Tips for keeping your kids healthy

First published on 13th July, 2009

Some people may be horrified that you're taking your children to Southeast Asia, where the air can be choking, kitchen hygiene appalling and medical care shoddy. But it isn't all pollution, dirt and dodgy pills -- really. Southeast Asia is in general an extremely child-friendly place to visit, and most families have completely successful, healthy trips. Read on for some tips for ensuring your family holiday is a healthy one.

Get the right vaccinations ahead of your trip

Ensure that your kids' standard vaccinations are up-to-date and make sure any additional ones required for Southeast Asia are taken as well. Be warned that outbreaks of childhood diseases typically no longer seen in the West happen in the region frequently, such as measles, chicken pox and mumps.

Get health insurance

This should be a no-brainer. Outpatient care in most of Southeast Asia is not overly pricey, but if you have a serious accident, you'll want the best care available or an evacuation to somewhere you can get top notch treatment, and that's when you'll be very relieved you took out insurance. Also, if you have insurance, you won't um and ah about whether to take a slightly sick child to a doctor – you'll just go.

Use hand sanitisers

These are completely overused in the West, but can come in, well, very handy in Southeast Asia when you might suddenly find yourselves needing to eat with nary a wash basin and squirt of soap in sight. If your kids turn their nose up at washing their hands at a particularly grubby bathroom they can be a godsend as well. You may also want to carry your own liquid soap. Paper money in mostly coinless countries like Cambodia and Laos can be frighteningly filthy. Make sure both you and your kids wash your hands after touching notes and coins, anywhere.

Eat healthy

Making sure your kids get their daily dose of fruit and veg should be easy in Southeast Asia. Tropical fruits are sweet, colourful and delicious, and if you can't get them from a street vendor or don't want to risk someone else peeling the fruit for you, you can always stock up from a local market (which can be a fascinating excursion in itself). Stir-fried veggies are a pretty standard dish and are usually an appetising mix.

Take vitamins

Though it is easy to get fruit and veg, other foods on the road may be so unfamiliar that fussy eaters might freak out. To play it safe, if your kids are old enough give them a daily multivitamin to make sure their bodies stay as fighting fit as possible while on your trip. (It can't hurt to pack some familiar healthy foods as well.)

Consider anti-nausea medication

If your child gets car sick, they will probably get plane/train/bus sick as well. Have a chat with your doctor ahead of your trip to see what medication might be suitable for your kids and stock up ahead of leaving. The reckless standard of driving -- especially in the northern mountainous regions of Vietnam and Laos can unhinge even the most hardened stomach.

Peel it, boil it, or leave it

This is the golden mantra for travelling and eating, really. Watch out for raw fruit and veggies in salads -- and as garnishes -- though remember, at more upmarket places, fruit and veggies should have been washed in clean water. Don't be afraid to ask. Ditto for ice: At street stalls, don't touch it, but at more upmarket restaurants, it will be made with purified ice. If you want to play it safe though, stick with the peel and boil rule. If the ice has a hole through it it is generally safe to assume it has been made from purified water.

Watch your drinking water

Don't drink the water – don't even brush your teeth in it, as you and your kids are not used to even the relatively harmless bugs in the water. Without wanting to be overly alarmist, if you're drinking water from plastic bottles you need to be sure the bottles have not been refilled by someone trying to make an extra buck. Also, consider the number of plastic bottles a family will leave behind over the course of just a few weeks away. Consider taking something like the Steripen, which means you can safely drink water from your hotel tap.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

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