Have First Aid, Will Travel Tips for Staying Safe on Family Vacations

Every family has tricks of the trade when it comes to successful travel. And many emerge only after getting something wrong. Road-trip fails have taught me: to bring the portable training potty (lined with grocery bags and napkins) for emergency preschooler pit stops; to keep a trash bag in the back seat (doubles as a barf bag); to pretest sunscreen for allergic reactions before investing in a week’s supply; and to bring our own nightlights and bedrails.
What do you need to know before your family travels this summer? We asked two physicians who work in popular destinations for their health and safety advice.

Watch the water

Dr. Kevin Bristowe, medical director of emergency services at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Delaware, receives a steady stream of Delmarva coast visitors every summer. Back, shoulder and head injuries are common when beachgoers are not watching the surf. “They may turn their backs for a minute and be knocked down,” he says. “There are also a number of people treated for neck injuries from diving in shallow water.”

Experienced pool swimmers should stay vigilant of the different dangers that ocean swimming presents. “Know your surroundings, pay attention to waves, swim in areas supervised by a lifeguard when possible, and don’t dive into unknown water,” Bristowe cautions. Other obstacles to avoid include bodysurfers, boogie boarders, sandbars and fishing lines.

“Fishing from the beach at the (Delaware Seashore State Park) is a great activity. However, this is a surfing beach, and often fishhooks can be lost here. When wading in the surf, it is a good idea to wear water shoes or other protection for your feet to prevent being cut by an old hook or other sharp metal object,” Bristowe says. “You may also need a tetanus shot.”

Cycle safely

It’s fun — and good exercise — to ditch the car for smaller wheels at the beach, but it is important to dress and gear up appropriately, Bristowe says. “Numerous injuries are caused simply because a cyclist isn’t wearing a helmet. Flip-flops can get caught in pedals or chains and cause you to fall.”

Beach-bound cyclists should wear sneakers or other shoes that protect their feet. “If you are riding at night, wear light-colored or reflective clothing,” Bristowe says. “Be sure to have a light so you are visible to motorists.” And he adds, stay alert — don’t wear headphones and don’t text while cycling.

“Remember, cyclists are to follow the same rules that drivers follow. That means stopping at stop signs, signaling before turning, etc.,” Bristowe says. Of course, parents can get their children to wear helmets by wearing their own as well.

Falls are common

The leading cause of summer visits to Beebe Medical Center? Falls, Bristowe says. “Visitors check into their rental home, and within hours they end up in the emergency room. In many cases, the kids are jumping on beds while the parents are unpacking, and either the child falls off the bed, hits his or her head on a low ceiling or bumps into a sibling.” In other cases, adults who are unfamiliar with new surroundings take a tumble at night while moving around a dark house.

Wet, slippery surfaces, rocking boats, inadequate balcony railings, bunk beds, spiral staircases and cocktail-induced unsteadiness add to the lengthy list of fall sources, he says, advising that a little extra caution goes a long way.

Preparation is key

Dr. Lisa Brennan, pediatrician with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, suggests parents research potential dangers and hazards of their vacation spots. For example, many people don’t realize how common stingray stings are in the shallow Florida waters, she says. Brennan also advises parents to check for a pediatric urgent care or hospital ER for children close to their destination, and then store that information in their phones.

Always stay mindful of the sun’s strength, Brennan says, especially when on a boat or breezy beach or playing in the water. Parents may not realize the sun’s intensity until they or a child has second-degree burns.

Brennan is a mom of young triplets, so she knows how to lay down the law when it comes to enforcing safety rules on vacation, which is supposed to be a fun, whine-free time. “Children will push the limit on these, but it is our job as parents to keep them safe, and some things are just non-negotiable,” Brennan says. “No sunscreen? OK, no beach time. No helmet? No bicycle riding. No life jacket? Then, no boating.”

Prepare children ahead of time, she says, making repetition part of the process. For example, Brennan says parents can prep their children by saying, ‘Tomorrow, we are going on a boat ride to see dolphins. We are going to be wearing life jackets so that we can have a fun time and know that we are safe.” Keep dropping reminders in different ways leading up to each activity.

Plan for what you can, and discuss rules and emergency plans with your whole family in advance, Brennan says. This way, the family is prepared; there is no need to worry about “what if,” and families can enjoy their time together.

For the Road

Pack these parent tips from mobile moms and dads who have learned on the go.

  • “Having current insurance cards, doctors’ numbers and a prescription list, especially if you are traveling with older parents, helps hospital staff.” — Clay Stambaugh
  • “On our family vacations, we’ve had Lyme disease, pneumonia, a febrile seizure, an asthma attack, stitches and a torn Achilles’ tendon. Definitely be well versed in your insurance’s out-of-state ER policy.” — Alexandra Bull
  • “Before heading out (maybe when putting on sunscreen), snap a quick family photo so you have a current picture of everyone and what suits they are wearing in case someone gets lost on the beach.” — Drew Wagner
  • “Get trip insurance! For minimal expense, it gives you peace of mind.” — Marissa Rutzebeck
  • “Common troubles are sunburn, sun poisoning, dehydration and injuries caused by boogie boards or those rafts with cords that tangle on arms or legs.” — Mary Mitcherling, RN
  • “When I was a beach lifeguard, we called the ambulance daily for someone slicing their foot open on shells.” — MaryBeth Bevacqua
  • “If you are staying at a resort, check to see if they have a doctor on call or a concierge who can help you get prescriptions filled if needed.” — Lisa Mathias
  • “Walk your kids to the lifeguard stand and introduce them. It gives them an extra point of reference in a crowd and personalizes your kids to the guard.” — Becky Conley
  • “Take pictures on your phone of insurance cards, prescription lists and schedules, passports, etc. to have backup copies of information handy.” — Michael Fitz-Patrick

Further resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
cdc.gov/family/kids/summer/index.htm
Find helpful data on water safety, sun precautions and how to avoid heat-related illness, playground injuries and pesky mosquitos and ticks.

American Academy of Pediatrics
healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/Travel-Safety-Tips.aspx
Find searchable tips on airport security, car seats, germ control, international vaccine requirements, jet lag and a checklist for travel-safety kit items and more.

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