Everything Kids

8 Ways to Keep Children Active and Healthy on Vacation

It can be challenging to keep your family healthy on vacation. But with proper planning, it's possible to eat well and get enough exercise away from home. 

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Make healthy snack choices

Although it can be tempting to let go of healthy routines while traveling, try and keep some order. And make sure some of your at-home food rules still apply. "There's no quicker route to a stomachache than a belly full of junk food," says Henley Vazquez, a mother of three (11, 8, and 10 months), who is a travel agent and CEO of travel-site Passported. To keep kids hydrated, pack refillable water bottles. Then while traveling rely on healthy snacks like fresh fruit, yogurt, and low-sugar protein bars.

Eat like a local

While traveling abroad, encourage your child to try local cuisine versus greasy chicken fingers and hamburgers, Vazquez says. "Almost every culture has simple kid-friendly dishes—pasta with fresh tomato sauce in Italy, quesadillas in Mexico, rice and tonkatsu in Japan—that will be much healthier and more authentic," she says. Also, make restaurant reservations in advance so you're not searching for options with cranky and starving children.

Be a city-dweller

If you're visiting a city, consider walking—even while pushing a stroller—instead of jumping in a taxi or a subway from point A to point B, says Vazquez. Walking keeps everyone active, and the physical activity may help you adjust to a new time zone. "For longer walks where kids can get tired, I try to map things out to have a treat in the middle, like a great gelato shop or a famous toy store," Vazquez said. Also, there are kid-friendly tours like City Wonders, a European day tour operator. And if in Paris, consider a Louvre Museum Highlights for Families, a 1.5-hour tour designed specifically for travelers with young children. It includes fun interactive visual aids to keep kids entertained.

Participate in activities

Lots of cruise ships are packed with family fun. Yes, there are water parks, supervised children's clubs, and culinary choices that are healthy, but consider athletic activities off the ship like hiking in a port town. On Norwegian Bliss, the cruise line's largest ship, kids can run around playing laser tag on board. If you're choosing an island resort like Beaches Turks & Caicos, where land and water sports are unlimited and all included, it's easy to promote an active vacation. Kids can participate in tennis, beach volleyball, and reef snorkeling.

Safely enjoy the great outdoors

If your family is spending time in swimming pools or at a beach, establish safety rules before leaving for vacation, says Donna Hallas, Ph.D., a clinical professor and director of the pediatric nurse practitioner program at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. "Parents must be very clear that children cannot enter the water without supervision. No diving in shallow water or in dark waters where vision is limited, as this raises the risks for head and neck injuries which can have lasting and devastating life-changing effects," says Dr. Hallas. Boating, jet skiing, and water skiing also require following safety rules. "Everyone must wear a well-fitted life-jacket—that includes the parents setting the example by wearing a life-jacket."

Enforce sun safety

Peak sun hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and it's important for children of all ages to have a thorough application of sunscreen and a hat. "Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30+ to all exposed skin every single day. Apply it 20-30 minutes before heading outdoors, if possible," says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and pediatrician in Los Angeles. She recommends not waiting until you unload your troop and gear at the beach, which can leave your children with unprotected skin for too long, and at immediate risk for blistering sunburns. "Remember to re-apply sunscreen every 2-3 hours, after swimming and excessive sweating," she adds.

Pack a first-aid kit

Not only is sunscreen imperative, but you should be prepared for other unforeseen medical situations. Stormee Williams, M.D., a pediatrician and medical director of School Telemedicine at Children's Health in Dallas, suggests traveling families pack a first-aid kit that includes bandages, antibiotic ointment, and commonly used over-the-counter medicines such as fever/pain reducers, anti-itch cream like hydrocortisone, and antihistamines like Benadryl.

Adhere to sleep schedules

"When kids are well-rested everything else is so much easier," says Eileen Gunn, a family travel expert and the editor of FamiliesGo!, a family travel site. For kids 6 and under, Gunn says to keep close to their usual nap and bedtimes. But, during the trip, try and be a bit more flexible with wake-up times. "Schedule a day here and there (depending on how long the trip is) where they can sleep as late as they want, toward the end of the trip or after a very long day," Gunn adds. "And try to make sure your earliest mornings don't follow your latest nights."