Zika, West Nile, and Dengue—oh, my! These mosquito-borne illnesses are especially on the minds of family travelers these days. Before grabbing any traditional repellent in your pre-trip shopping frenzy, be aware that different insect repellents contain differing concentrations of DEET—ranging from only 4% up to a whopping 100%. Children should only use formulations created with them in mind (click here for suggestions).
Travelers with babies and toddlers should also note that the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under 2 years should have DEET-containing repellents applied no more than once per 24 hours, and they should not be applied at all to babies younger than 2 months (for more tips to help prevent mosquito bites and address many other health concerns during travel with babies and toddlers, see chapter 8 of Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler).
Whether you are trying to avoid using traditional DEET-containing repellents or are looking for additional measures to help avoid mosquito bites in addition to them, here are ten ways to make yourselves much less attractive to mosquitoes—and less likely to encounter them.
ONE > Avoid using scented shampoos or lotions on your child or yourself because sweet fragrances attract mosquitoes.
TWO > Dress yourself and your child in light, plain-colored attire as bright colors attract mosquitoes—and some wasps. (Also keep this in mind as you choose toys and gear to bring along.)
THREE > Use a soybean oil–based or other naturally derived mosquito repellent, such as Bite Blocker or Buzz Away Extreme, which have been proven very effective in repelling mosquitoes as well as ticks and some other annoying insects. In addition to the spray, I like to keep some of these individually wrapped Buzz Away Extreme towelettes tucked in to my day pack and camera bag for sudden ‘skito surprises.
FOUR > Find out which time of year, or season, mosquitoes are least problematic at your destination and try to visit at that time. For example, is late summer best because the creek has dried up, or is it worse, because the creek has partially dried, leaving standing pools of water?
FIVE > Buy clothing with built-in insect repellent that is safe to skin and can survive a lifetime of trips through the washing machine (or create your own—see next tip). You can find Insect Shield clothing available in baby-sized leggings, parent-sized shirts, sun hats, and more from several outdoor brands. Most Insect Shield clothing will remain effective through 70 washings. We’ve found it very helpful to have lightweight, quick-dry long sleeve Insect Shield shirts that can be pulled on easily in any temperature and even over bathing suits when needed, like this:
SIX > When camping, try to choose a site as far away from still or slow-moving bodies of water as possible. You’ll have far fewer mosquitoes in your camp, making it much more pleasant to enjoy that campfire.
SEVEN > In severe mosquito zones, look for air-conditioned accommodations where mosquitoes are less likely to penetrate your sleeping quarters. If it isn’t clearly stated, ask to confirm.
EIGHT > Where air conditioning is not available but mosquitoes are abundant, ask and confirm with hotels whether there are bed nets for guests.
NINE > Have the entire family take cool showers or baths after a hot afternoon. Since mosquitoes can be drawn to skin’s heat, scent, and perspiration, you’ll be much less enticing when they come out at dusk.
TEN > Treat exteriors of gear, tent, jackets, hats, and more with permethrin, which can provide additional insect repellent from items near you and your family. Permethrin repels mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects, is the active ingredient used in Insect Shield clothing, and is used to treat bed nets in malaria-risk zones (it is also used in lice shampoos for kids and flea dips for dogs). Unlike repellents used on skin, it will remain effective through your entire trip provided you don’t send treated garments on more than six trips through the washing machine (if so, consider Insect Shield clothing, which can remain effective through seventy washings). Always apply permethrin in advance of your trip, outdoors, with great care and in accordance with the instructions.
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