At least two and half million Americans board a plane each day. Many of them are headed off to a warm, sunny place to lounge on the beach and get some much need R&R. Unfortunately, some will experience a much less pleasant side effect of going on vacation… getting sick.
Between jet lag, recycled air on the plane, alcohol, and a questionable diet, traveling can seriously compromise your immune system and ruin your trip in a hurry. Sure, you should be religious about washing your hands, but there’s only so much that soapy water can do. If you’ve got a trip coming up, these are the top ways to avoid getting sick while traveling.
Why You’re More Likely to Get Sick When You Travel
You might think taking a vacation would strengthen your immune system and keep you from getting sick, but it seems to be just the opposite. Here’s why you’re actually more likely to get sick when you travel:
Lots of people mean lots of germs, especially in enclosed areas. When you are in hotels, airplanes, and airports your exposure to bad microbes goes through the roof.
Travel often comes with a variety of stressors, including lost sleep, changing time zones, and the mental anxiety of flying and traveling in general. Stress is one of the fastest ways to weaken the immune system.
If the area you’re traveling to has inadequate sanitation, you may be exposed to pathogens that could make you sick.
How to Avoid Getting Sick When Traveling
While you can’t control everything, there are many things you can control. Sure, staying hydrated and washing your hands are both important, but there are several other things you can do to stay healthy on vacation.
1. Plan Ahead for Changes in Time-Zone
Jet lag can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. Getting high-quality sleep is essential for keeping your immune system strong. If you’ll be traveling to a different time-zone you should plan ahead for it before you ever leave home.
Begin acclimating your body and sleep patterns to the new time zone while you’re still at home. To accomplish this, you’ll need to start going to be 30 minutes before or after your normal bedtime each day leading up to your departure date, depending on which way the time will change.
For example, if you are headed east by three time-zones, you will need to start going to bed 30 minutes earlier each day for six days before you leave. By the time you leave for your trip, you’ll be hitting the hay three hours earlier than you normally would at home. If math isn’t your thing, just use an app like Timeshifter to figure out when you need to start preparing.
2. Acclimate Your Body to the New Time Zone
If you are still struggling with jet lag when you reach your destination, there are some additional things you can do to help your body adjust faster. Head outdoors first thing in the morning and get some sun. Exposure to sunlight resets your circadian rhythm and gives your immune system a boost at the same time.
Be sure to stay clear of caffeine after 2 PM so you don’t have issues falling asleep in your new time zone. You can also try a melatonin supplement about an hour before bedtime to help you fall asleep easier. The sooner your body adjusts to its new sleep pattern the better for your immune system.
3. Limit Your Exposure to Germs on the Plane
There’s nothing you can do about the recycled air on the plane, but you can limit your exposure to germs in other ways. As soon as you arrive at your seat, wipe down the arms, seat belt clip, buttons, remote, and any other hard surfaces with a sanitizing wipe. Then toss it out and use a fresh one for your hands.
4. Give Your Hotel Room an Overhaul
Never rely on hotel maids to sanitize your room between guests. Some of them do a great job, but others not so much. Be smart and give your room an overhaul as soon as you check in to get rid of any lingering germs. Start by wiping down all hard surfaces with some disinfectant wipes. Pay special attention to doorknobs, light switches, remote controls, dresser drawer handles, and any other surface that has likely been touched by other people.
When it comes to the bathroom, be sure to wipe down the faucet handles on the sink and tub, the toilet handle, light switch, and the countertop. If there are drinking glasses on the counter, wash them yourself before you use them.
There’s not much you can do sanitize the bed and hotels don’t always wash the comforters between guests, so your best bet is to take the comforter off. If there’s no spare blanket in the room, call down to the front desk and ask for one. You might also want to bring pillowcases from home so you can change those as well. They won’t take up much room in your suitcase and hotel maids are notorious for not bothering to change the pillowcases between guests.
5. Take Your Vitamins and Supplements
While you should always try to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet it’s almost impossible to fulfill all of your nutritional requirements through diet alone. Sticking to a healthy diet while traveling is especially difficult. A high-quality multivitamin can fill in the nutritional gaps to keep your immune system strong. Certain herbal and medicinal mushroom supplements can also be very helpful.
Here’s are some supplements that are especially helpful for the immune system:
Vitamins A, C, and D
Maitake, Shiitake, and Reishi Mushrooms
Don’t wait until you’re already at your destination to start taking your immune-boosting supplements. Start taking them at least 10 days before your trip to give them time to work. Taking a multivitamin every day is important at any time, not just when you’re traveling.
6. Drink Bottled Water
If you have any doubts about the quality of the water at your destination, play it safe and stick to bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Even if the locals don’t have any trouble with it, you may not have the right bacteria in your stomach to keep you from getting sick. Be sure to skip the ice in your drinks, too.
Coming down with a bug while you’re on vacation can ruin your trip and leave you feeling under the weather when you get home. Following these six easy tips will help you stay healthy on your trip so you come home feeling relaxed and refreshed.