The reason you take your kids on a family vacation is to have a good time. But accidents can spoil the fun.
You can help make traveling with your kids both fun and safe by planning ahead and following a few safety tips.
Before you leave
In addition to packing the right clothes for the area you're visiting, you should bring along a first aid kit, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Depending on your destination and the season, the kit should include:
- Lip balm.
- Cotton balls.
- Antiseptic wipes.
- Antibiotic ointment.
- Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (such as Advil).
- Insect repellent.
- An antihistamine (such as Benadryl, which should not be given to children under 4).
- Facial tissue.
- Elastic bandages (such as Ace).
- An antacid, a laxative and an antidiarrheal.
- A thermometer (airlines won't allow mercury ones).
You should also carry copies of all prescriptions, health insurance information and the phone numbers of your children's doctors.
On land or in the air
However you travel, make sure you travel safely.
In a car
Before you pack up the family, make sure the vehicle is ready for the trip.
Check the tires, fluid levels, brakes, hoses and belts.
The National Safety Council (NSC) advises making sure you have a jack, a spare tire, and an auto kit with wrenches, screwdrivers, fuses, jumper cables, reflectors, a flashlight and a fire extinguisher.
Once you're in the car, make sure everyone is properly restrained with seat belts or car seats, depending on their size and age.
The safest place for all kids under 13 years old is the back seat, according to the AAP. This is especially true if your car has a passenger-side airbag. An inflating airbag could seriously injure or kill small children.
In a plane
If your kids are under 2 years old, you may save money by having them ride for free on your lap. But this is not the safest place.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the AAP recommend properly restraining all children who fly no matter how young they are.
A good way to secure your child on a plane is in his or her car seat, according to the FAA. Make sure the seat is approved for airplane use. Look for a label reading, "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft."
A car seat that's not wider than 16 inches should fit safely in a coach plane seat. Check with the airline in advance to find out its child restraint policy.
Many airlines offer discount tickets for kids riding in car seats.
According to the FAA, children who weigh more than 40 pounds can safely use an airplane seat belt.
Be sure to familiarize yourself with the most current restrictions for carry-on items. Exceptions can be made for breast milk, baby formula and medications. Visit the Transportation Security Administration website, tsa.gov, for guidelines.
Once you're on the plane, make your child's ride as comfortable as possible. The AAP advises easing ear pain during takeoff and descent by encouraging an infant to nurse, suck on a bottle or use a pacifier. Older children can try chewing gum or drinking water or juice through a straw.
To help prevent motion sickness, give your child a light snack, such as crackers or bread and jam, before flying.
When you arrive
Safe travel is only half the battle. You'll also need to keep safety in mind once you've reached your destination.
Make sure your hotel has a fire sprinkler system and smoke detectors, and identify the nearest emergency exit.
Childproof your room by moving furniture with sharp edges out of the way, putting tape over electrical outlets and checking for low-hanging pull cords that your child might get tangled in.
It's also important to help your kids with baths and showers so that they don't get scalded. The hotel's water temperatures could be much higher than your home's.
In crowded areas such as amusement parks or shopping centers, keep a close eye on your children. It may help to hold hands when you're in large crowds.
The AAP also advises that you:
- Notice what your family members are wearing so that they will be easier to spot if you are separated.
- Carry current photos and descriptions of your kids in case they get lost.
- Make sure your kids know your full name.
- Pick a specific time and place to meet in case you get separated.
Outdoor vacations can be great fun for kids. These tips from the U.S. Forest Service can help keep your campers safe:
- Bring the appropriate clothes.
- Set up camp before dark. Trying to set up at night can result in falls or other accidents.
- Watch for ticks. The park ranger can tell you if ticks are a problem in your area. If they are, check yourself and your kids for ticks regularly.
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus to guard against bug bites.
- Avoid drinking unfiltered water from streams or lakes. Even clean-looking water could contain bacteria.
- Use an existing fire pit, or make a new one in a circle of rocks. Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby, and never leave your fire unattended.