This article was last updated on June 11, 2020.
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.
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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 flying, 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.
Avoid close contact with others and wear a cloth face covering.
If you're traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a face covering External Site to limit the spread of the virus from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs. The CDC also suggests putting at least six feet between yourself and other people outside your home.
Try not to touch your face.
It's common for people to touch their faces External Site dozens of times per day. However, even when you're diligent about washing your hands often, germs can enter through your eyes, nose and mouth. To prevent touching your face, keep your hands occupied by holding something like a tissue. You can also use scented hand sanitizer, lotion or soap to remind yourself to keep your hands away from your face.
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.
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. You can also reference health profiles for destinations all around the world External Site, provided by GeoBlue®. You don't need to purchase a travel health insurance plan through GeoBlue to use the online tool.
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 fruits and vegetables and limit alcohol.
Keep your body feeling its best and running smoothly by finding restaurants that serve healthy options. It's also helpful to always keep healthy travel snacks on-hand, like this trail mix or these protein-packed dark chocolate cherry no-bake bites. While traveling, it might be tempting to have that extra alcoholic beverage. However, too much alcohol harms your immune system’s ability to keep you up and running, and it can disrupt sleep patterns.
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 help your immunity while flying?
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.