“Mommy, I Don’t Feel Good”: Traveling with Sick Kids

Traveling with children can be a great way to spend time together and build lifelong memories. But even with careful planning, hand-washing and household germ control, children can pick up any number of ailments along the way. An arsenal of good information and a supply of over-the-counter and prescription remedies can help kids stay well while traveling.

Motion Sickness

Be prepared for motion sickness by talking to your child’s pediatrician. He or she will let you know whether a prescription motion sickness patch or oral medication, or over-the-counter medication is right for your child based on your travel plans. If your child has her first case of motion sickness while on vacation, try the following remedies to get her back on her feet:

  • Look at a far horizon. Play games that compel her to look outside and limit time spent reading or on hand-held games.
  • Avoid the rear seat in minivans and SUVs. If your child starts to get a headache or feels nauseas, have her move to a seat more forward in the vehicle. Due to airbag risk, do not put children in the front seat of a vehicle.
  • Open the windows in the car. Fresh air can help reduce nausea. Also avoid eating strong-smelling snacks while in the vehicle.
  • Settle the stomach. Salty crackers can help settle the stomach, as well as ginger ale or club soda. An empty stomach can actually make the symptoms of motion sickness worse.
  • Take action. Stopping the car to get out and walk as soon as your child looks pale or says she does not feel good can help you avoid a disaster later on.

Ear Pain

Babies and airplanes often do not mix well, so knowing how to ease ear pain ahead of time can help her have a better flying experience. Deal with colds or potential ear infections before you travel. See your pediatrician to rule out an ear infection and get medication if necessary, or consider postponing your trip until he can fly comfortably. If that is not possible, use these tips to deal with ear pain while flying:

  • Much like gum chewing or yawning relieves ear pressure in adults, sucking can do the same for babies and toddlers. The pressure changes in planes are usually at their worst at descent. During that time, offer your baby a bottle or pacifier, or begin nursing.
  • If the overall noise in the plane makes it difficult for your baby to relax, use small earplugs or pieces of cotton in his ears to block out the noise.

Swimmer’s ear is caused by bacteria in the water and can be another source of ear pain for children on vacation. Prevent swimmer’s ear by having your child wear earplugs every time she is in the pool or lake. When your child gets out of the water, have her tilt her head to either side to drain the excess moisture. Dry the outer ear with a clean cloth. Make a solution of one part vinegar to one part rubbing alcohol and take along on vacation. Use a few drops of the solution in each ear after swimming to help dry the ears. Never insert a cotton swab into the ear canal.


Diarrhea can be caused by the stress of traveling and changes in diet, as well as bacteria found in water and on unfamiliar surfaces. Proper hand washing, especially after diaper changes, can help prevent the spread of diarrhea within families. KidsTravelDoc.com recommends these steps for treating vacation diarrhea:

  • Avoid clear or sugary liquids. Instead, treat diarrhea with an oral rehydrating solution (ORS), which you can by in powder form and add to drinking water. Or, make your own ORS by mixing one quart of safe drinking water with six teaspoons of sugar and one teaspoon of salt. Alternatively, have your child drink plain water and eat saltine crackers, pretzels or potato chips.
  • Continue regular feedings as these supply calories for energy and restore the intestines. Starchy substances are best.
  • Do not use over-counter-medications to treat diarrhea in children.


Sunburn can increase your child’s risk of developing skin cancer later in life. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following to prevent sunburn:

  • Seek shade. UV rays are strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so avoid the sun during this time or spend time under an umbrella or other shade source.
  • Wear a hat to shade the face, neck, scalp and ears from sunburn.
  • Cover up. Adding a light layer of clothing over a swimsuit prevents UV exposure and helps keep kids cool. And don’t forget sunglasses to protect the eyes.
  • Apply sunscreen. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and apply 30 minutes prior to going outside and at regular intervals to keep kids protected.

If your child gets sunburn during vacation, try these things for relief:

  • A bath in tepid water to cool the skin
  • Aloe Vera gel
  • Acetaminophen if your child’s temperature is above 101 F

Sunburn can cause dehydration, so make sure your child drinks plenty of water or juice to replace bodily fluids. The Skin Cancer Foundation considers sunburn in babies under one year of age an emergency and recommends seeking treatment at the nearest emergency room.

Making vacation memories is an important part of childhood. Finding ways to treat illness while traveling can help keep those memories happy ones.

Mario Cattabiani is the Director of Communications at Ross Feller Casey, LLP, a personal injury and medical malpractice law firm based in Philadelphia.

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