30 Smart Ways to Avoid Getting Sick When You Travel
Think getting sick when you travel is inevitable? Guess again.
More than 2.5 million passengers board a plane in the United States each and every day. And while many are looking forward to sitting on a beach somewhere getting a sun-kissed glow, countless others will enjoy a less-pleasant vacation side effect: getting sick when you travel.
Between recycled air, questionable meals, and jet lag, travelers often find that their immune systems are down for the count, making their trip miserable in the process. And while hand-washing can help limit some of the germs you encounter on your travels, there's only so much a sink and some soap can do. But just because you've endured sidelining travel sickness before doesn't mean you have to again.
We've rounded up 30 smart ways to avoid getting sick when you travel. So read on, and stay happier and healthier on your next adventure.
Sanitize surfaces—starting on the plane.
While cleaning crews do their best to keep the plane clean, they can't tackle every germ. If you want to avoid getting sick from the germs left behind by other passengers, there's a simple solution: sanitize.
"When traveling, your hands become ‘fomites,' which are items that transfer germs picked up from touching surfaces," says dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, MD, founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care. Her suggestion? "Travel with hand sanitizer wipes! Always wipe down the arms, remote, seat belt clip, and all hard buttons or structures you touch on your seat. Then discard the wipe."
Stay hydrated on the plane.
That stale airplane air can quickly leave a person feeling dehydrated and generally worse for wear. Luckily, eating the right foods can help combat this in no time.
"I suggest eating light and water filled foods, such as a small salad and a piece of fruit, and drinking plenty of water on the plane as the air humidity is much lower than our normal environment, and it's so easy to become dehydrated," says Tara Nayak, ND, a Philadelphia-based naturopathic doctor.
Get your shots.
Before you even book your trip, make sure you're up to date on your shots. If you're traveling to an area where you're at risk for picking up an illness like malaria, you might be prescribed preventative medication, as well. "People should use the CDC website for recommended vaccines with travel or see a travel clinic," recommends Christina Bowen, a board-certified integrative family medicine physician.
If you're going to an area where you have reason to be concerned about the water quality, make sure to order your drinks without ice. Even after freezing, much of the bacteria and other contaminants in the water, including lead, will still remain. "Do not order ice if the water's in question," says Bowen. "And only drink bottled beverages."
Get up periodically throughout your flight.
If you're in for a 10-hour flight before you reach your destination, make sure you get up periodically to stretch your legs.
"It is important to break up long plane rides or long car rides by getting up frequently to move around and stretch. This can help decrease your risk of blood clots. It can also save your back from aching after you've been slouching for hours in the same position in a tiny seat," says Jasmine Marcus, DPT.
Load up on the right vitamins.
Want to reduce your risk of getting sick even before you touch down? The right supplements can help. "I always take a bit of vitamin A and vitamin D before boarding a plane to improve my immune function," says Nayak.
Add some probiotics to your routine.
Though you can't always control the number of illness-causing bacteria in your environment while you travel, you can control how your body responds. "On vacation, I always up my dose of probiotics to make my body less friendly to invading bacteria," says Nayak.
Skip the booze on your flight.
Having a cocktail to ease the stress of your flight may seem appealing, but if you want to avoid getting sick, it's best to abstain. "I advise strongly against drinking alcohol while aboard a plane! I know it's tempting to get your vacation started, but it only contributes to dehydration," says Nayak. Worse yet, alcohol can contribute to jet lag, leaving you sleep-deprived and at greater risk for illness.
Bring some melatonin.
If you're traveling far from home, it's important to do what you can to adjust to the time difference to avoid sleepless nights and a weakened immune system. "Taking melatonin to help with jet lag will make a difference when adjusting to new time zones," says Bowen.
Get plenty of sleep.
While it may be tempting to stay up and explore, getting a good night's rest when you arrive at your destination will reduce your likelihood of getting sick in the long run. Researchers at the University of Washington have discovered a link between sleep deprivation and a suppressed immune system, so make sure to catch those Z's whenever you can.
Stick to your exercise routine.
Think you can skimp on exercise just because you're on vacation? Guess again. Researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign have found that exercise can reduce the likelihood of developing respiratory tract infections and shorten their duration, so make sure you're not skipping the gym.
Bring mosquito netting.
If you're traveling to an area with a high risk of mosquito-borne illness, Bowen recommends that you pack mosquito netting. Not only will this help shield you from potentially-deadly illnesses, knowing you have an extra layer of protection may also improve your sleep.
Add some omega-3s to your routine.
Looking for a meal that will help keep you healthy as you travel? Try adding some fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, or herring, to your menu. Researchers at Kaplan Medical Center's Department of Internal Medicine in Rehovot, Israel, have found that omega-3s can help reduce inappropriate immune responses, in addition to reducing inflammation.
Avoid touching your face.
If you're eager to sidestep viruses while on vacation, treat your face like a priceless work of art and keep those hands off. "Try very hard not to touch surfaces and do NOT put your hands to your eyes, nose or mouth when traveling—that will transfer germs into your ‘portals of entry,' unless you have freshly washed them in trusted water," says Bailey. "Carry facial tissues and use them if you need to rub your eye or touch your nose."
Load up on vitamin-C-rich foods.
The right snack can make all the difference in how healthy you are—and stay—while traveling. Turn to vitamin C-rich foods, like citrus fruit and bell peppers, to keep that immune system going strong. Researchers at the University of Otago in Christchurch, New Zealand, have found that vitamin C not only boosts immune function, helping those who load up on it reduce their risk of becoming ill, but also helps shorten the duration of certain respiratory illnesses.
Keeping your skin covered while you travel can help you avoid serious sunburns that might otherwise sideline you. "Wear protective clothing, like long sleeves and pants that have a breathable material, in hot areas," suggests Bowen.
Swap soda for seltzer.
It's always tempting to grab a sugary drink as a pick-me-up while you're traveling. But sparkling water will serve you better in the long run, especially if you're eating food that's not typically on your menu.
"A nice trick to help digestion while traveling is to have a small glass of room temperature club soda or hot water with lemon about 15 minutes before each meal. This is easily done by ordering one of these beverages first thing when you sit down at a restaurant. By the time your food comes you will have jump started your digestion and be much less prone to heartburn/indigestion, especially if you're indulging in rich foods," says Nayak.
Start taking regular walks before you leave.
Illness isn't the only thing that can leave you down for the count: injuries are just as likely to sideline you during your travels.
"Travelers who know they'll be doing a lot of walking on vacation should train for their trips by gradually increasing their walking before they leave," says Marcus. "This will prevent overuse injuries such as tendonitis."
Keep your lips moisturized.
Lip balm might just be the key to keeping yourself safe and healthy as you travel. "In flight, apply lip balm that you do not dip your fingers into. Airplane air is drying," says Bailey. Dry, cracked lips can leave you open to infection, potentially sidelining you for the rest of your trip.
Load up on electrolytes.
Although sugary sports drinks are never a good choice, adding some electrolytes to your routine can help you avoid illness while you travel.
"I always travel with powdered electrolytes as well and try to have an electrolyte drink at least once a day. My favorite is Alka Calm. This is a no sugar formula that tastes great," says Nayak. "As this contains magnesium, it combats a common travelers concern: constipation."
Skip the cigarettes.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do—except if that means saying yes to the occasional smoke with your glass of wine. While multiple studies confirm that cigarette smoking weakens the immune system, that's not even the half of it. Researchers at Yale University have found that smoking makes cold and flu symptoms worse, as well, meaning that you're not only more likely to get sick while you travel, you're more likely to stay that way, too.
Stock up on SPF clothing.
Keeping yourself safe from sun poisoning while you travel isn't as hard as you might imagine. Bowen recommends protecting yourself by using a good sunscreen and purchasing breathable SPF clothing to avoid sun-related illness and injury.
Clean cans before drinking.
Before you take a sip of that seltzer, make sure you rinse it thoroughly with uncontaminated water and wipe it down. One experiment reveals that everything from mold to staphylococcus can live on the top of cans, so it's important to make sure they're well-cleaned before your mouth makes contact with them.
Increase your fiber intake.
One easy way to keep yourself healthy while you travel? "Get plenty of fiber!" says Nayak. "I recommend eating as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can while on vacation unless you are concerned about contamination! A breakfast of fresh fruit with a bit of protein is best as you will be providing your body with vitamin C and other minerals and nutrients that aid immunity."
Break in your shoes before you go.
It may be appealing to wear a pair of fancy new shoes while you're traveling, but well-loved ones will serve you better in the long run. "The best thing to do is break in new shoes before traveling," says Marcus. "Sometimes shoes seem comfortable in a store or for a short period of time, but if worn all day can leave you with blisters. Avoid surprises on vacation by giving shoes a few test runs before vacation." Not only can those uncomfortable shoes make you feel worse for wear, blisters or other wounds caused by friction on your feet can also make you more susceptible to infection.
Stick to a nutritious diet.
Maintaining good health while you travel starts somewhere surprising: your gut. "Proper nutrition with a focus on good gut health will help our immune systems," says Bowen. Fiber-rich foods, as well as ones rich in probiotics, like yogurt, pickles, and kimchi, will all help feed your healthy gut bacteria, boosting your immune system in the process.
Bring on the B vitamins.
If that single drink you intended to have at the bar turned into a few too many, there's still hope for salvaging your day (and health). "I always travel with an activated B complex supplement. This is my go-to hangover prevention!" says Nayak. "Alcohol depletes these vitamins, so if you're letting loose on a trip, this can help speed up your recovery!"
Ask for help with your bags.
Don't let aches and pains sideline you before you even reach your destination. If you're traveling with heavy bags, get a hand to avoid injuring yourself. "Ask for help with lifting bags if you need it. Don't strain yourself by trying to heave a heavy bag into an overhead compartment," says Marcus.
Travel with tea.
You've got your bathing suit, your passport, and your favorite beach read, but did you pack your tea? If you want to stay healthy on your trip, it might be a good idea to bring a few tea bags along for the ride.
"Bring a few bags of licorice, marshmallow root, or throat coat tea, which has a combination of herbs. These are demulcent teas, meaning they coat and soothe the mucus membranes," says Nayak. "If you do have heartburn or indigestion, or if you have a stomach ache from alcohol, rich foods, etc., these are an easy food remedy to travel with. You can even purchase real licorice chews called DGL chews or real dried licorice root candies for the same effect."
Take some time to relax.
Vacation's all about relaxing, but for many people, travel is a stressful experience in and of itself. Unfortunately, if you find yourself stressed out on your trip, you may be at greater risk for illness.
An analysis of research published in PLOS One reveals that psychological stress negatively affects the human immune system, making you more likely to get sick. If you're on edge, try going for a walk, meditating, or just curling up with a good book and you may help mitigate the immune system-depleting effects of stress. It's easy to get sick on the road, especially with these 9 Germs You Encounter When You Travel.