How to Vacation Safely With Your Kids This Summer

Family traveling

The warm, sunny days of summer are upon us. Now that COVID restrictions are easing in certain areas, a summer vacation may be possible again for many families. Jesspreet Gowan, MD, a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates, has tips for parents who want to plan a fun and safe family vacation.

Vacations are about more than just getting out of town. They give us a chance to relax and reconnect with loved ones. Living in a pandemic for more than a year has been hard, and a vacation can be a much-needed mental health break from the stress of work and school.

“We’ve seen an increase in anxiety and depression in children, and it’s not hard to understand why,” Dr. Gowan explains. “Parents are feeling anxious. They’re staying home and not able to be with peers. This was going to happen, right?”

With vaccinations becoming increasingly available, adults can get out and do a lot more. However, families with children under 12 need to take extra precautions, since that age group can’t get vaccinated yet. However, Dr. Gowan says, with some planning, a summer vacation can still be an option.

“I hope that families are able to experience some trips this summer, and do so in a way that makes them comfortable and safe,” she says. “We’re finally seeing some consistent positive news that will allow parents and kids to venture out again and enjoy some time together.”

She recommends keeping plans as flexible as possible in case the pandemic situation changes. “Things have changed rapidly since the beginning of the pandemic,” she says. “This is a very liquid situation, and what I tell you today could be very different from what I’m going to tell you in a few weeks.”

Make sure you’re aware of any travel restrictions at your destination. Additionally, research activities, lodging, and meal options in advance. And if you don’t feel comfortable with how a business is handling COVID precautions or cleanliness, “don’t be afraid to speak up,” Dr. Gowan emphasizes. “Don’t stay in an uncomfortable situation.”

You should also consider the ages of your children. Teens may be vaccinated, but younger kids are more vulnerable and may struggle with not touching public surfaces or wearing a mask for an extended period of time, such as on a long flight. “The younger the child, the less likely they are to wear masks or respect social distancing,” says Dr. Gowan. “You have to look at your family independently and ask, how consistent are my kids with following guidelines?”

When it comes to kids and masks, Dr. Gowan says, “the best mask is the one that is going to stay on your face. If you put a double mask on a kid but they are constantly messing with it and touching surfaces and then touching it, that’s not going to help you.”

When planning your trip, consider how crowded your destination will be. Dr. Gowan advises avoiding crowds as much as possible. Keep meals and activities outdoors when you can, to limit time spent indoors and in communal spaces. And don’t forget to have everyone wash their hands frequently. “The proximity to others is what’s going to really increase your risk of coming into contact with COVID,” she says.

Hygiene is especially important when traveling. On top of handwashing, try to keep surfaces that your family will touch often, like hotel doorknobs and airplane seat trays, clean. “I would carry my disinfecting wipes and wipe down wherever I’m going to be sitting, try to find a seat near some kind of ventilation, and minimize movement throughout the journey.”

For kids who are old enough to understand, you can talk about some of the ways to be careful during a trip. Dr. Gowan suggests keeping the conversation relaxed so that it doesn’t make them feel scared. “You can explain that some people wear masks and some people don’t,” she says. “It shouldn’t be, ‘You’re going to get sick if you don’t do this.’ We don’t want to make it a fearful situation, but you just want to gently explain, ‘This is our family’s decision.’”

And if you don’t feel ready for a family trip, that is OK. Dr. Gowan stresses that the priority should be having time together to connect as a family. It doesn’t have to be an exotic location or theme park; camping in the backyard or living room counts, too!

“The important thing to me is that families find ways to bond and get time away from school and work where they can be together,” Dr. Gowan says. “Find that quality time, whatever that is. I don’t think it necessarily requires travel, but if you can, and you can do it in a way that you’re comfortable, I think it allows a nice reprieve for families.”


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