What to Know When Traveling With Kids During the Holidays

Mother putting mask on child in car seat before travel
Pediatricians recommend packing extra masks and hand sanitizer if you have to travel.

Families are longing for a sense of normal, but traveling and gathering for the holidays can be complicated with the Omicron COVID-19 variant spreading. Even with more people getting COVID-19 vaccines and new recommendations regarding booster shots for those 16 and older, there are still young children under the age of 5 who can’t yet be vaccinated.

Nivedita More, MD, a Stanford Medicine Children’s Health pediatrician, advises against any nonessential travel, especially for children who aren’t vaccinated.

“Even if these children are masked, if they’re unvaccinated, there is still that risk that they can get infected during transit, during travel, when they land,” Dr. More says. “All those risks are still present.”

But, if you decide to travel, there are some things you can do to lower your risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends COVID-19 vaccination as it is safe and effective in reducing risk and spread of infection. So, Dr. More says to make sure everyone in your family and the people you’re visiting are vaccinated if they can be. And don’t forget about other seasonal vaccines, like the flu shot.

“We are in the middle of cold and flu season now,” she adds. “Whatever vaccines your child can get to protect against diseases, they should get them before you even travel.”

If anyone is symptomatic in your family or the people you’re visiting, Dr. More says to cancel the trip to be safe. She also points her patients to the CDC’s website to check what the COVID-19 community spread rate looks like at their destination to better assess risk.

Car or plane?

To limit contact with the public, Dr. More encourages people to travel by car, especially if your child is too young to be vaccinated. When taking breaks at a gas station or rest stop, don’t forget to wear masks, use hand sanitizer, and keep your distance from others. You can also pack your own snacks.

If you do fly, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests taking direct flights so you don’t need to walk through another airport to change planes and taking shorter flights if possible.

“If the flight is less than two hours, avoid eating or drinking if possible, so you don’t have to take off your mask,” Dr. More says. “And there’s a whole new side of traveling with babies and infants under two who cannot even be masked. My recommendation for families with children under two is do not travel by air at all.”

Other tips for your trip

Aside from the general infection prevention measures and vaccines, Dr. More has other advice to help your holiday trip go smoothly and safely.

  • Make sure your child has the appropriate car seat or booster seat. Have an adult or older sibling sit in the back with toddlers to easily take care of them.
  • Do not entertain children with screen time while on the road, especially when they’re two years or younger, because it can make them carsick.
  • Prepare children for what to expect on the trip. If flying, walk them through the security process ahead of time.
  • To ease your child’s stress when traveling, try sticking as close as possible to their normal routine, such as sleep schedules and meal times.
  • If renting a vacation home, remember it may not be childproofed. With young children, families are encouraged to bring a playpen to create a safe place for them.

While family traditions may have to be put on hold for a second year, the steps we take will minimize our risk and help us and our loved ones stay safe this holiday season.


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