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What to do when kids get sick on vacation

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I am not a germaphobe by any means, but I must admit that when we get close to the start of a trip, I get a little bit worried about the kids getting sick, especially about the kids getting sick on vacation. There’s not much worse than looking forward to a great vacation and then realizing your little one isn’t feeling well right before you leave.

This is a situation we’ve come across multiple times, so I thought I’d put together a guide for what we do both to help prevent kids from getting sick before vacation, and what to do if the kids get sick on vacation.

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase an item after clicking on the link, I will receive a small commission from the sale. This is at no extra cost to you, and as always, all opinions and recommendations are my own.

How to prevent kids getting sick on vacation

There’s only so much you can do to prevent kids getting sick – I mean, they’re kids! But these are a few of the things we do, especially when it gets close to vacation time, to try our best to keep our kids healthy.

Take supplements to boost their immune systems

Elderberry syrup is one of those things I absolutely swear by as a mom. Elderberries have some great antiviral properties and are a great way to prevent and treat colds. Once I hear the first sniffle or cough from one my kids, I start giving them elderberry syrup to help ward off any nasty germs and hopefully kick the cold before it even starts.

Now Harrison is a little older, we always use Airborne Gummies for that extra dose of vitamin c before a trip. I obviously don’t use these things in place of actual medication, but we’ve found them to be effective most of the time and have never had any adverse effects.

Wash hands and use hand sanitizer

Having two little boys under eight, I must tell them a hundred times a day to wash their hands; they’re always playing outside and seem to want to touch everything in sight, and then of course the first thing they do is touch their faces.

I’ve found that a cute kids foaming soap encourages hand washing, and having them sing ‘happy birthday’ as they wash their hands (the song lasts as long as you should be washing your hands to kill 99% of germs) means they actually wash them properly. It’s usually a loud and messy experience, but at least their hands are clean at the end!

I also carry pocket sized hand sanitizers that we use after washing hands, or if we’re somewhere without a convenient hand sink. In order to kill germs, hand sanitizers must be at least 60% alcohol, and we still wash our hands once we actually do come across a sink with soap and water.

Use sanitizing wipes

I don’t use sanitizing wipes for the most part, but I do tend to use them in places like restaurants just to quickly wipe down the table. I also always bring them on the plane, and wipe down things the kids touch a lot like the arm rests, tray tables and touch screens.

Diffuse essential oils

I’m a huge fan of essential oils, and there are some great ones out there to diffuse to prevent sickness from striking. There are companies that make blends to help destroy germs, such as Plant Therapy’s KidSafe range but there are oils you can use on their own too; oregano, lime, and eucalyptus oils all have antiviral, antiseptic, and antibacterial properties. I use an oil diffuser during the day and especially when the kids come home in the evenings.

These are some of the products we use in our day to day life to help prevent kids getting sick:

Check out more of the baby travel products we never leave home without!

If kids get sick before vacation

If my kids get sick before a vacation, there’s a few things I always do, depending on what the particular sickness is.

If they’re having tummy troubles and the issues are gastrointestinal, I always talk to their pediatrician to get their opinion; illnesses like norovirus are extremely contagious and if there’s a chance that my kids have something like that, we’re probably not going anywhere. We always book our trips with a credit card that offers travel insurance so that if a trip has to be postponed or cancelled, we’re not losing too much money.

If it’s a cold or a cough, I’ll usually wait a few days to see how they feel, keeping them hydrated and dosing them up with lots of immune boosting foods. Most colds and coughs pass quickly and as long as they don’t have a fever I’ll usually be OK with taking the kids on a trip if the only issues are a some coughing and sneezing (although we make sure to wash hands and use hand sanitizer so we’re not passing those germs along!)

Grayson has always suffered with ear infections, and if he has had a cold before a trip then I’ll usually make a quick doctor’s appointment to make sure his ears look good, especially if we’re flying.

What to do when kids get sick on vacation

Medications and natural remedies

I don’t like to travel with a mobile pharmacy or anything, but when traveling with young children I do take travel size versions of these medications just to be safe:

Tylenol/Ibuprofen – we don’t go anywhere without some sort of kids pain reliever, even if we’re going somewhere we know we’ll be able to buy them easily; I like having them on hand in case I need them in the middle of the night.

Vapor Rub – I always bring a travel sized baby vapor rub in case the kids are getting stuffed up overnight, either because they’re sick or just due to the air in hotel rooms. If they’re really having a hard time breathing at night, a trick I’ve learned is to rub a little Vapor Rub on the bottoms of their feet and put socks on over the top; I have no idea why this works but it does!

Saline solution – this is something else I always bring to help with stuffy noses, and any other ear and throat troubles. I’ve found it especially helpful on long flights where the air is very dry.

Eucalyptus and lavender oil – I carry small versions of these to help the kids sleep if they’re not feeling 100%. Eucalyptus is great to help clear airways as well as being antibacterial, and lavender always calms my kids down and helps them sleep if they’re cranky because they’re sick. If you’re not used to using essential oils, read up on them before you take them with you; they can be very potent and need to be diluted before being used on kids, especially very young kids.

Pay attention to what they’re eating and drinking

Keeping kids hydrated when they’re sick is so important, and yet it can be hard to do on vacation. We always travel with a refillable water bottle, and I always make sure to fill it before we leave the hotel in the morning so I can keep an eye on how much my kids are drinking.

While water is the best way to hydrate, if my kids are sick and getting them to drink water is tough, we’ll switch to apple juice or even something like Powerade with electrolytes.

If the kids have stomach issues on vacation, keep food as plain as possible and steer clear of any local dishes with unfamiliar ingredients that might make things worse. Toast, applesauce, rice, crackers, and plain pasta are my main go to meals when my kids have upset stomachs, although if they’re feeling really crummy I don’t try too hard to make them eat anything as long as they’re drinking enough. They’re always very quick to start eating again once they feel better!

Keep them comfortable

Being sick on vacation sucks, and no one likes missing out on a fun day out to stay in bed – but sometimes that’s just what they need.

On a trip to Europe during the winter when Harrison was younger, he came down with a miserable cold and was tired, grumpy, and just generally not feeling himself. We decided to skip the day’s sightseeing we had planned and spend a day in the hotel room rather than brave the cold weather, and it turned out to be the best thing we could have done. He was able to get plenty of rest and relax in bed with coloring books and stickers, and we were able to keep a closer eye on him.

It only took one day before he was ready to get out and explore again. We were sad to miss out on a day’s sightseeing, especially since it was a short trip, but it was worth it to give him a day to recuperate a little.

Keep copies of important documents

We always travel with multiple copies of our insurance information, especially if we’re going overseas and the medical care might be different. As well as medical insurance, we bring any travel insurance documents we might need in case flights need to be changed.

Find a local urgent care

If you’re really worried about your little one, don’t hesitate to go to a local urgent care to have them looked over.

On a trip to Hawaii when Grayson was just a baby, he was being more fussy than usual the day before we were due to fly home and I was nervous about him getting on a long haul flight not being quite himself. We made a quick trip to a local urgent care where he was diagnosed with croup and given steroids and antibiotics so he was able to fly home without being too uncomfortable.

Given his issues with ear infections, I’m so glad we decided to see a doctor before getting on a 10-hour flight and realizing at 35,000 feet that he was in more pain than we thought!

At the time I did wonder if I was overreacting a bit taking him to a doctor with what I thought was just a cold, but I’m glad I followed my instincts; even if it had just been a cold and nothing more, I would have been reassured that he was OK before we headed home.

Our insurance company has both domestic and international numbers to call when we travel so we can find the nearest doctor or hospital where they accept our insurance, and we always save those in our phone before we travel.

Products we take with us when we travel


Thermometer – we have used this thermometer for years and take it with us whenever we travel. I am terrible when it comes to knowing if my kids have a fever or not; they tend to run warm and they often feel hot to me when actually they’re fine, and bringing along a thermometer means I know when I can relax and when I might need to keep a closer eye on them.

This thermometer is fantastic because it’s no touch (no trying to insert the tip in some orifice that your little one will not thank you for!), and can give an accurate temperature just by holding the scanner close to your kids forehead.

Travel humidifier – one issue we always seem to come across on vacation is stuffy noses, especially in hotel rooms. I’ve found that traveling with a small portable humidifier keeps the rooms from getting too dry and eases up on any breathing issues the kids might have.

Kids heating pad – Harrison is a picky eater at the best of times, and often eats the same familiar things over and over on vacation. This can lead to some tummy issues, and I’ve found that giving him a warm pad at bedtime, in the car or on a plane can definitely help. A microwaveable heating pad in the shape of a stuffed animal is not only convenient, but definitely encourages kids to cuddle up close.

Travel water bottle – the single most important thing when kids are sick is keeping them hydrated, and I’ve found that a cute travel water bottle encourages them to drink more often. This is one we’ve had for a couple of years now and it’s held up really well.

Books, journals, activity sets – as I mentioned, if sicks are sick it might mean passing up on some of the sightseeing and spending a day or two at the hotel, which might mean boredom starts to set in. We travel with so many things to keep our kids entertained anyway, and I tend to add a few extra things just in case we need them.

Books, journals, coloring books, stickers, etc might lift the spirits of a little one who’s sad to be missing out on the vacation fun. Read through my reviews of some of our favorite travel books and travel activity kits here.

What to do when kids get sick on vacation
What to do when kids get sick on vacation

What do you do if your kids get sick on vacation?


Tuesday 24th of September 2019

Great post! We had the experience as you when our son was 18 months old in Hawaii. He was stuffed up and coughing but seemed ok playing at thebeach all day. Then night would comeand he was miserable. We finally took him to a family practice doc (no urgent care near) and he had a terrible double ear infection. We were glad we took him in but felt so bad we waited a few days. It's so hard when your child isn't talking yet.

Musings of a tired mummy...zzz...

Wednesday 28th of November 2018

Great tips. I think children often get ill away from home so it is best to be prepared!


Tuesday 27th of November 2018

It is really hard when kids are poorly when you are away. I always take Calpol and a first aid kit full of supplies but we have had to hunt down the chemist a few times now


Tuesday 27th of November 2018

I am sure that many parents will find this useful Sickness can strike at any time so always good to be prepared xx

Tracey Kifford

Tuesday 27th of November 2018

I've not heard of the elderberry syrup before - will look out for that. We swear by hot lemon and honey (preferably raw, unheated honey - and fresh lemon juice). I start drinking it at the first sign of a cold, and it never really takes hold (thank goodness)

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