Aqua blue waters, breakfast buffets, kids club… yep, taking your kids on an overseas holiday can be a fantastic adventure and provide a much-needed bonding break. But if you or the kids get sick, it can be a parents’ worst nightmare. I know. I’ve been hospitalised twice overseas with food poisoning. So if you’re considering spending your next family in Thailand or Indonesia, check out these must-read health tips before you pack the kids’ snorkelling gear …
Indonesia (hello Bali hair braids!) and Thailand are hot spots for Aussie families to visit for good reason. They’re close, affordable and offer a unique exotic experience with oodles of culture. However, many of the countries in South East Asia, including Indonesia, are known as at-risk destinations, which means they have a known risk of contracting infectious diseases (and where vaccinations and other precautions are recommended). A whopping 61% of Australians – or 10.7 million people – have visited an at-risk region in the last five years. And worryingly, there’s about a one in two chance you may suffer from a travel-related illness, according to research conducted by Vaccine Hub.
So before you get your youngster immersed in any South East Asian wonders, remember to research and speak to your travel doctor or GP about travel health advice.
Here, travel health specialist Dr Sarah Chu shares her top tips for making sure you and your kids stay healthy, happy, and out of trouble on your next vacation …
Before heading off:
Schedule vaccinations ahead of time
Getting your kids organised before a holiday (or anything for that matter) is already hard enough, so save yourself the extra hassle and ensure appointments with your GP are scheduled at least six weeks ahead of time, advises Dr Chu. “This means that you receive the best advice about travel health prep and vaccinations well ahead of time to organise everything else before flying off to developing countries,” explains Dr Chu. “Bali is not Australia’s backyard – some health risks are present there that we do not get exposed to in Australia. And kids are not little adults – there are certain risks that children are more at risk of during travel. For example, malaria, dehydration from traveller’s diarrhoea, rabies bites (consequences can be more severe than adult exposure), middle ear problems or ear pain with flying.”
It’s easy to forget some essentials when you have 100 things on your mind, but ‘medical needs’ should be at the top of your list. “Make sure your basic medical needs are packed – including over-the-counter medicines, pain relievers, insect repellents, sunscreen and first-aid kits,” advises Dr Chu. “Not only does this save you the money and risk of having to buy medications overseas, but it keeps you fully prepared at all times in case your kids may run into health issues when you land or even during the flight, which isn’t fun for anyone.”
When I’m travelling with my son, my medical pack list includes: liquid paracetamol for headaches, hydralyte sachets, a first-aid kit, my family’s vaccination history (as well as an emailed version for easy access), Ventolin, spacer, antiseptic cream, cough medicine, ample tissues and sorbolene cream. And of course sunscreen and aloe vera gel!
Get travel insurance
Prevent a future panic attack if the family run into an accident or serious illness, and ensure you’ve got travel insurance secured before heading off on your vacation. “To be extra safe, travel health and medical evacuation insurance is also a good idea should your regular insurance not cover certain situations,” advises Dr Chu.
I usually take out an annual family travel insurance that not only covers medical, but also covers any iPad breakages or lost items – and yep, that’s happened!
When you’re there:
Practice good hygiene
“We all know our kids see and do with their hands, but unfortunately this is the quickest way to pick up germs,” explains Dr Chu. “Make a habit of routinely washing their hands before and after eating and when using public restrooms. Some pocket hand sanitizer will also definitely come in handy if you ever find yourself at a loss for soap and clean water.”
Also, if your little ones are in a habit of putting their fingers in their mouth, try to stamp out this behaviour before you go. ‘Stop bite’ nail polish will do the job!
Be aware of the local food
“It’s a tough balance between getting your child immersed in the local cuisine while making sure they’re protected against contaminated food and water which can cause nasty illnesses like travellers’ diarrhea, hepatitis A and typhoid,” says Dr Chu. “It’s even harder when they’re fussy little eaters!” Here’s Dr Chu’s tips to stay on top of it:
- Always ensure that food is served and cooked hot.
- Stick to bottled water only and avoid drinks with ice.
- Steer clear of salads with raw fruit and vegetables.
- Avoid raw or undercooked eggs, ice cream (sorry kids!) and unpasteurized dairy products.
“While a tempting part of the authentic Southeast Asian experience, be wary of food from street vendors. Some stalls don’t comply with safe and trustworthy health standards.”
Avoid contact with wild or stray animals
A visit to the zoo or local bird park is stock standard for any family holiday. “While exciting to witness foreign animals, don’t touch any furry creatures without permission, as they may carry infectious diseases such as rabies,” says Dr Chu.
Dress for the weather
“South East Asian countries can be very hot and humid which can cause heat stroke and dehydration, so make sure the family is equipped with the right protective gear such as sunglasses, hats and sunscreen before heading out,” advises Dr Chu.
I always pack rash vests and long board shorts for my son’s swimming activities, too. Take a family sized sunscreen pump pack and a handbag size one for day excursion top ups.
Need more tips? Visiting another destination? Check out more tips and advice at Vaccine Hub