Traveling with health concerns

When we Wheelwrights were in Paris, we were blessed with good health — for all of us — but that’s not to say you won’t run into illness when traveling.  Guest writer Kristy Taylor shares her experience and advice to manage health challenges while abroad.

Our third child, Sydney, is our least healthy child.  She has allergies, asthma, and migraines, which means she wears out easily, catches everything that walks through the door—and catches it hard—and requires a lot of maintenance and rescue medications.  Thankfully, she does not need syringes, or an oxygen tank, or a wheelchair—that would be a whole different kettle of fish, but considering that almost 10% of children in the US have asthma and about 5% of American children get migraines, not to mention a number of other moderate-yet-manageable childhood illnesses, it’s likely that many of us are trying to figure out how to travel with our children and their health needs. 

Our theory on taking our daughter on big trips is that she shouldn’t have to miss out because of her health, but we do need to take precautions.   We learned, unfortunately the hard way, that traveling with her presents some challenges.  Gratefully, we learned this on a domestic trip to my best friend’s house.  Within hours of arriving, Sydney’s seemingly-minor asthma attack took a sharp turn for the worse, and we spent the entirety of the trip in the hospital, leaving Sydney’s one-year-old little sister in the care of my friend’s (overwhelmed and very gracious) husband for three days.  We never made that mistake again.  There are several things to remember when traveling abroad with a child who has health challenges, and none of them need deter you from traveling.

  1. Get extra medications and supplies. In most cases this is much easier once you get to know your child’s doctor.  We had much more luck with Sydney’s specialist than with her pediatrician (we spend a lot of time with her allergist especially—we’re pretty tight and have no hard feelings about funding his new swimming pool).  In our experience, a specialist who knows you and your child well will send you off with extras of the medications you need (extra inhalers, steroids, you name it).  Of course, we’re well versed with how to use these medications and he knows that.  Keep in mind that your doctor cannot call in a prescription out of the country, so be safe and travel with medication in hand and in their original prescription bottle (for airport security’s sake).  For us, this also means looking around on Amazon and buying a tiny travel-sized nebulizer, pulse-oximeter, and peak-flow meter, like the doctor would use in his office.  These supplies, along with her regular maintenance medicine, have come in very handy and offers Mom peace of mind.  Just remember, these things ALWAYS go in your carry-on, never in your checked luggage.
  2. When in doubt, call your doctor, even from overseas, even if it costs you a pretty penny. If you’re not sure what to give your child or if she needs to see a doctor, call your doctor at home.
  3. If you do need a doctor, start with the front desk at your hotel. They will point you in the right direction.  You can also look on the internet for the nearest hospital, or call the US Embassy or Consulate in the city where you are staying.  No one likes to spend time on vacation at the doctor, and it seems like in a foreign country that would be really tricky, but an emergency room will not turn you away and you will all feel better.
  4. If you don’t think you need a doctor but you do need something, don’t be afraid to ask the pharmacist (chemist). They are very helpful and very knowledgeable, and outside the U.S., they often have greater power to offer health advice and needed medication right there in the pharmacy.
  5. Know your child and her limitations. We know that when we travel with Sydney, she needs to take it a little slower, take more rests, and sleep well.  We also know that at the first sign of an illness or attack, we start on her meds before she gets worse.

Traveling with a not-always-healthy child can be tricky, but with some extra planning and preparation beforehand, and some extra vigilance during the trip, you can get along well with only minor bumps in the road.  Children are surprisingly adaptable and often downright cheerful about their health, as in the case of our daughter—even on the trip we spent in the hospital, she came home saying, “that was the best food I’ve ever had!”


Kris in St. James's park-001


Kristy Taylor has spent her life loving to travel, and loving to come home.  She especially loves carting her 4 kids off to fun destinations.  While her favorite trips always include London, she has recently enjoyed time in Vancouver, Scotland, and Hawaii.

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