Children's Health

Preparation Key To Safe Summer Road Trips

School is out and parents across the state are likely gearing up for a summer road trip. Family trips can be great for bonding and learning but also frustrating if children are bored or don’t tolerate long car rides. To help parents plan an enjoyable, educational and healthy trip, pediatricians at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital encourage families to pack the essentials, research the destination and think safety for a fun trip.

“Routine and sleeping patterns change when families travel,” said Bill Stratbucker, MD, general pediatrics, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “Children are vulnerable to a variety of travel-related problems especially motion sickness. Motion sickness occurs when the inner ears detect movement but the eyes are focused elsewhere. These mixed signals coming into the brain can cause nausea, dizziness, vomiting and cold sweats.”

Combat motion sickness by:

  • Eating a light meal. Motion sickness feels worse on an empty stomach.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals during travel. For longer trips, sip drinks and eat small snacks.
  • Looking outside. Children should focus on still objects not moving ones.
  • Keeping the windows open to allow fresh air to circulate.
  • Using a headrest to minimize head movement.
  • Making frequent stops. Visiting rest stops and parks for a short walk may help.
  • Asking your doctor for help. There are medicines to prevent motion sickness if a child is particularly prone to it.

Pack medications and other medical supplies you and your family use regularly as they may not be available on your trip. Don’t forget inhalers, allergy medication and insulin, if needed.

Parents should also consider packing:

  • A small first-aid kit including antiseptic, antibiotic ointment and bandages
  • Pain reliever
  • Insect repellant
  • Waterless alcohol-based hand rubs for when soap and clean water aren’t available

Research your destination before your trip to find the hospital, particularly if your child has a chronic health condition. In case of an emergency, carry a written copy of your child’s medical history as this will help you remember important information at a time when you’re likely to be upset. Stratbucker suggests your child’s medical history include:

  • Your name, your child’s name, your address and home phone number
  • Immunization records
  • Your doctor’s name, address and office and emergency phone numbers
  • The name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier including your policy number
  • A list of any ongoing health problems, such as diabetes or asthma
  • A list of any medications your child takes and your pharmacy’s name and phone number
  • A list of allergies to medications, food, insects and animals
  • The name, address and phone number of a relative other than you

A parent himself, Stratbucker encourages entertainment other than movies in the car. Consider the following tips for the entire family to participate in the road trip:

  • Trip box: Pack pens, crayons and paper. These items are great in the car or when out to eat.
  • Road map or atlas: Use stickers to track your family’s progress. Help kids learn to read the map and find their way.
  • Travel journal: Keep track of what you do each day. Take pictures along the way and add them later.
  • Read together: Reading aloud and taking turns helps keep everyone engaged. If motion sickness is a problem, try audio books.
  • Play games: I-Spy, the license plate game, spelling bee or have a trivia contest.

Before you leave, consider asking your doctor for other information about how to protect your family from illness and injury during travel. Do a little planning in advance to help cut down on the fighting and fussing, and your next road trip will likely be made up of fond family memories – on the road and off.