The Travel Disasters series will present solutions, mitigations, and worst case scenarios when your fears as a traveling parent come to pass. I am, of course, using the word “disaster” in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion. I hope to show you through this series that the things you fear aren’t so bad after all, that you’ll be able to handle them when they happen, and you’ll chalk it up to experience. If you have a fear about travel with kids that you’d like to see addressed in the “Travel Disaster” series, please send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
When asked what the worst case scenario could be when traveling with kids, many parents will shudder and think “what if they throw up?” I think this is one of the most common fears, second only to “what if they scream the whole time?” Well, I’m here to tell you that we’ve been there, done that, and survived it. It wasn’t our finest travel hour, but we made it through.
Here’s how having a sick kid went down for us last April…
A cheap fare to Orlando led us to take the opportunity to get the kids together with one set of their great grandparents. The plan was simple – fly into Orlando, take a nice drive up to Daytona Beach, spend time with family, maybe play in the sand a little bit… sounds nice, right?
Well…. then 23-month-old, just-potty-trained Andrew came down with a stomach bug on the Thursday prior. The vomit, the diarrhea, the fever, the whole nine yards. He spent the day on the couch drifting in and out of sleep and watching movies. Our plans to travel were officially on hold.
But then… on Friday he seemed much better. We were scheduled to fly midday on Saturday. Due to our status, we have the ability to shift our flights by a day if availability exists, so we decided to see how he was feeling on Saturday morning and then decide to go, or to move the flight to Sunday and leave another day of observation.
By Saturday morning (or even Friday night!) he seemed like his usual self. By the time we got the the airport, he had been fever free for over 24 hours and vomit free for almost 48. We opted to go ahead and go.
I will spare you the long drawn out story, but on our two flights (COS-ORD and ORD-MCO) and in the O’Hare Airport, we experienced two episodes of diaperless explosive diarrhea (one on the airplane and one in the airport) and two episodes of projectile vomiting (one in the airport and one on the airplane). There was nothing to do but press on, so that’s what we did.
He ended up resting for a good majority of the trip, and by the time we were ready to fly home, he was his old self.
Here are some lessons learned from what we went through:
1. Don’t panic.
This is nothing they haven’t seen before. Most people are sympathetic to what you are going through and/or are glad it’s not them. Do your best to clean up what you can, do your best to make your kid feel better, and everyone will appreciate the effort.
2. Know your kid’s signals.
At the time, Andrew was still just coming into the phase of really communicating well verbally. Plus, he’d never really had a bug like this before. We didn’t really realize that when he says, “My body hurts,” we should get the air sickness bag ready.
3. Understand how your kid’s car seat comes apart.
The padding on car seats is for the comfort of the kid – it’s not safety related. So if you need to pull off the padding and stow it in a plastic bad to contain the mess and smell, you can do that. We then located a laundromat at our destination and were able to wash it thoroughly (not to mention a bunch of other stuff) before our trip home. Here’s a picture of our stripped down car seat, right before the moment of truth (well… one of them).
4. Be prepared
I’m not saying that you want a hazmat suit in your carry-on bag, but we have made a few adjustments to what we carry with us on a plane. We definitely have a full change of clothes for each kid, not just the baby. If the kid has been sick, maybe more (I think we brought three pairs of pants on this trip… and used them all).
A super absorbent towel like this one is a good idea – it helps with clean up, is good for sitting on (see picture above), and dries fast. Take a tip from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and always know where your towel is.
5. Readjust your expectations
Your trip plans will almost certainly have to change. You’re not going to hit three Disney themeparks in three days if one of your mouseketeers is down for the count. That’s okay.
While Andrew rested in the hotel, Daddy stayed with him so that Clara and I could still visit the great-grandparents. It wasn’t ideal – they didn’t get to see both kids – but it was the best we could do. We also needed to find that laundry facility. It wasn’t the picturesque trip that we had imagined, but it turned out okay.
6. Don’t be afraid to revert to diapers
I say this because in my specific situation, I had a just-potty-trained kid. I was very fixated on not regressing back to diapers… to a fault. I only put him in a pull-up after his second potty accident. In hindsight, I wish I had put him in diapers from the beginning of the flights. If he had not been sick, he might have been able to handle it, but the combo of “just potty trained” plus “sick” was just too much for the poor kid. I realize this only applies to a very specific age of kid, but I have some guilt, so it goes on the list.
This is probably the biggest adjustment we have made since this happened. Now, we keep the kids at home as much as possible in the week leading up to the trip. If they go out, it’s to the park briefly. But we try and keep trips to germ factories like the Children’s Museum or indoor playplaces out of that critical week.
If your kids are in day care, I know there’s only so much you can do. Still, do the best you can, try not to go to any additional germy places, and try and boost their immune systems with vitamin-rich whole foods.
I hope that your kids are always the picture of health while you travel the world. But if it does happen that your child’s immature immune system gets the better of him, know that you will make it through, and that you are not alone.
Don’t panic. Always know where your towel is.