Travel Medicine tips: What you need to know before traveling internationally

Every parent knows the mantra that goes through one’s head before any major trip with kids: please stay healthy, please stay healthy… No one wants a family vacation ruined by illness, and just as important, no one wants to risk their children’s health while traveling abroad.


To learn better how to be healthy on the road and protect my kids from any health risks while traveling internationally, I spoke to Dr. Stuart Rose, the travel medicine physician behind the website I wanted to know how to find health-related travel news, what I should pack to ensure my family’s well-being, and what precautions I needed to take when traveling with kids.

Start at TravMed:

My first resource for travel medicine tips was itself. Here, parents can easily navigate to a comprehensive health guide with chapters on needed immunizations, altitude sickness, jet lag, and more. Finally, one place to find all this information! If parents need information for specific countries, the destination guide is where to start. Since our next trip is international but to all first-world countries, I stuck to the general information in the health guide, but if we were headed to a second or third-world country, this is where I’d look first. After looking through the guides, TravMed has a huge online store, where families can stock  up on what’s needed.



So what IS needed?

I asked Dr. Rose what specific over-the-counter medications and first aid supplies he recommends for families traveling internationally. Pull out quotes are in Dr. Rose’s own words.

He suggested that a small, personalized medical kit is essential for families traveling abroad. It’s helpful to carry a cell phone to look up medical information, contact your physician back home, and to store your children’s medical information. It’s also advisable to jot down emergency medical phone numbers as you see them in your travels. Just put them in the notes section of your phone. It’s also important to know and carry your health insurance information.

Denied reimbursements for medical expenses incurred “out of area” are among the most common grievances against insurance companies. Some cover only emergencies out of area – and they, not you – define emergency and require preauthorization. They may exclude coverage for accidents incurred while participating in hazardous vacation-related activities, scuba diving, for example. Overseas, you may not be covered at all. Have you checked your policies recently?

Additional tips from Dr. Rose:



Anticipate your medication needs before you leave home.  Pharmacies may be difficult to find or closed when you need them. Overseas, in many developing countries, more than a third of items bought in pharmacies are subpar: counterfeited, outdated, improperly stored or deliberately diluted, says the World Health Organization.

Buy or assemble a personalized first aid kit. Preassembled kits are available online and at camping supply stores, with specialized kits for children, camping, auto travel, etc. Or you can easily assemble your own, using supplies found in TravMed’s online store. Kits should include items to treat minor accidents, everyday rashes, colds, upset stomachs, and such. Avoid elaborate kits that include many unfamiliar items. “Small” is your key word; small enough to easily carry when hiking. (See printable first aid list below!)

Recall your children’s recent illnesses. Most illnesses that occur when traveling, even on exotic trips, are the everyday illnesses that your child would have at home: wheezing, ear aches, sore throats, and stomach aches, for example. Check if you used medications on previous trips. Ask your physicians for prescriptions, if necessary, and instructions on how to use them.

Carry items specific for your trip. Will you need sun screens and insect repellents or medications to prevent or treat malaria, altitude sickness or stomach upsets, for example? Go over your kit before each trip. See if items need replenishing and check expiration dates. Keep the kit at hand, not in checked baggage or in the car when you go hiking or to the beach.

Select durable substances.  Are your items sensitive to heat or cold? Some substances deteriorate rapidly when left in cars in hot weather. Many liquid antibiotics are prepared as powder and retain potency for prolonged periods in that form. Once diluted (usually with plain water) potency may last only a week. Ask pharmacists not to dilute and to instruct you on how to do it (it’s simple). Note that liquid substances may be challenged at airport security screenings. Keep items in their original, labeled containers. Carry an explanatory letter from a physician if you have large amounts of medications, narcotics, and syringes and needles.

Know how to use your medications. Lists of adverse reactions to all medications are available on the internet. Know what to do if your child vomits an essential medication, refuses to take it, or takes or is given an excessive amount. Again, check internet. Chocolate syrup and strawberry jam are good disguisers of bad tastes, and generally do not interfere with potency.

Medical kit contents

To be adjusted depending on ages of the kids and destination



Where can parents find out what vaccinations are needed before a trip?

Dr. Rose offered the following resources, all relevant to all types of international destinations.

  • The CDC: The CDC’s web site provides country-by-country vaccination requirements and recommendations, plus additional travel-related information, such as disease risks and outbreaks.

The information, however, is bare bones, and individual travelers usually require more detailed counseling because factors such as length of time in country, proximity to disease-risk areas, the traveler’s own health, etc. will influence what the traveler will actually needs.

  • Destination Guide at Travel Medicine, Inc.: The afore-mentioned guide offers in-depth listings of immunizations both required and recommended for over 200 countries.
  • Travel Clinics: Visiting a travel clinic is the best way to get the vaccines a traveler needs.  Almost all travel clinics subscribe to Shoreland’s database which is a very detailed summary of not only vaccines but country-wide disease risks. This database provides the basis for a discussion with the travel medicine practitioner about which shots and medications will be needed for the trip. Two professional medical organizations provide directories of travel clinics in the United States: International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) and American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).

 How can I help protect my kids once abroad?

Accidents are the #1 cause of excess mortality in travelers. You can have a heart attack anywhere, but crossing the street, or driving a car, in many countries is fraught with danger. Depending on their destination, travelers may also need to take medication to prevent malaria (not always 100% effective) or altitude illness.

The first things I say to my clients are, “Don’t get bitten by mosquitoes, ticks, or flies,”  because of the risk of tropical and infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever which cannot be prevented with vaccines, and “Wear your seat belt—if there is one!”

Dr. Rose explains that he always prescribes an antibiotic to treat travelers’ diarrhea, should it occur, with a 1-2 day course of azithromycin or ciprofloxacin. He does not prescribe herbal supplements, or probiotics, but advises travelers they may be helpful and to get the particular brand they may know about.

What travel health news should be on parents’ radar this year?

According to Dr. Rose, a relatively new development is the spread of chikungunya fever to the Caribbean. This mosquito-transmitted viral disease originated in the Indian sub-continent but is now widespread in the Western Hemisphere. There is no vaccine. Prevention depends entirely upon the prevention of daytime insect bites. For this, you should apply a DEET-containing repellent, with a minimum of 30% DEET, and also wear permethrin-treated clothing.  These products are both sold online by Travel Medicine, Inc.

Thank you to Dr. Stuart Rose for your expertise. This post has been written in partnership with Travel Medicine Inc.

Photo credit


About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.




  1. Great point about “durable substances” — I’ve had chalky pills and supplements deteriorate in super humid climates!

  2. Great tips! I agree that you should *always* travel with a personalised medical kit, and to bring essential medication in your carry on too. We’ve been stuck (just once!) with a sick child on a plane and our medical kit was in the hold.

  3. I’ve learned the hard way that I need to always travel with kids medications. Thanks for this comprehensive article!

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