Whether you’re taking a trip to see family or jet-setting for a vacation, here’s how to avoid getting sick during holiday travel.
According to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, nearly 47 percent of Americans will hit the roads and take to the skies this holiday season. But all that holiday travel often invites unwelcome guests: sniffles, sneezes, even Covid and the flu.
If you seem to always get sick during or after you travel, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s so common that doctors refer to illness after a trip as “leisure sickness”.
There are a few factors that contribute to an increased susceptibility to colds, the flu, and Covid due to travel:
- Cold winter air dries out nasal passages, making it easier for viruses to break through and attack the immune system.
- The same goes for airplanes, which have dry, low-humidity air.
- Public transport is, to put it simply, filthy. It also puts you in contact with large crowds of people, which puts you at greater exposure to allergens and germs.
- Dehydration. We tend to drink less water when we’re en route from one destination to another. And most people drink more alcohol during holidays and vacations than they normally do. The combination leads to dehydration and greater susceptibility to illness.
- Stress and exhaustion. When we’re stressed or over-exhausted, we’re more likely to experience sleeplessness. Missing even a few hours of shuteye can affect your well-being and suppress your immune system.
We can all agree, nothing ruins a trip faster than the flu or even a cold, especially during the holiday season. But with the right approach and a few tips and tricks, it is possible to stay well during the busiest travel time of the year. Here’s how.
It’s easy to get hung up — and stressed out — about the uncertainties that come with holiday travel. We’ll never be able to control whether a flight gets delayed or there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic, but there are things we don’t have to leave to chance. In short, plan ahead.
Make a checklist of what you need and pack a few days prior to your trip to alleviate unnecessary stress. This will also ensure you don’t end up at the airport or hours into your trip before realizing you don’t have a passport or ID. If your plan is to fly, ask a friend to drive you to the airport so you don’t have to rely on an Uber — especially if you need to leave in the early hours of the morning.
And pack a wellness bag to support your health while you’re on the plane or train. Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, a face mask, and anti-nausea medicine are a good place to start.
In addition to dehydration, a change in weather can also throw your immune system out of whack. Luckily, there are natural ways you can strengthen your body’s defenses. Load up on fresh fruits and veggies to ensure your body has the essential nutrients it needs. Pack immune-boosting tea — ginger and turmeric are solid choices — and a small jar of raw honey to mix with a cup of hot water in-flight or once you reach your destination. Honey is a known anti-inflammatory which helps regulate your immune system.
Bringing along supplements like vitamin D, C, and zinc — antioxidants that support the body’s immune response — is also a good rule of thumb.
Read more: How to Naturally Boost Your Immune System
We can’t stress this enough. Staying hydrated is key to supporting your immune system before, during, and after holiday travel. Instead of relying on the flight attendant or your first pit stop at a convenience store for your first sip of water, bring a reusable water bottle with you. If you’re flying, fill up after you’ve cleared security. If you’re driving, leave the house with a full water bottle and re-up when you stop for gas or snacks. Not only will this ensure you’re hydrated during your travels, you’ll reduce your carbon footprint by keeping your plastic usage to a minimum.
And keep that water bottle handy throughout your trip, too — proper hydration can help offset the effects of jet lag.
Holiday travel — and attempting to see multiple family members during a short trip — is stressful. And when more stress means less sleep. Good sleep, however, is essential to staying well.
During your time away, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. It’s hard, but worth it. This gets your body into a rhythm and supports more restful sleep — along with a healthier immune system. Laying off the booze a few hours before bedtime will also allow you to drift off more easily and avoid tossing and turning.
Can’t sleep? Resist the urge to scroll on a device. Blue light from cellphones and computers can actually trick your body into thinking it’s daytime and cause unnecessary strain on your eyes. Instead, try to relax with your eyes closed and take deep breaths. The simple act of resting supports your immune system, which is especially important for those anticipatory nights before early morning travel times.
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Read more: How Alcohol Affects Sleep
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