As more people are being vaccinated and restrictions have started to ease throughout the country, life is slowly returning back to normal. And that means a growing number of travelers are taking to the skies, roads, and railways again. But as people contemplate post-pandemic trips, safety is top of mind.
In addition to Covid concerns, travel can expose you to numerous other pathogens. It can also disrupt your sleep habits, diet, and even your microbiome. Fortunately, there’s help! Whether you are looking for tips to stay healthy while traveling, or just want to stay healthy in your day-to-day life, we have some recommendations and wellness essentials that can keep you in top form.
Why You Get Sick When You Travel
Traveling itself can mess with our immune system. From close, unsanitary quarters, to changes in your daily routine, travel can put your bodies through the ringer.
Air travel and humidity: While many people believe that recirculated, germy air is a major cause of illness after a plane ride, the real reason why flying can cause you to get sick is from a lack of humidity. High elevations cause the humidity level in the airplane cabin to drop. This decrease in humidity can cause your nose and throat to dry up, leaving your body’s natural defense mechanisms functioning less than optimally. To help counteract this phenomenon, pack some eye drops, moisturizer, and even nasal spray to combat in-flight dryness.
New allergens and germs: Exposure to new allergens and germs, not washing your hands enough, and coming into contact with large crowds can also make you sick on traveling. Airports, train stations, public transit, and popular tourist destinations can all increase the likelihood of coming down with something. Try to wash your hands regularly and for the proper length of time (about 20 seconds). It’s also smart to try and keep a bubble of personal space between you and the next person when in a large crowd.
Pre-vacation tiredness and stress: Travel is tiring, especially if you’re the type of person who stresses about packing and checking each thing off your to-do list prior to getting to your destination. Some effective time management can help reduce pre-travel stress and may even help you catch a few more zzz’s before you depart.
Alcoholic beverages: There’s nothing wrong with having a few drinks on vacation. After all, getting away from work and daily life is cause for celebration! But drinking more than you ordinarily would can increase the odds you will get sick upon returning home. Here’s why: Excessive drinking can inhibit your immune system, and that can make you more vulnerable to opportunistic pathogens. Consider spacing out your intake with a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage, and by refraining from drinking on a daily basis while on your trip.
Wellness Essentials and Healthy Travel Tips
Now that you know some of the main culprits that increase the odds of travel-related illness, here are some wellness essentials and healthy travel tips we recommend to stay in tip-top shape, before, during, and after vacation.
Take a daily probiotic: Your gut influences your immunity. In fact, about 70 percent of your immune system resides in your gut. This means that the relationship between your immune system and your gut is symbiotic. In other words, they’ve evolved together to eliminate harmful pathogens and make sure your body is protected.
Your gut microbiome acts as a gatekeeper and teaches key immune cells (like your T cells) to tell the difference between pathogens and your own tissue. When harmful pathogens mount an attack, these T cells swoop in to mediate the situation and destroy the infected cells. Because your gut health and immune health are tied together, it’s important to support your beneficial bacteria with not only probiotics, but also prebiotics, which act like food for your beneficial bacteria and helping them grow.
Stay hydrated: It’s easy to get dehydrated while traveling, so don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids. Start your day with a big glass of water and make sure to carry a water bottle with you at all times. It is recommended to get half your body weight in ounces of water per day.
Along with drinking water, incorporating a green drink into your travel schedule can also be beneficial. Green vegetables are essential for a strong immune system, better gut health, healthy detoxification, and more.1 If you don’t like eating vegetables or simply have a hard time meeting your daily veggie quota, upping your intake of greens should be an essential part of your healthy game plan. Try finding a powdered green drink mix that comes in single-serve packets, making them easy to throw in your suitcase on your way to the airport.
Get in a walk: Exercise is great for the body, whether you’re home or traveling! If you can’t fit in time at a gym while you’re away from home, find other ways to move your body like walking instead of relying on a car and taking the stairs whenever possible.
Slow down: Packed itineraries leave very little room for self-care and rest—and that can leave you vulnerable to infection. Instead, it’s important to pace yourself and listen to your body when it is telling you it needs a break.
Watch what you eat: It’s easy to think, “I’m on vacation so I can drink and eat whatever I want!” But this can disrupt your digestive system and your overall health. Aim for at least one healthy meal per day, with lots of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables to keep your immune system healthy and strong.
And if you’re traveling to a less-developed country, be sure to only consume foods that are prepared properly. Only eat foods that are thoroughly cooked and served steaming hot—and steer clear of raw vegetables and dairy products sold by independent street vendors. Also be aware that tap water may not be safe to drink in some countries, so bottles water is a safer bet.
Getting sick is a part of everyday life, and being on the road doesn’t exempt you from that fact. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do, including the tips mentioned above, that can help to reduce your risk and keep you as healthy as possible while you travel and when you arrive back home.
- Li Y, Innocentin S, Withers D, et al. Exogenous stimuli maintain intraepithelial lymphocytes via aryl hydrocarbon receptor activation. Cell Press. 2011; https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(11)01136-6?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0092867411011366%3Fshowall%3Dtrue
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.