You spend months planning the perfect vacation only to have it ruined when you fall ill on the first day! Travelling exposes you to a whole range of parasites that you have never encountered before which means you are at a higher risk of picking up a bug or two. However, there are a few simple steps that you can take to reduce your risk of falling ill while travelling.
10 Smart Ways to Avoid Getting Sick When You Travel
- Wash your Hands
Washing your hands regularly is one of the simplest but most effective ways to prevent infection. Studies show that washing your hands can reduce your risk of respiratory illnesses (like colds) by 20% and your risk of diarrhea by 30%. When travelling, wash your hands thoroughly with running water and soap– make sure to clean the backs of your hands and under your nails too. Ideally, you should spend 2 seconds scrubbing your hands before rinsing them. You should also avoid hot-air hand dryers in public restrooms as several studies show that hand dryers suck up bacteria from the air and then spew them back out.
- Sanitize Surfaces on a Plane
The air inside a plane is constantly recycled which means that all the surfaces inside a plane contain bacteria, viruses and fungi. Carry sanitizer wipes to wipe down the arms, seat clip belt and other surfaces you will come in contact with. Discard the wipe and use a different one to clean your hands. You can also apply a generous amount of sanitizer to a paper towel and use that to clean your seat and surrounding area. Your hand sanitizer should contain at 60% to 95% alcohol (ethanol or isopropanol) as this will kill a variety of bacteria including antibiotic resistant bacteria.
- Stay Hydrated
Aircraft cabin air is dry – generally just10%–20% humidity. The low humidity levels can cause dryness of the mucous membranes in the airways. Studies show that low humidity levels increase the risk of respiratory infections including the flu. Drink plenty of water and fluids to counteract the effects of low humidity and reduce your risk of airborne infections. Dehydration also aggravates the effects of jet lag and will increase the likelihood of experiencing fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness and headaches. As a general rule of thumb, aim for 8 ounces of water every hour.
- Add Probiotics to your Diet
Probiotics are healthy bacteria present in foods such as yogurt and kefir that can help reduce your risk of falling ill while travelling. Probiotics improve immune function as well as control the propagation of invading bacteria. Studies have found that some probiotics can help to prevent diarrhea caused by infections. Probiotics can also help to improve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome so if you suffer from IBS, you should add probiotics to your diet while travelling. Choose unflavored and unsweetened yogurt preferably made out of goat’s milk as goat milk yogurt contains several types of probiotic bacteria.
- Get Plenty of Sleep before you Travel
Whether you’re excited about an upcoming vacation or nervous about a business trip, you need to force yourself to get a good night’s sleep before you travel. Studies show that sleep quality and quantity are closely tied to the immune system and sleep disruption can increase the risk of gastrointestinal problems. Even a single night of inadequate sleep can lower your immunity and increase your risk of falling ill. Plan your schedule so that you have plenty of time to pack and get ready and stick to your regular sleep timings. If possible, hit the gym or go for a run during the day so that you are less likely to lie awake in bed thinking about your upcoming trip.
- Get your Shots
Before you travel abroad, make sure that you get the vaccinations recommended for that specific country. For instance, if you are travelling to Argentina, the CDC recommends that you get the hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines due to the high risk of food and water contamination. However, if you are travelling to Egypt you will require a different set of vaccines – the CDC recommends the rabies vaccine due to the risk from stray animals. Go through the CDC’s list of recommended vaccines according to country to make sure that you are up-to-date on your shot before you travel. This simple step will help to dramatically reduce your risk of infection when travelling to another country.
- Shower after Traveling
When a person with a cough or cold sneezes or coughs, they expel the infectious bacteria that has caused their illness. Since you are in an enclosed environment of an airplane cabin, these microorganisms may land on your clothes and could increase your risk of falling ill. In an airplane, the cabin air is filtered through HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters which helps to limit the spread through the cabin. However, travelling will bring you in close proximity to a large number of people which is why it is advisable to hop into the shower as soon as you reach your destination.
- Skip the Booze – before and during your Flight
According to a recent survey, most passengers consume alcohol when they fly – 80% drink while waiting for their flight while 90% drink during their flight. While you might be tempted to start your vacation with a cocktail to ease your stress, it is advisable to avoid all alcoholic beverages while travelling as they contribute to dehydration. Alcohol also aggravates the effects of jet lag, which means that you will find it difficult to fall asleep after your flight, which in turn will lower your immunity. When waiting for your flight, head to a multi-faith prayer room instead of the bar as the peace and quiet will help you de-stress.
- Take a Melatonin Supplement
Jet lag can last for 3-5 days or even more, depending on how many time zones you’ve crossed. While jet lag does not pose any serious health risk, it can cause sleeplessness which will make you susceptible to gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses. Studies show that melatonin is very effective in preventing and reducing jet lag and is recommended if you are traveling in an easterly direction or if you fly across 5 or more time zones.
- Take Destination-Specific Precautions
Find out as much as possible about the health risks you may face in your destination country so that you can take steps to safeguard yourself and your family. For instance, diarrhea is a common travel ailment for travelers to India (due to contaminated water). Make sure that you only drink bottled water while travelling to drastically reduce your risk of traveler’s diarrhea. Similarly, if you are travelling to Africa, the Caribbean or Southeast Asia, you should take precautions against mosquitoes as these areas have a high malaria risk. Book a hotel room that provides mosquito nets and use an insect repellent before you leave your room.