Are you traveling over the holidays? You’re certainly are not alone. Almost 51 million Americans hit the road in 2017 over Thanksgiving weekend, which kicks off one of the busiest travel seasons of the year. Before the clock counts down into the New Year, millions of people will spread tidings of comfort and joy as they visit friends and family across the country. Unfortunately, they’ll bring something a little Grinch-ier along with them: germs.
Traveling under any circumstances can sometimes be a grim prospect. Jet lag, lack of exercise, and less-than-clean modes of transportation all contribute to the sluggishness many people associate with getting from point A to point B. Add a dose of holiday stress, which suppresses the immune system, or a particularly nasty cold and flu season, and getting sick while traveling seems almost inevitable. It doesn’t have to be. If you would rather not deck the halls with boughs of tissues, follow these steps to keep your holiday travel happy and healthy.
Planes, trains, and automobiles
Spending hours in a small enclosed space with a handful of coughing strangers may seem like a recipe for illness, but there are some steps you can take to avoid making their germs your germs.
The battle begins before you even board that flight. Aside from some of the more obvious germ-collecting sources (for example, bathroom door handles) hotspots for infectious germs include touch screens for boarding passes, escalator handrails, and even loose utensils at the food court. If you have to touch one of these things, try to do so with your knuckles, not the tips of your fingers—this way, you’ll be less likely to transfer the germs to your eyes or mouth.
Once you get on the plane, you might buckle your seatbelt, lean on the armrest, and put your magazines in the seat back pocket—but these three places can harbor many unwanted germs. Pack some disinfecting wipes in your carry-on, and wipe down those surfaces before you settle into your seat. Surprisingly, during the flight, the air vent may guard you against pathogens — some doctors reason that the airflow creates a wall of wind around your face, keeping healthy air in, and germs out.
Public transport (ground)
If you’re visiting a concrete jungle during your travels or taking other modes of public transportation, try to stay at least 6 feet away from anyone coughing or sneezing. Airborne droplets can travel, and you don’t want them making your respiratory system their new home. Try to take a seat, if you can—they’re generally cleaner than holding on to a pole. If you have to hang on, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after you’ve touched any public surface – clean hands are your best weapon against illness.
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Even if you’re taking your own car, loading the whole family into an enclosed space for an extended period can still defeat the strongest immune systems. Kids are notoriously germ-friendly—keep a box of tissues near their seats, and encourage them to cover their sneezes and coughs. They should throw used tissues, and any other trash, into a designated receptacle (like an empty cereal box lined with a garbage bag) for easy cleanup with no germs spread.
Healthy travel tips
Sitting still for hours on end, airline food devoid of any nutritional value, over-exhaustion from hitting the road so early—the process of traveling itself can be exceedingly unhealthy. Frequent travelers, in fact, have suppressed immune systems, are more likely to be obese, and even age faster. To minimize these risks, plan ahead with these steps to make your travel as healthy as possible.
Watch what you eat
When we travel, any diet aspirations can easily go out the window—and, seeing that over the holidays Americans tend to add 440 calories per meal, overly sugary foods that airlines sometimes serve, or giving into the whims of grabbing road-stop snacks, can exacerbate the already-elevated calorie count. Instead, pack healthy snacks in pre-portioned containers, like trail mix, veggies with hummus, or dried fruit, so you’re satisfied with filling choices, but aren’t tempted to overeat from a large package.
To stave off stiffness caused by sitting for too long, experts suggest taking a movement break every 30 minutes. While you’re waiting for departure, wander around the station or terminal to stretch your legs, and in transit, try these exercises you can do right in your seat. If you’re road tripping, map out a few stops—perhaps there’s a fun hiking trail or a nice park along your route to explore. Sitting for too long (especially on planes) presents several health risks.
Additionally, travelers on long-haul flights are at greater risk for DVT (deep vein thrombosis), which is essentially a dangerous blood clot which forms in the leg. Compression socks, which are designed to keep blood flowing throughout the appendages, may help alleviate the risk of DVT.
Stay up-to-date on immunizations
This flu season is expected to be especially bad, but getting a pre-travel flu shot might give you that extra shield you need so that the only chills you get are from Jack Frost.
RELATED: 7 myths about the flu shot
If you’re one of the lucky travelers going globe-trotting this holiday season, be sure you check in with your doctor before you jet off. Some gorgeous, escape-the-cold destinations may require vaccines four to six weeks before departure. Additional countries might have CDC warnings for diseases like Zika, malaria, and yellow fever. For a complete list, check out the CDC website, which is constantly updated with travel notices.
RELATED: Everything you should know about travel vaccines
Protect your immune system
They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away; while apples are great travel snacks, there are a few other things you can do to prevent illness before and during travel.
On airplanes, the lack of humidity messes with your mucus, the immune system’s first line of defense—in fact, you’re 113 times more likely to contract a common cold on a plane as you are on the ground. Give your nose a fighting chance with some saline nasal spray while you’re up in the air, which will simulate the humidity that airplanes take away.
Make sure you’re insured
Some health insurance plans offer international coverage for emergencies while abroad, whereas many plans, including Medicare, do not. If you’d like to purchase travel insurance with health coverage, the State Department’s country-specific website is a great resource to determine how much coverage you’ll need for where you’re going.
Pack your prescriptions
While getting sick away from home is almost as miserable as finding coal in your stocking on Christmas morning, waking up to realize you don’t have your meds is even worse. Make sure to pack your medications (in your carry-on luggage!), but if you forget don’t fret. You can call your doctor or pharmacist to transfer your medication to another pharmacy. Be sure to visit SingleCare to find the best price and pharmacy in the area you’re visiting.