Everyone has experienced feeling sick and run down by travel. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that an average of 20% of plane passengers reported respiratory infections within five to seven days of flying. But we didn’t need a scientific study to tell us that travel can make you ill. Sure, you know you need to wipe down the hotel remote and use hand sanitizer on the plane, but what else can you do to ensure you don’t get sick while traveling? It turns out, there’s plenty of small tweaks you can make during a trip that will keep you feeling as fit as a fiddle.
1. Catch Some Z’s
Whether you’re jet-lagged, have to be up early for an important meeting, or are having so much fun strolling the City of Lights at night, it’s easy to not get enough shut-eye when traveling. Maybe you can cope with being a little drowsy at breakfast, but a cold probably isn’t what you thought was going to be on the menu. It turns out not getting enough sleep can make you sick. People who sleep six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold than those who get seven or more hours of sleep.
Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep might not be possible every day of your trip, like when you’re stuck in the dreaded middle seat, but do your best to get as much sleep as you can. It needs to be a priority and should be planned into your perfect travel itinerary. If you know there is a possibility of facing jet lag, try to avoid it by adjusting your sleep schedule before your trip, avoid napping when you arrive, and squeeze in some light exercise.
2. Skip That 2nd Round
Drinking alcohol can lead to dehydration and hangovers, but those symptoms are both pretty avoidable by limiting how much alcohol you drink and by making sure you’re drinking a lot of water in between glasses of whatever that delicious tropical punch is made of. But what you can’t avoid is the effects of alcohol on your immune system. Drinking alcohol weakens the immune system and makes your body more susceptible to picking up germs and bacteria that will make you sick. Sunday Funday isn’t sounding so fun anymore.
Sure, drinking plenty of water will help you feel better tomorrow, but it can’t protect your immune system today. In this case, the only thing you can do is limit how much alcohol you’re drinking. Not only will your immune system be able to work harder to keep you healthy, but you’ll sleep better too, which will also help keep you in tip-top shape.
3. Stay Hydrated
Speaking of dehydration, even without alcohol your body may not be getting enough water while traveling. There’s a reason you always feel so thirsty while flying. Airplane air is low in humidity which can increase your risk of catching a respiratory virus, such as a cold. When there is humidity in the air, your airways are kept moist so the lining can help trap germs trying to enter your body. But, if you’re breathing air that is too dry, then the mucus in your airways can’t protect as well against viruses trying to enter your body. So humidity is good? Not exactly. If you’re traveling somewhere super hot and humid, your risk of dehydration and heat illness increases. When the air is very humid, sweat can’t evaporate and cool your body as quickly as it normally would. Which means you need to be extra careful about hydration. If not you risk headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
Aside from drinking as much water as possible without having to stop sightseeing for constant bathroom breaks? Skipping caffeine, which can dehydrate you, and eating foods high in water content like fruit and vegetables can help. And remember if it’s really hot out or you feel like you’re getting too much sun, take a break and find a nice shady palm tree to relax under.
4. Eat Right
You’ve probably experienced a few food comas in your day, but what about a food hangover? You know, the feeling you get the morning after eating one too many rounds of bowling alley nachos? That’s your body telling you it’s not happy with what you ate. And anything super salty, fatty, sugary, or high in fat content can be a trigger. Why? Let’s take a look at salty foods first. For starters, they can dehydrate you, which can cause a headache and make your body retain water which makes you feel bloated. Fat takes a long time to digest which means that greasy feeling in your stomach will be sticking around. And just like you get mood swings and jittery when you haven’t had enough to eat, too much sugar and carbs can disturb your body’s blood sugar levels and make you feel icky.
In between plates of pasta and piles of pastries, try to focus on eating whole foods that are easier for your body to digest and have less fat, sugar, salt, and carbs. It doesn’t sound fun when you put it that way, but try to balance all the indulgent foods you want to try while traveling with fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. And listen to your body. If you love cheese, but know it upsets your stomach, skip it so you can enjoy your travels just as much as your meals.