How to Stay Healthy While Traveling

November 22, 2017

Nothing can ruin a trip quicker than an unwelcome cold.

From Nancy: As travel season approaches, patients ask me what they can do to keep healthy. It’s best to consult this checklist before any trip to make sure you stay (and return!) in tip-top shape.

Reduce pre-trip stress

Before a trip, there’s always stress and a frenetic energy surrounding us which lowers the immune system. So what can we do to lessen them before traveling? First off, we need to start getting ready earlier (that means no last-minute packing, pet reservations and trips to the pharmacy for prescriptions and travel-size toiletries). Planning ahead, eating properly and getting necessary sleep will help immensely prior to travel.

Get vaccinated

Your next area of concern should be disease prevention. Whether you’re going on an airplane, driving or taking the train, you’ll be exposed to “new germs” in your destination and a flu shot will help keep you healthy. If you’re traveling somewhere that requires additional vaccinations (i.e. Africa, Asia, South America, etc.), start your research several months before as some locations require a series of injections. A great resource is Passport Health, a one-stop shop for travel medicine.

Pack the right meds

A good rule of thumb is to pack prescription meds in your carry-on instead of your suitcase (in case it gets lost). Ask your doctor if you should take extra antibiotics or other meds with you. I always advise my patients to take Tylenol, Advil, Tums, Imodium A-D and Dramamine. These over-the-counter meds can help you in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar place until you can receive medical attention.

Seek professional help, if needed

An emergency room is there for accidents, injuries or serious illness. If you develop a cold, cough or gastrointestinal disorder, ask your hotel concierge for local doctors who can come to the hotel. Since your United States health insurance might not cover services outside the country, you must have a major credit card and will need to contact your insurance company for specific instructions.

Protect yourself on planes

When it comes to airline travel, the closeness of people in a confined area with a less-than-adequate air filtration system plus hundreds of people touching your seat, armrest and tabletop is a setup for sickness. To prevent it, come armed with a good immune system by eating and sleeping well prior to travel. Bring along Purell and use it throughout the trip. When you arrive at your destination, a five-minute soap and warm water hand wash is necessary. Unfortunately, people will be coughing and sneezing and there’s no proof that any prevention meds work. It’s best to turn your head and prevent respiratory droplets from getting near your eyes, nose or mouth.

Pay attention to drinking water

Another big source of illness when traveling is the water. If you have a sensitive stomach that’s prone to diarrhea or constipation, the iron content in the water from city to city can disrupt your bowel. If needed, drink bottled water or purified tap water. Of course, in some areas of the world (Mexico, for example), it’s best to not drink any water, including ice cubes in your drink.

Ward off disease-causing insects

We always hear about Zika, Lyme disease and the West Nile virus. The best prevention is to avoid bites by applying insect spray that includes DEET. Wearing long sleeves and avoiding dusk and dawn is also helpful.

Traveling alone or with our families is a great way to spend some quality holiday time. The world is filled with germs and disease-causing vectors, but if we stay the course, eat well, sleep enough and wash our hands, we can likely have a great holiday travel season.