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6 ways to avoid getting sick while traveling

If you get to travel, whether it’s for work or for fun, consider yourself one of the lucky ones! Traveling gives you the chance to meet new people, embrace fresh opportunities, and see the world. It’s especially common during the holiday season as many people are on the move to celebrate with family and friends.

But with change in location, comes a lot of unknowns. It changes your routine. Meaning, a lot of the elements you use to maintain a healthy lifestyle are out of your control. You can’t cook your own meals, you share public transportation, and you’re being introduced to people you’ve never met before. All of these things can take a toll on your immune system. Translation: You end up sick.

How to avoid getting sick while traveling this winter? A few experts share their tips and tricks to help keep you feeling healthy and strong all season long. 

1. Keep handsy interactions to a minimum.

In your travels, you’re likely coming into contact with a lot of people—ones you know, and strangers or new acquaintances as well. When possible without seeming rude, try to avoid shaking hands, suggests Tania Elliott, MD, clinical instructor at NYU School of Medicine in New York. Hugs and kiss greetings shouldn’t be given out lightly either. 

If another person is sick, coming into contact with them by handshake or a cheek kiss can cause you to catch their germs. “Wash your hands as frequently as possible, especially after handshakes and also after touching public surfaces, too, like escalators and subway poles,” Dr. Elliott says. “This is especially important before meals.” 

Not sure you’ll always be able to sneak away to the bathroom? Carry along a small bottle of hand sanitizer that you can turn to at a moment’s notice. “Be sure to use a dime-sized amount, not just a tiny drop,” Dr. Elliott explains.

2. Eat full, complete meals.

Traveling generally means you’re eating out a lot, so you’re at the mercy of the menu you’re provided. And during the holidays, there seems to be an abundance of unhealthy yet yummy treats and decadent dishes. Unfortunately, that’s not always the best for your immune system. The immune system thrives off of a good, healthy diet. So to keep yourself at peak health, be sure you’re always trying to eat complete meals. 

“Make sure you keep your protein intake optimal by having it at every meal, because protein is a component of antibodies, which protect you from viruses and bacteria” explains Leslie Bonci, RD, a nutrition consultant for the Kansas City Chiefs, Carnegie Mellon University athletics, and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. 

So for example, at Thanksgiving dinner, be sure you’re having turkey and not just the tasty side dishes. “Don’t neglect fruits and veggies either, as they’re packed with phytonutrients, which help fight off colds and illnesses,” Bonci adds.

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3. Avoid finger foods at all costs.

While the passed apps may look appealing when you’re hungry and just need something small before a big meal, it’s best to avoid finger foods at all costs, cautions Dr. Elliott. “You’re more likely to contaminate your food that way,” she says. If you’re in need of a snack, she suggests foods like yogurt or soup, which require utensils to keep things as clean as possible.

4. Bring along a water bottle.

Hydration never takes a holiday, and the best way to ensure you’re staying hydrated is to always have a reusable water bottle at your disposal. “Even when it’s cold out, you still need to drink water, even though it may be more difficult,” explains Bonci. Fluids help maintain your body’s systems and keep things functioning correctly. 

Just be sure you’re cleaning the water bottle with antibacterial soap as you travel, explains Dr. Elliott, as it has the potential to come in contact with lots of germs as you travel. “You may also want to check the safety of the water supply in the area where you’re traveling, too,” Dr. Elliott says. If the water is unsafe to drink, that means it is unsafe for brushing your teeth as well.

5. Wipe down your area on public transportation.

Whether you’re traveling via plane, bus, train, or even rental car, chances are good that many people have traveled in your same seat before, and some may have been sick. Play it safe by bringing along a pack of wipes to clean your area, which can include the armrests, tray tables, and any touch screen TV on planes, trains, and buses. In a rental car, wipe the steering wheel, shifting stick, and control panel. “Just be sure the wipes are labeled as disinfectant so they work to kill germs,” Dr. Elliott adds. 

6. Think about your drink when it comes to alcohol.

It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling for work or pleasure—and especially around the holidays—alcohol seems to find its way into the mix. While you don’t have to totally avoid it, just be aware of how much you’re consuming. It can add up quickly, and leave you not feeling too good the following day. 

“Know the serving size: A drink is a five-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce can or bottle of beer, or a 1.5-ounce serving of liquor or liqueur,” explains Bonci. “A smaller glass or having a cocktail with a splash instead of a pour of alcohol will help you limit the amount you’re drinking.” And don’t forget to eat if you’re drinking as well. “Food with booze, or you may lose,” is the rule according to Bonci.

7. Get a flu shot

It’s the best way to prevent getting this seasonal virus—and if you do catch the flu, the immunization means the duration is shorter and the symptoms less severe. The flu shot doesn’t just protect you. It protects other people around you who you might infect if you got sick. Think of it as an early holiday gift for the ones you love!