Travel can be one of the greatest joys in life—connecting with family and friends, seeing new places and sharing experiences outside of our daily routines is good for the soul. But it can also be stressful and put our bodies at greater risk of becoming ill due to the exposure to new germs that our immune systems aren’t prepared to handle. We’ll examine here when we’re most vulnerable, how to prepare for and prevent illness in the best way, and provide helpful tips to stay healthy while traveling.
A 2017 report by AAA noted that 107.3 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles or more from their home base in the last few weeks of December. This means a lot more people on the roads, in the sky, on the railways and on the water. And more people unfortunately equals more germs both en route and at our desired destinations.
Travel and the Immune System
Since it’s well known that many people contract illness during trips they take, it’s imperative to try to stay healthy when traveling throughout the year. To avoid compromising your immune system, try to get as much sleep as possible, hydrate and wash your hands often.
Common Illnesses From Travel
The type of illnesses you can catch while you travel varies considerably based on a number of factors: exposure, germs native to where you’re going (especially those that are foreign to your body) and sanitation. You can catch anything from a minor, common cold to a serious virus or foodborne illness. It’s best to do a little research before you begin your journey and learn about potential risks specific to where you’ll be spending your time.
Healthy Travel Tips
To prevent being extra susceptible to the germs that permeate airplanes, boats, trains and buses, use these tried-and-true tips for staying healthy:
- Drink a lot of water. Ample hydration is critical to help fuel your immune system.
- Get enough rest. Sleep deprivation means your body isn’t getting the re-charge it needs to function properly. Especially when you’re changing time zones and disrupting your normal routine, rest is crucial. Take naps when you can’t get a full night’s sleep.
- Don’t skip your flu shot. A vaccination to combat the year’s strain of influenza is critical if you’ll be exposed to groups of people, especially across different geographies. Flu shots are usually covered by insurance and only take a few moments to get.
- Manage stress. It’s important to be calm in hectic situations, as your body’s immunities can decline from poor treatment. Make sure to take deep breaths during a crisis and focus on solutions to whatever problems arise instead of fixating on the issue and letting that negativity affect you (and potentially spread to those nearby).
- Utilize hand sanitizer. A quick wash with these alcohol-based cleansers can mean a world of difference before a meal or after shaking hands with strangers, touching doors and other potentially germ-infested surfaces.
- Brush your teeth. Of course, you should always brush your teeth, but being more vigilant when you’re in new places can help combat the buildup of bacteria.
- Be prepared with a health kit. Pack a small bunch of items that could help you respond to potential symptoms if illness should occur. Ibuprofen, aspirin, vitamins and medicine for motion sickness are all a good idea to just to be on the safe side.
- Don’t neglect nutrition. It’s tempting to indulge in fast food and junk food on the road, especially when you’re short on time and your options for cooking may be limited. But don’t forget to incorporate some fruits and vegetables into your food repertoire and get enough protein and nutrients as you travel.
- Educate yourself. If you’re heading to an unknown area, especially internationally, be sure to read up on what’s happening at that location, so you know if there have been any disease outbreaks or food recalls, and if so, how to prepare and prevent.
- Stay active. Exercise is a natural immunity builder so be sure that wherever you’re going, you’re still making some time to move your body and avoid being sedentary for long periods of time.
Talk to a Professional
If you recognize that you’re prone to illness when you travel, you may want to take additional steps to protect yourself. Get expert advice from the professionals in the Western Washington Medical Group Family Practice or send a message to the team directly via the Contact page.