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How to Stay Well During Holiday Travel

Dec. 9, 2019It’s estimated that nearly 55 million Americans will hit the roads and take to the skies this holiday season, traveling near and far to friends and family — will you be one of them?



While some holiday travel can’t be avoided, for many of us, the trip to grandma’s house — or any other holiday destination — is more than simply driving to the next town over. It requires, planes, trains, and automobiles. And with all that holiday travel often come some most unwelcome holiday guests: sniffles and sneezes. If you always seem to get sick during travel, you’re not alone. Many people experience illness around trips due to a few factors: dry, recycled airplane air or stuffy car conditions, stress, interrupted sleep patterns, and exposure to large groups of people, to name just a few contributing factors. We can all agree, nothing ruins a trip faster than the flu or even a cold, especially during the holiday season. The problem is, the added stress and pressure this time of year can actually exacerbate our susceptibility to viruses and bugs — making us more likely to fall ill. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the actual cold weather that makes us sick, but winter conditions, and the conditions of airplanes and public transit, that can be breeding grounds for wintertime illness. 

Why do we get sick so easily during winter travel? A few reasons:

  • Cold winter air dries out nasal passages, making it easier for viruses to break through and attack the immune system
  • Airplanes, trains, and other forms of public transit use recycled air that can transfer viruses more easily through the air. This, combined with dry nasal passages can pass a virus from your sniffly seatmate to you very quickly.
  • Cabin pressure coupled with recycled air can be a recipe for dehydration, and dehydration leads to — you guessed it — greater susceptibility to illness.
  • Public transport is, to put it simply, filthy. If you think your seat and tray table were wiped down between the man from Albuquerque with the flu and YOU — think again. 
  • Stress. When we’re stressed, we’re more likely to experience sleeplessness and studies have found that missing even a few hours of shuteye can affect our well-being.

But it’s not just your immune system that requires extra care during the holiday travel season — our mental health needs support this time of year as well. Between family expectations, delayed flights, and traffic jams, the season of giving can often leave you feeling depleted, depressed, and worn out — and that’s no way to close out the year. 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!

Plan ahead

What if your flight gets delayed? What if there’s traffic? What if? What if? It’s easy to get hung up, and stressed out, about the “What if’s” that come with holiday travel. So instead of leaving things up to chance, plan ahead. While we can’t plan for everything, having a go-to plan B can make those unexpected twists and turns a little less stressful. Big snowstorm on the day you’re meant to travel? Stay in and get cozy — and maybe plan a Skype date with the family you’re meant to be with — or go sledding! By planning for the possible bumps along the way, you’re not only easing stress for yourself and others, but building in enjoyment too. It’s easy to get stressed when things don’t go to plan, but that doesn’t mean the day has to be ruined.

Manage stress

Along with planning ahead, managing stress is key to supporting mental and physical well-being during the holidays — and all year ‘round. Studies have found the correlation between high-stress and health, but even with that knowledge, it’s easy to allow busy schedules and holiday commitments to get the better of us. When our calendars fill up, often the first things to go are the rituals and practices that support us. Whether you run to relieve stress, do yoga, meditate — even just making that morning cup of coffee and sipping it slowly while perusing the paper — those rituals are important not just for consistency, but for well-being. Before you talk yourself out of getting outdoors or skipping your favorite yoga class, take a breath and see if there’s perhaps something else that can be moved or declined (remember, you don’t have to do everything!). And if you’re on the road, find some time to get outdoors and get some fresh air, whether it’s a light stroll after a big holiday meal or seeking out a yoga class close to where you’re staying. The holidays don’t have to be all-encompassing. Remember to take time for YOU.

Set boundaries

For many, managing the expectations of family can be one of the toughest and most stress-inducing aspects of the holiday season. This can be especially true for those who visit more than one house on the same day. But is it really necessary to see everyone all on the same day? Instead of house-hopping and exhausting yourself, ask yourself what your ideal holiday season would look like. Is it spent curled up at home with a movie? On the slopes enjoying the outdoors? Maybe your ideal holiday is spent driving from house to house. However you envision your ideal holiday season, remember that it’s OK to change things up, and strong communication and boundaries can make a world of difference in setting expectations. If you want to take your holidays in a different direction, start the conversation early and have it often with the key players. Reaching a compromise may take some time, but in the end, it can make everyone’s holiday a little less stressful.

Pack supplies

If you’re planning for any amount of air travel this holiday season, germs are likely a top concern. Instead of leaving things up to chance, plan ahead and pack a wellness bag to support your health while you fly. Pack an empty water bottle to fill once you’re through security to stay hydrated, a few vitamin C tabs, tissues, antibacterial hand lotion or gel, a few essential oil disinfectant wipes to wipe down the seat and tray table before you take your seat, and even some green tea bags to have something healthy to sip while you’re in the air (just ask the air host for hot water). 

Get some shut-eye

Sleep can often elude us in times of high stress — ironic because getting enough Z’s is one of the best ways to ward off illness and stress at the same time. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. It’s hard, we know, but worth it. This not only helps your body get into a rhythm but can support more restful sleep at the same time. And if you still can’t sleep? Resist the urge to scroll on a device, as the light 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 breath evenly almost as though you’re meditating. The simple act of resting can support your immune system at least a little. This is especially important for those anticipatory nights before early morning travel times.

 

What are your tips and tricks for a healthy holiday season? Share with us on social by tagging @AvocadoMattress and #AvocadoGreenMagazine!

Julie O'Boyle

By Julie O'Boyle

 —  Julie O'Boyle is a freelance writer and content strategist with a background in fashion and DIY and a devotion to the outdoors and functional nutrition. Currently residing in the woods of Maine, when she's not writing you can find her at the beach or on a mountain, or otherwise getting her hands dirty.

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