landing. Or, use nasal spray or drops before takeoff or landing. Follow package instructions exactly about how much medicine to give your child.
Ask your doctor before using cold medicines that contain antihistamines or decongestants.
Try to maintain your normal meal schedule. Ask that your child be served first (you can also bring something for your child to munch on). If you call ahead, some airlines may be able to prepare special kid's meals.
Encourage children to eat normally, but realize that a "poor" diet won't hurt for a few days.
Be aware of food safety. For example, do not eat raw fruits or vegetables. Eat only food that is hot and has been cooked thoroughly. And, drink bottled water not tap water.
Many travel clubs and agencies offer suggestions for traveling with children. Check with them. Remember to ask airlines, train, or bus companies and hotels for guidance and assistance.
For foreign travel, check with your provider about vaccines or medicines to prevent travel-related illness. Also check with embassies or consulate offices for general information. Many guidebooks and websites list organizations that help travelers.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Traveling with children.
Christenson JC, John CC. Health advice for children traveling internationally. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 200.
Summer A, Fischer PR. The pediatric and adolescent traveler. In: Keystone JS, Kozarsky PE, Connor BA, Nothdurft HD, Mendelson M, Leder, K, eds. Travel Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 23.
Last reviewed on: 10/2/2020
Reviewed by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.