Jan. 8, 2018With the new year here, many of us will be escaping the wintery wonderland of January in favor of warmer locales. While a mid-winter vacation can be a boon to your mental health, travel of any kind has a tendency to disrupt routine and wear down the immune system, making us more susceptible to catching the sniffles and sneezes of fellow travelers or picking up a bug from your destination.
Add to this our tendency to set wellness goals aside in favor of rich local cuisine and relaxing with a capital ‘R’, and you could end up returning home with more than just souvenirs and pretty pictures — no one wants to spend their first few days back at work after a vacation feeling under the weather!
If you notice that you always tend to get sick either during, or directly following, a much-needed vacation, it’s no coincidence. While vacations should be fun (and thankfully usually are), your time away could actually stress your system. The immune system can be weakened by everything from a disrupted sleep schedule to changes in diet, dehydration and lack of activity, which just so happen to be common realities of the average vacation. Add to that a flight or two or possibly a car ride with a sniffly companion, and it’s easy to see how you might become a target for the cold or flu. In fact, one study found that over 20% of airline passengers surveyed reported experiencing respiratory infections within a few weeks of travel.
But hope for a healthy vacation (and post-vacation) is not lost. With the right tools and planning, it’s possible to stay happy and healthy while you travel.
Load up on Immune Supporters
Just because you’re leaving cold weather behind doesn’t mean your immune system flips to autopilot. We’re more likely to get sick while traveling due to several factors, like increased exposure to viruses and germs (think, recycled airplane air + a sneezy seatmate), dehydration, exhaustion, and an unfamiliar destination (new place, new germs!).
While precautions should be taken, like washing your hands frequently, it’s equally important to support your immune system consistently so it can continue to function in tip top shape to defend against intruders, like cold and flu viruses. Loading up on fresh fruits and veggies while you’re away is a great first step in ensuring you’re feeding your body the nutrients it needs. Or try tossing a few packets of chaga, ginger or turmeric tea with a (small) jar of raw honey in your carry-on to mix with a cup of hot water in-flight.
Dehydration in everyday life can lead to a host of issues, including compromised immunity, and when we’re traveling those issues just increase. By now, we’ve all heard the advice to sip plenty of water during a flight. Despite what you might think, this isn’t simply another reminder to get your 8 glasses of water a day! Airplane cabin humidity can be as low — or even lower — than the Sahara desert, that low humidity pulls moisture from the skin, leading to increased chances of dehydration, which (in extreme cases) could lead to everything from kidney stones to heart palpitations. But drinking water on a flight isn’t just helpful in staying hydrated! Drinking plenty of water eventually leads us to get up to find a restroom, which in turn provides the legs and blood vessels some much needed exercise and helping prevent DVT and blood clots.
Instead of relying on the flight attendant to bring you a cup of water, pack an empty reusable water bottle in your carry-on to fill up after you’ve cleared security. Try to drink plenty of water before you board, then refill before takeoff to have water on hand throughout your flight. You’ll want to keep that water bottle handy throughout your trip, too, as proper hydration can help offset the effects of jet lag.
Support Restful Sleep
The word itself conjures images of relaxing, but V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N doesn’t exactly equal plenty of rest, and too often it equals the opposite. While it’s tempting to try and see and do everything while you’re away, with little sleep in between, lack of sleep can actually stress the body and weaken immune function. Which, you guessed it, makes you more susceptible to viruses. This is especially true for those traveling to different time zones and experiencing jet lag.
Instead of hitting the ground running once you arrive at your destination, take some time to meditate or take a quick nap to recover from your travel time. Then, be sure to get a full night’s sleep and try to stick to a consistent sleep/wake schedule to help your body adjust and regulate. Feeling restless due to a time change? Try sipping a mug of chamomile tea or taking a calming bath with Epsom salts. Epsom salt, otherwise known as magnesium sulfate, contains magnesium, which could support restful sleep by relaxing the muscles and promoting a sense of calm.
Stay Active (i.e Walk Everywhere)
Vacation is often seen as a time to set regular routine aside, but one thing that shouldn’t be left at home is regular exercise. Along with supporting the immune system, restful sleep and decreasing stress, regular exercise supports mental function, too. Incorporating plenty of movement in your vacation, like hiking, paddleboarding, snorkeling and surfing, can help you acclimate faster to a new time zone and environment.
Not huge on athletics? Walk everywhere! Walking is a great way to see more of the beautiful locale you’ve chosen as your destination. You’ll get a glimpse of what everyday life is like, along with discovering the unexpected. Grab your camera and take pictures along the way – you’ll have plenty to talk about once you return home!
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