How to Deal If Your Kids (or You!) Get Sick or Injured on Vacation

Do you know what to do if someone gets sick and you're thousands of miles away from home? Get the scoop on how to manage illness or injury—just in case it happens on your next trip.
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Food poisoning. Baseball-sized blisters. A flu that spread like wildfire. A nonstop vomiting baby. A horribly painful ear infection. It seems like my generally healthy family loves to wait until we're halfway around the world (or, you know, on a blowout Disney vacation) before they decide to succumb to some nasty virus or bacteria—all of which adds a little extra adventure to our travels.

And apparently, we're not alone in facing a medical issue on the road—a new national survey by Orlando Health shows that one in four vacations includes a trip to the local ER. Given those odds, it's best to be prepared for disaster when you take your show on the road—though experts say that many people learn that the hard way. "I think people temporarily forget that vacation is a part of life, and no matter where you are, life happens," says Steven Corbett, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Orlando Health. "Life brings illness and the unexpected, even on vacation, with at least the same, or even increased frequency."

Want to make sure you're ready for every sniffle, sprain, or upset stomach when you hit the road? Here's how to prep ahead of time—and what to do when illness or injury strikes.

Before the Trip

1. Stock a medical kit. It's essential when you're heading out of the country, where the formulations and medications you're used to could be pretty hard to come by (and deciphering instructions in another language may prove tricky). But even stateside, if you're heading anywhere near a resort, prices could be jacked up—and you may not want the added stress of tracking down a drugstore if your kiddo spikes a fever in the middle of the night.

Just remember the liquids rule if you're flying to your destination. Consider going with chewable or pill forms of every med possible so it's easy to clear your kit through security in your carry-on.

Here's what goes into my travel medical kit:

  • Any prescription meds you and your family are currently taking
  • Pain reliever/fever reducer
  • Allergy medication
  • Anti-diarrheal/antacid/Pepto-Bismol
  • Adult cold medication/saline spray for kiddos
  • Cough drops
  • Motion sickness medication
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Bandages of various sizes
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Thermometer

2. Ask if your pediatrician offers phone consultations. Some docs are willing to "see" you over the phone, which could save you a trip to urgent care in a distant location. You may also want to see what your health insurance policy offers—it turns out ours has a 24-hour call-in line, which gives advice and can prescribe antibiotics. (Bonus!)

3. Research what's available where you'll be. Take a few minutes to prep for the worst by searching out the closest urgent care and ER to your destination. If you're traveling out of the country, check in to see what your health insurance will cover, and whether there are adequate health facilities nearby.

4. Consider visiting a travel doctor. If you're traveling somewhere a little off the beaten path—like my family's three weeks in China last summer—a travel doctor will make sure you're covered with any additional vaccinations you might need (hello, typhoid and a tetanus booster), give you advice on how to be safe with food and water, and maybe even hook you up with a prescription antibiotic and instructions on when and how to use it. (Who knew that an antibiotic could clear up a wicked case of food poisoning in a few short hours?)

5. Bring along important health info. If you have health issues, make sure you bring information related to your care. "Bring a list of your medication, and any pertinent medical information, such as an abnormal EKG, or recent surgical or medical illness," Dr. Corbett says. "These can be very helpful in times of emergency to those providing care."

6. Get travel insurance. Accidents and illness happen. While most coverages won't reimburse you for a simple flu, if you end up with an injury or illness that results in hospitalization or cancellation, you'll get a refund for the days that you missed—so you can afford a do-over when everyone's on the mend.

Travel insurance is especially important if you're traveling to a location where the medical facilities might be less than ideal. Look for a policy that includes medical evacuation coverage, so you can be moved home or to a location with better medical care if someone falls ill.

7. Download a good health app. You can always resort to Doctor Google, but health apps like iTriage give you access to solid information on symptoms and treatments—and will map out the nearest healthcare facilities if you need to get a pro involved.

When Sickness Happens

1. Let the staff know. The hotel concierge or manager could help you locate the nearest urgent care or connect you with a hotel doctor, help you get medication, or maybe even send up chicken soup (shout out to the Disney Polynesian for their amazing restorative bowls of broth). Ask if you can be given a specific time for housekeeping, so you can have your room refreshed and minimize the amount of time your patient has to be out of the room. (And hey, it's good to give housekeeping a heads up, so their staff can wear gloves and masks to avoid getting sick themselves, and give your room a little extra disinfection love.)

2. Make it easy on everyone. This may not be the getaway you envisioned, but that doesn't mean it has to be a bummer. Order room service or takeout, break out the travel games or books, and hole up in your hotel room and watch cartoons. If your entire family hasn't succumbed to a bug, send the healthy parts of your party out sightseeing, so your patient can get plenty of rest and rejoin the group in a day or two.

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