Tips for Healthier, Happier Holiday Travel with Kids

by  Paul Eisenberg | Dec 14, 2010
Family packing for vacation
Family packing for vacation / Halfpoint/iStock

If your kids are pretty healthy throughout the year but always manage to get sick immediately before a holiday vacation, I probably won’t be able to stop you from getting aggravated or invoking Murphy’s Law. But I can assure that you’re not alone and that your child’s ill-timed illness has little to do with Murphy.

“Holiday colds and flus just in time for the holidays may be due in part to depleted immune systems,” says registered nurse and author Anya Clowers ( “Eating junk food, drinking festive drinks, crazy busy schedules, and cold weather combined with shared space indoors and on airplanes creates the perfect environment for viruses to take over,” she says, adding that ensuring that your family’s getting ample sleep, hydrating, and observing “good hand washing do make a difference” during your trip.

The oft-overlooked tip of frequent hand washing also puts me in mind of the challenges faced by the parents of kids with peanut allergies, since allergic reactions to nuts often occur “when a child touches a surface that has been exposed to a nut and then ingests the particles,” says Dr. Sean Cahill, associate professor of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. And being as “peanuts are the snack of choice for many airlines,” Cahill says, “seats often contain traces of nuts,” so parents flying this holiday season will want to have sanitizing wipes on hand as they board and “before your child sits in his or her seat on the plane wipe down all solid surfaces including arm rests and tray tables” to limit your child’s exposure to the nut residue. Cahill also suggests that parents dress their peanut-allergic kids in long-sleeve shirts and long pants to limit skin exposure to nut residue during the flight.

If you’re flying with kids over the next few weeks you naturally might be wondering if your young ones will be the recipient of airport pat-downs. According to the TSA, that depends. “Transportation Security Officers will work with parents to resolve any alarms at the checkpoint,” according to the TSA, adding that “if required, a child may receive a modified pat-down” and cautions that “parents are encouraged to ensure their children have taken all items out of their pockets as they go through the security checkpoint.” Beyond scouring the pockets of your traveling tots, Clowers suggests you may want to “prepare kids for what to expect. Role play airport security and buckling up in flight. They will only dread the process if we give them reason to - remember, flying is fascinating for kids – don’t ruin it.”

Holiday travel with kids also requires that parents “don’t underestimate comfort” during flight, Clowers suggests, and among the ways to prepare your brood is to dress them in comfortable shoes [and] loose, layered clothing.” You may also want to consider pillow/blanket combos, she says. There are many such combos out there and I’ve never regretted having a few along, especially when my brood and I find ourselves in an airport during holiday flight delays. One such combo is a wearable arm pillow with a retractable blanket called the GoPillow ( invented by parenting writer and mom Tangela Walker-Craft. This design seems particularly useful for parents with a need to cradle and wrap their young kids during a trip but Walker-Craft also designed it with an eye toward nursing privacy as she found in her own case that standard nursing pillows were too cumbersome for travel.

I’m a fan of parents like Walker-Craft who invent useful things out of necessity and holiday travel invariably puts me in mind of lost kids. I blogged previously about the temporary tattoos available from Spot Me ID that permit you to write such info as a parent’s cell phone number on the tattoo. I recently heard from Claire Bardner, “a mum with three kids” who “kept losing [her] son in crowded places,” so she developed the Me Finder (, a digital wristband that stores up to five phone numbers, with the idea that you should teach your lost child to “Show & Tell. If they get lost, they Show a safe adult and Tell them to phone mummy.”

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