If you feel like you always get sick when you travel, you're not alone. Many of our regular habits change when we're on vacation, which can make staying healthy while traveling more difficult than when you're at home. Fortunately, there are some practical tips to help you ward off sickness while traveling or on vacation.
1. Prepare Before Your Trip
Prior to travel, it's important to stay well hydrated and drink about two liters of water a day, said Sara Whatley, DO, a family medicine physician with Dignity Health Medical Group — Ventura County. You should also take extra vitamin C to boost the immune system, as well as elderberry, which is an antioxidant, she said.
2. Get Vaccinated
Travel often puts you in close proximity to lots of people, and there's a good chance that some of those people might be sick. This increases your chances of getting sick, too — especially if you're around someone suffering from a viral infection. If you're traveling during flu season — which typically begins in October and peaks between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — make sure you've gotten a flu shot to keep yourself safe and healthy.
Another key to staying healthy while traveling is to get vaccinated for any diseases that are prevalent in your destination. Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date and ask your doctor if there are any others you'll need. Be aware that certain countries require travelers to get vaccinated before they can enter. The U.S. Department of State provides travel requirements or recommendations by country, and the CDC provides a travelers' health guide that can help you determine what vaccines you should receive. The World Health Organization also tracks disease outbreaks and epidemics.
3. Practice Good Hygiene
When traveling, you encounter a lot of public surfaces that are covered in germs. This is especially true in high-traffic areas such as restrooms, escalators, or taxi stands. Wash your hands often, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wipes. If you're already sick but not showing symptoms, keeping your hands clean will prevent you from spreading germs to your fellow passengers.
"Also, bring nasal saline. Our body's first defense against germs is our nose," Dr. Whatley said. "If you're using that saline to flush your nose, it enhances your body's ability to flush germs."
4. Don't Skip Sleep
Missing out on sleep can also make staying healthy while traveling even more difficult, especially if you're switching time zones. While you want to make the most of your vacation, that doesn't mean you should drastically change your sleep schedule. Getting a good night's sleep is one way the body fights off illness, so missing out even for a short amount of time can make you more susceptible to sickness.
"One option would be to plan ahead of time depending on where you're traveling to, and try to slowly alter your day-to-day schedule to be closer to what your new sleep schedule would be," Dr. Whatley said. She also explained that engaging in physical activity as soon as possible when you get to your destination can help your body with energy and getting back into a normal routine.
5. Stick to Your Medication Routine
If you take medication, keep up with your routine. Certain medications may become less effective if they're not taken at the same time each day, so stick to your schedule as much as possible. If you'll be changing time zones, be sure to ask your doctor whether you should take your medication at the local time or your home time.
6. Stay Calm
If you do get sick while you're on vacation, don't panic. Stress can weaken your immune system, making your illness last longer. Check with your hotel to see if they have first aid services. The concierge may also be able to point you in the direction of a health center, but be aware that paying out of pocket can be expensive. You'll also want to stay hydrated, but be sure to drink bottled water and not tap. Tap water in some areas may be contaminated, and as a visitor to that country, you may be more sensitive to the contaminants than a local would be.
Staying healthy while traveling doesn't have to be burdensome. As long as you start your trip prepared, and remain aware of your surroundings and your health, you'll be able to recognize any signs of illness and take proper action to fight it off.