Unfortunately, germs don't seem to understand the concept of taking a vacation. And, health-related problems have a way of flaring up during travel.
Traveling exposes you to viruses and bacteria found when big crowds gather in small spaces. Airports, gas stations, rest stops and many tourist attractions are prime spots for picking up something that could derail the remainder of your trip.
Air travel can make you more likely to get sick
With extremely low cabin humidity at high elevations, the dry air exposure affects mucus, the immune system’s front line of defense. Experts say a moisturizing nasal spray can help combat that low humidity, as well as drinking plenty of water.
Tray table surfaces on airplanes have eight times more bacteria per square inch than the lavatory flush buttons. Other places to watch out for on planes: seatbelt buckles, seat-back pockets, and overhead air vents. Cleaning crews do not necessarily have time between flights to wipe down tray tables, plus crews likely use general cleaners instead of disinfectants.
That said, The International Air Transport Association External Site, who has extensively researched air travel and contagious diseases, says that people traveling by air are no more likely to fall ill than anyone in a confined space, such as movie theaters, classrooms, museums, buses and cruise ships.
However, a 2018 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that passengers sitting in the row directly in front of and behind an ill person had an 80 percent or greater probability of becoming sick External Site.
9 tips to stay healthy during your next trip
Follow these tips for air travel, sight-seeing, and staying well on your trip:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
When we travel, we tend to forget about drinking water. Drinking plenty of water can help offset the dehydrating effects of air travel, including headaches, cramps and fatigue. It can also help your immune system run more smoothly and counteract the effects of dry air.
Amp up the hand washing routine.
Twenty seconds of hot water and soap are still the most effective way to keep hands clean. When you travel and spend time in tight quarters, carry a travel size hand sanitizer (up to 3.4 ounces) with you if you to wash up before meals or snacks.
Disinfect seat-back pockets and tray tables on an airplane.
Carry a travel-size pack of disinfecting wipes to wipe down surfaces on airplanes that are likely not cleaned between flights.
Try not to touch your face often.
Germs can enter through your eyes, nose and mouth.
Be familiar with the area you are traveling.
Check the CDC traveler’s website External Site for destination-specific guidance, recommended vaccines, and health notices. And, be aware of your destination’s tap water situation.
Don’t skimp on sleep when you’re away.
When traveling to different time zones, gradually shift eating, sleeping and activity patterns along with your light exposure.
Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.
Keep your body feeling its best and running smoothly by finding restaurants that serve healthy options.
Too much alcohol harms your immune system’s ability to keep you up and running.
Find ways to get exercise.
Exercise keeps your body running smoothly while you’re away. Find hotels with workout rooms, or work a hike or long walk into your travel plans.
Can supplements boost your immunity while traveling?
Many travelers swear by supplements with high doses of Vitamin C, such as Emergency-C® and Airborne®. However, there is no evidence these supplements prevent colds. If you do decide to use a supplement while traveling, use caution, as they may cause nausea, vomiting, heartburn, stomach cramps, headache and more. Also, before taking any supplement, check to be sure it does not interact with other medications you may be taking.
Are you traveling with a chronic disease? Cover your bases with these extra precautions.