Traveling with children is one of the best ways to make lasting memories. These are the trips that later will be depicted in the yellowing photos and social media timelines, that you will look back upon and smile. Pictures of your family together in front of a tent in Yellowstone, or splashing in the waves on a beach vacation, or standing in awe in front of Cinderella’s castle at Disney World, will hang on the wall of your stairway for decades to come.
We love traveling with our children, but most parents experience a little unease on the night before embarking on a long road trip or a flight to a faraway place with their children. So many things can go wrong when you are in an unfamiliar place, or even on the journey to get there. Every parent does their best to keep their children safe while traveling, but what if it’s not enough?
Some practiced parent travelers share 6 tips for keeping children safe during travel.
Use Car Seats Correctly
It’s not enough just to have your child in a car seat. While most parents follow the law (and common sense) and have their children buckled into car seats while traveling, a study by the National Highway Safety Administration revealed problems with 59 percent of car seat installations—or with the way a child was buckled into their car seat—during random checks,
Even the best infant car seat might not be enough to protect a baby during a crash if it isn’t installed correctly. Every parent should have their child’s car seat and their buckling method checked by a certified car seat technician in their area to be sure that they are using them correctly.
Car seats should also be used during air travel whenever possible. While most airlines allow children under age two to sit on a parent’s lap rather than having a separately purchased seat, studies show that children are much safer when buckled into a car seat. Being in their own familiar seat, such as a great convertible car seat, during a flight is also reassuring to a toddler during a first flying experience.
Safety Measures to Keep Track of Kids
If you have more than one child, it can be more difficult to keep track of them during travel. As any parent with three children can tell you, things get tricky when you have three children and only two hands. Seasoned parent travelers tell us that when both parents are traveling with children it can be helpful to divide up the responsibility by assigning one or two parents for each child. That way both parents aren’t constantly struggling to keep an eye on multiple children. This lowers the chance that both parents are running after the same toddler, while an older child wanders away.
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Using infant carriers and strollers can help to keep very young children contained when navigating through airports or unfamiliar areas. Some parents give each child a slip of paper to keep in a pocket with the parents’ cell phone numbers, or if a child is too young to be trusted to show the paper to an adult, some savvy parents actually write the information onto the child’s hand or arm with a Sharpie. This can be very reassuring, not only in airports, but also when visiting theme parks or any location where children can slip away into a crowd very quickly and become separated.
For older children, be sure they know a parent’s cell phone number. Giving older children a whistle during travel is another way you can quickly locate them if they become lost in a crowd or in a wooded area.
Be Safe With Food Choices
Traveling almost always means experiencing new and unique foods. It’s important to be vigilant about what kids eat and drink during travel. Because children haven’t yet been exposed to as many pathogens and microbes as adults, they are less resistant to common food-borne illnesses. Nothing ruins a family trip faster than a case of food poisoning. This is especially important if you are traveling abroad. Foods and food handling practices are different in other countries and children can easily become sick from improperly prepared foods. Be wary of foods from street vendors, and instead choose to eat in establishments with good reviews.
You should also avoid drinking tap water in many other countries. Microbes that your children haven’t been exposed to could make them sick even if the water is safe for the locals. Children should be made to wash their hands more frequently during travel to avoid transferring pathogens to their mouths.
When traveling on a road trip, be sure to keep perishable items in a cooler to avoid the risk of bacteria developing in foods that are normally refrigerated. While it’s great to have snacks in the car, stick as close to a child’s normal meal schedule as possible for full meals.
Parents should also keep a sick kit with them during travel. A bag or box containing medications for diarrhea and stomach upset, as well as acetaminophen and ibuprofen in case of fever or headaches is essential. The last thing you want is to spend hours trying to buy medicine in unfamiliar areas while your child is sick.
Teaching Kids to Freeze in Place, or Come at Once
Because we spend a great deal of our time telling our children to stop what they are doing, the word loses its urgency to many children. Because of this, your child might not stop instantly when you yell at them to do so to prevent an accident such as darting into traffic. Before traveling, you should teach your children to instantly freeze when you say, “Freeze!” While this may seem game-like to them, it can be essential in some situations when you need a child to immediately stop moving.
You can use the same method to get your children to gather in place by teaching them to immediately come to you when you yell a keyword such as “Report” or “Gather.” Have a negative consequence planned for a child who doesn’t immediately comply with one of your keywords. Consequences can be having to hold a parent’s hand or sit in a stroller.
Have Children Wear Bright Colors
One easy and surprisingly helpful tip is to have your children wear brightly colored shirts. It’s especially helpful to choose an uncommon color such as neon orange, or yellow. This makes spotting them in a crowd particularly easy. Seasoned family travelers tell us that we should avoid dressing children in very common colors such as putting little girls in pink while traveling. This can make it much more difficult for your eyes to separate your child from other little girls in a busy area. It can also make it more difficult for authorities to find them if it comes to that.
Wearing bright, uncommon colors on the beach is especially important as a safety measure. A child in a neon-colored bathing suit is much easier to find on the sand or in the water than a pink or blue one.
Find Child-Safe Accommodations
Believe it or not, some of the most common child injuries during travel occur in hotel rooms. While parents are vigilant in airports and on crowded streets, inside the hotel room they feel they can safely relax. Unfortunately, most hotel rooms are not child-proofed. You can bring along some outlet covers if you have exploring toddlers, but it’s even better to book a place that is advertised as child-safe. Often you will find this feature advertised in airbnb’s or cabin rentals. Property owners will often have places child-safety approved for insurance purposes. However, it’s always important for a parent to take a good look around at things like outlets and unsecured large furnishings before letting a child explore.
By following a few extra precautions, traveling with children doesn’t have to be such an anxiety-invoking experience. Instead, it can be a time to create lasting memories that go far beyond Instagram posts.