Toddlers, Tummy Bugs and Travel

After months of planning and packing for a holiday, the last thing you want is for someone to fall sick. But when your inquisitive little toddler is exploring the world by sticking everything into their mouth, it can be difficult to avoid nasty germs. Our little one caught a tummy bug while we were on holiday in Penang. He got a bit too excited while swimming and ended up swallowing a few mouthfuls of pool water, leading to a bout of gastroenteritis. It can be quite daunting caring for a sick child while away from home. Read on to find some tips for looking after a sick toddler while travelling.

What is gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis (‘gastro’) is a bowel infection which causes diarrhoea (runny, watery poo). Other symptoms may include vomiting, fever and stomach pain. Vomiting and fever generally occur for the first 24 to 48 hours, whereas diarrhoea may persist for a week. In most cases gastro is caused by a virus, but occasionally it can be due to a bacterial infection. No specific treatment is recommended to stop diarrhoea in children – it should generally resolve within a few days. The most important thing is to ensure your child has a good fluid intake, to minimise the risk of dehydration.

Signs of dehydration in toddlers

Frequent vomiting or diarrhoea may lead to dehydration in young children.

Signs to watch out for include:

  • Dry nappies; or nappies that are dark-yellow and concentrated (if still in nappies)
  • More than six hours without needing to wee; or dark-yellow concentrated wee (if toilet-trained)
  • No tears while crying
  • Lethargy or low energy levels
  • Dry, cracked lips
  • Sunken eyes
  • Excessive sleepiness
Caring for a sick toddler

It is important for your child to keep their fluids up, in order to replace fluid lost from vomiting and diarrhoea.

Infant feeding

If you are breastfeeding, continue to do this but feed more often. You can also give an oral rehydration solution (such as Hydralyte™) to further increase fluid intake (available at pharmacies).

If you are bottle feeding, give formula in small amounts more frequently. You can further increase fluid intake by offering oral rehydration solution.

Clear fluids

Offer small amounts of clear fluids (such as water or oral rehydration solution) regularly. Use a spoon or a syringe to help get it in, and aim for a few mouthfuls every 15 minutes. It is better to give a small amount that your child can keep down, rather than a large amount too quickly that leads to more vomiting.

Oral rehydration solution is the best option for your child if dehydrated, as it replaces fluids and lost electrolytes. For mild gastro, diluted fruit juice or diluted cordial may also help to increase fluid intake. Take care to avoid sports drinks, carbonated drinks, undiluted cordial and undiluted juice – as these contain high levels of sugar and can make your little one more ill.


Your child may lose their appetite while they are feeling unwell. Once they are feeling a bit better, give them the food they feel like eating.

Stop the spread of germs

A child with gastroenteritis is contagious, so it is important to stop the spread of germs. Ensure that everyone is thoroughly washing their hands – especially before meals and after a nappy change. If you usually use cloth nappies, consider using disposable nappies to reduce the risk of infection. Thoroughly wash any soiled items of clothing separately. Avoid sharing food and drinks to minimise germs passing between family members.

When to see a doctor

Ensure that you seek medical attention for your child:

  • If you are concerned that your child seems unwell and is not getting better
  • If your child has lots of diarrhoea (8 to 10 watery motions a day) or the diarrhoea continues for more than a week
  • If your child is not drinking anything, but is still vomiting or having diarrhoea
  • If your child is vomiting frequently and not keeping down any fluids
  • If you think your child is dehydrated
  • If there is any blood in the bowel motions or the vomit is green

Remember that dehydration in young children is dangerous, so it is better to get them seen by a doctor if you are unsure.

Holiday-specific tips

Our little one still enjoyed his holiday, despite being sick at the end. Here are a few things to keep in mind while on holidays with a sick toddler:

  • Keep your sick child away from other children if possible – this means no Kids Club for the duration of the illness
  • Avoid taking your sick child in the swimming pool, in order to prevent the spread of the infection. We would take our little one to the beach each day and let him play in the sand, so he still had fun
  • Minimise sightseeing and day trips if possible, so that your little one can rest up. We preferred to just enjoy spending time in the resort so that we could manage a nappy emergency if it occurred
  • Ask the Concierge for details of a medical clinic. The Shangri La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa Penang had a medical clinic onsite, as well as a doctor’s surgery and pharmacy across the road, which we used
  • Ask Housekeeping for lots of extra towels – they always come in handy with a sick baby
  • Give your little one extra cuddles and ensure they get lots of opportunities to rest
  • Paracetamol (ie. Panadol®) can help relieve any associated fever or pain while still being gentle on the stomach
  • Don’t try new foods while your child is sick. Stick to foods that they have had before
Create a travel first-aid kit

As a pharmacist, I always travel with a bunch of pharmacy essentials that make up a mini first-aid kit. I take enough to last a few days, which gives me enough time to find a pharmacy overseas and stock up if needed.

Here are the contents of my travel first-aid kit:

  • Sunscreen (we all use the Baby sunscreen so we don’t have to travel with multiple bottles)
  • Insect repellent
  • Oral rehydration salts such as Hydralyte™ (I take the effervescent tablets as it comes in a compact cylinder)
  • Nappy rash cream
  • Band-aids
  • Paw Paw Ointment (multipurpose – it can be used as an antiseptic, to relieve sunburn, for nappy rash, insect bites, the list goes on…)
  • Pain relief (tablets for adults; liquid for toddler)
  • Antidiarrhoeal tablets (for adults)
  • Antihistamine tablets (for adults)
  • Motion sickness tablets (for adults)
  • Throat lozengers (for adults)
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Tweezers
  • Washing powder

Wishing you all safe and healthy travels xx

*The content above is general information that helped us while our young child was ill. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek the advice of your physician if required.