If you’re like the majority of Americans, you probably have a vacation on the horizon this summer. Though staying healthy while traveling is important, it’s not always easy. An average of 20 percent of plane passengers reported respiratory infections within five to seven days of flying, according to research from the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Those respiratory infections (see: the common cold and the flu) are unfortunately far from the only ailments you might encounter while traveling this season (or anytime throughout the year). Read on for expert-recommended tips for staying healthy while traveling.
Before you leave, bulk up on fresh foods.
You’re excited because your trip is finally in sight. But don’t let your diet go crazy in the days leading up to your departure. “This is not the time to start partying and not take good care of yourself,” say Tammy Lykatos Shames, R.D.N., and Lyssie Lykatos, R.D.N., the registered dietitian nutritionists also known as The Nutrition Twins. “Instead, focus on eating wholesome foods like fruits, veggies, lean protein options, whole grains, and beans. [These] all contain disease-fighting nutrients.”
Stick to plain water when the beverage cart comes rolling down the airplane aisle, suggests Lykatos Shames. Soda won’t help keep you hydrated. Opting for alcohol puts an additional strain on the body, which can wind up lowering your immunity. For staying healthy while traveling (and for the entire trip) she recommends aiming to drink at least eight to 16 ounces of water with meals. Additionally, drink a cup or more between meals to keep your energy levels high and immune system strong.
Both on the plane and once you’ve reached your destination, it’s a good idea to put a cap on how much booze you plan to consume, says Lykatos. “Less alcohol means less tax for the body, as you’re not demanding so much from it to help detoxify the alcohol,” she explains. “Limiting how much you drink will help to keep your immune system healthy.”
Load up on fruits and veggies.
“All travel brings changes in diet that can result in stress. [This] causes your body to use more nutrients from healthy foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains,” says Lykatos. “Replacing them is the key [to] staying healthy. If you don’t eat right, you’ll easily succumb to viruses and germs that are lurking on planes and elsewhere.” Boost your intake of nutritious foods and you’ll boost your immunity, too. Look out for ways to add fruits and vegetables into your diet throughout your trip. Swap fries for a salad at restaurants. Grab any free fruit your hotel might leave around for guests so you always have a healthy snack on hand.
Forgo fatty foods.
Yes, you’re on vacation and want to indulge in your favorite foods—and you should! But, while in route, put some thought into your meal choices and turn down some temptations. Avoid fried and fatty foods that are known to upset your gastrointestinal tract (GI). Your digestive system may already be undergoing some kind of turmoil simply because you’re away from home. So, by all means, enjoy the cuisine of whatever country you’re visiting, but stay mindful of how your stomach is feeling each day.
Wash your hands often.
It might seem straightforward, but this tip can’t be stressed enough for staying healthy while traveling. Studies have found that frequent washing can prevent a third of diarrhea cases and 20 percent of all respiratory infections. Sudsing up can help you avoid bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. These can land you with major GI issues (and worse), according to the CDC. You’ll also sidestep germs left from a sneeze or other sources that cause the common cold and other illness that can wreck your trip.
In addition to that, consider the health of those around you. Carry antibacterial wipes with you and wipe down especially germy areas, such as your seat on an airplane and your hotel room surfaces. You never know what kinds of sicknesses others unintentionally left in their wake.
Catch some Z’s.
Vacation is a time for rest and play. Just make sure that you don’t skimp on the former. In one study published in the journal Sleep, people who averaged less than six hours of sleep per night for just one week were more than four times as likely to contract a common cold than people who snoozed more than seven hours. If your body is thrown off from a time-zone difference, give it a nudge in the right direction. Try popping a melatonin pill your first night or two in your new destination. This will help prepare your body to wind down at a different time than usual. And get ready to rest easy.
Our health isn’t always the first thing we think about when traveling, but there’s nothing worse than coming home from vacation with a nasty cold. Be mindful of your body’s needs and do what you can to stay healthy while traveling.