As a former flight attendant, I spent A LOT of time in the air, and on the road, so I learned a fair amount about staying healthy when traveling! While there are probably a ga-jillion ways to stay healthy, and there’s no guarantee that you won’t ever get sick on the road, here are my top 10 tips for staying healthy when you travel.
1. Drink Water:
Water helps you stay hydrated (duh), especially when you fly. The air at 35,000 is very dry at around 10% humidity. That low cabin humidity and high elevation contributes to your chances of getting the dreaded “airplane cold”. Hydrating will help reduce your chances of getting sick as well as reducing the chances of leg cramping caused by dehydration. And apparently, studies have shown that drinking a little bit through the whole flight is better than chugging a lot before you get on the plane. To that end, you may want to bring a collapsible water bottle. It won’t take up much room and you can fill it at the airport. And, no need to dehydrate yourself further by drinking coffee, tea or a few cocktails inflight.
2. Don’t Overindulge in Alcohol or Caffeine:
I’m not saying don’t have a cocktail, I’m just advocating not overdoing it. Who needs a hangover the next day? As for caffeine, I’m guilty of overdoing it. Both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, which means that they make the body produce an increased amount of urine. Any substance that has diuretic effects can cause dehydration. See number 1!
And if you’re at altitude, the effects of overindulging in alcohol and caffeine can be worse. While recent studies have found that higher altitude can impair some abilities, it doesn't make alcohol more potent., i.e., you don’t get drunker faster at altitude; however, alcohol dehydrates you and drinking too little water can quickly lead to dehydration, especially at high altitudes (where humidity and oxygen levels are both lower), which is defined by the Society for Mountain Medicine as elevations between 5,000 feet and 11,500 feet. The same basic concept goes for caffeine – it can dehydrate you quicker at altitude. Since humidity is lower at higher altitudes, when you perspire, that perspiration evaporates quicker and you might not even realize that you’re losing water which then leads to not drinking enough and ultimately getting dehydrated. Again, see number 1!
3. Use a nasal saline spray:
Get a dry nose when you fly? Try a saline spray. You can buy them over the counter and they have the same concentration of saline that you have in your own body. I use one every day because it not only helps keep my nose moist, but it helps clear out the mucus in my nose (I know it sounds gross, but I think it works).
So why do some people end end up with sinus infections from the “airplane air”? You know what I’m talkin’ about - the stale, dry air that’s chock full of bacteria, along with the “bonus” low humidity - it all messes with your sinuses. If you’re like me - a sinus infection just waiting to happen - you’ve already got one by the time you land. That's why, for me, using a nasal saline spray has helped me keep stay healthy. Of course, you should check with your doctor before using anything.
4. Eat Healthy:
I never pass up a good croissant or fail to indulge in a my favorite flavor of gelato when I’m on the road, but I also try to eat mostly healthy. If you’re eating poorly, you’re more susceptible to getting sick. You may want to eat a bit more protein when you travel than you normally would. Protein helps you fight infection and rebuilds muscles. And while carbs are delish, they’re not gonna cut it for staying healthy.
5. Be Careful About What You Eat (i.e., Food Safety):
When I travel, I’m more cautious about my selection of food in general. Food isn’t necessarily “safer” whether you’re at home or away, but getting sick on vacation stinks. While I eat fruits and veggies while I’m traveling, my rule is, if I can peel a fruit, I’ll probably eat it. With veggies, I typically, make sure they’re cooked.
As for other examples, I’m not a fan of mayonnaise generally, but I especially avoid it on buffets and/or if a mayo-laiden dish has been sitting out. Same with cold cuts. I don’t eat them at all, but for those of you who do, they can be real petri dishes. Just sayin’...
I love seafood, but I almost never eat raw seafood, and definitely not when I’m traveling. Raw shellfish is a well known source of norovirus. Norovirus is also spread, well, by uh…poop. Okay, there I said it. Hand-washed dishes are especially likely to carry the virus, so even if you’re diligent about washing your hands, that doesn’t mean the plate you’re eating off of doesn’t have dangerous bacteria and viruses.
Unpasteurized dairy products can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses. I don’t always follow this, but I probably should.
6. Take Your Meds (if you’re on any):
This doesn’t really need an explanation, I just thought I should put it out there. What about vitamins? I take them everyday, so I make sure to take them when I travel, too. I don't know if it helps, but it can't hurt.
7. Get Some Rest!
Did you know you need 7-8 hours of sleep a night to stay healthy? If you’re like me, some days, I don’t even get that in two nights! Even if you want to “go, go, go”, try to get some shut eye. Sleep deprivation weakens your immune system and that makes you susceptible to getting a cold or the flu. Science has linked a lack of sleep to everything from diabetes to memory problems, but since this post is about staying healthy when you’re traveling, I’m gonna stick to that. And get some shut eye, will ya?
8. Wash It Off!
Wash your hands, wipe off the hotel remote, light switches, door knobs etc. Wash your hands when you come in after you’ve ridden on public transportation or when you’ve touched a railing. Yes, I am a slight germophobe (my nephew gave me a giftpack of hand sanitizers for Christmas one year), but I attribute my germophobic routines, in part, as the reason for not getting colds very often.
What about hand sanitizers? Of course, they help, but they only get rid of some germs, like bacteria. And, hand sanitizers don’t work if your hands are visibly dirty. Plus, you’ve still got viruses to deal with. And since most viruses are spread via the air, washing your hands probably won't help from that perspective. Even though good ol’ soap and water helps, but according to a 2007 Harvard Health Publishing study,
“soap and water don't kill germs; they work by mechanically removing them from your hands. Running water by itself does a pretty good job of germ removal, but soap increases the overall effectiveness by pulling unwanted material off the skin and into the water. In fact, if your hands are visibly dirty or have food on them, soap and water are more effective than the alcohol-based "hand sanitizers" because the proteins and fats in food tend to reduce alcohol's germ-killing power. This is one of the main reasons soap and water is still favored in the food industry.”
So how long should you wash your hands? Again, according to Harvard, about 15 seconds, is the right amount of time, or about the time it takes to sing a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You”. That oughta kill about 90% of bacteria. A more recent article from 2017 from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says 20 seconds. In the end, its only 5 more seconds out of your life…
9. Get Some Exercise:
If you wanna go for a run on your vacay, go for it! But walking is exercise, too! We try to walk just about everywhere when we travel. And we also like to ride bicycles. And cycling doesn’t mean you don’t have to do a stage in the Tour de France. You can rent bicycles for an hour or two, even take a bicycle tour. It’s a different way to see a place AND get some exercise. Besides, doesn’t getting some fresh air just make you feel better?
And get some exercise even when you’re on the plane. Sitting is bad for you anyway, but especially on the plane, when Deep Vein Thrombosis (“DVT”) can be a health threat. One way to avoid DVT is to take a short stroll. Just make sure the fasten seat belt sign is off and that you’re not interfering with flight crew duties. I also do things like flexing my ankles when I’m sitting.
10. Don’t Stress Out:
I could probably take my own advice. Stress does ugly things to your body and what you don’t need is to be stressed out on a vacation!
Besides causing insomnia (and we know lack of sleep can result in getting sick), stress leads to a weakened immune system (which can lead to getting sick), overeating (which can cause other health issues). Bottom line – you’re on vacation, try to have a great time. If stuff goes wrong, well, you’ll have a great story to tell!
What are some of the ways you stay healthy on a trip? I'd love to hear about them on Facebook or in Traveleidoscope's comment section!