Top 10 Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling
We're all concerned about the risk airplanes, trains and other forms of public transportation pose. Here's how to avoid getting sick on your next trip with these tips from the experts.
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Wash Your Hands
"Hand washing is the single most important thing anybody can do to protect their health," advises Dr. Philip Tierno, professor of Microbiology and Pathology at NYU School of Medicine and author of The Secret Life of Germs. He says you should spend 20 seconds washing, including under the nail beds.
If you can't wash your hands right away, Dr. Tierno warns against touching your face to prevent germs from entering via your eyes, nose or mouth. Additionally, Dr. Tierno and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using hand sanitizer as an alternative when you don't have access to soap and water.
Visit a Travel Clinic
Phyllis Kozarsky, MD, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Emory University, recommends visiting a travel clinic beforehand, particularly if you're traveling to a developing country. The International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) provides a list of travel clinics across the world. "It's virtually impossible for even an outstanding general doctor... to keep up to date with all the things going on internationally."
She suggests visiting a travel clinic four to six weeks prior to a trip. In addition to receiving any pertinent travel inoculations, Dr. Kozarsky also advises getting up to date with routine immunizations, such as tetanus and flu shots.
Boost Your Immunity Before a Long Flight
Carry a Medical Kit
Dr. Kozarsky advises packing whatever you use on a regular basis at home, including prescriptions, in a carry-on bag. She says Tylenol, Ibuprofen, cold medications, Neosporin, cortisone cream, first aid, Band-aids, gauze pads and medical tape are among the items in her kit.
Perrin says when traveling to developing countries she also brings Immodium for an upset stomach and a prescription antibiotic such as Zithromax or Cipro. Of course, ask your doctor what's best for you.
Prevent Bug Bites
The extent to which you protect yourself depends on where you're traveling, and the types of activities you'll be doing, says Dr. Kozarsky. For example, Zika virus is currently prevalent in South America, the Caribbean and more. Check the CDC site for the most recent updates. However, Dr. Kozarsky cautions there are other serious mosquito-borne diseases to protect against, like malaria or dengue fever. In those cases, she recommends using an insect repellent containing between 25 and 35 percent DEET.
For more complete coverage, clothing may be treated with permethrin. She also suggests Picaridin, which is newer and considered milder on skin than DEET, but questions the effectiveness of more natural products in preventing bug bites. "Use an EPA-recommended product."
Get Enough Sleep
This can be difficult if your trip involves a hectic schedule, noisy hotels or frequent flights, but it's key to maintaining a healthy immune system.
Long flights, activity-packed days and hot climates require more liquid than typically consumed at home. Opt for bottled water over sugary drinks, and strive for the equivalent of eight 8-ounce glasses during the course of a day. Certain foods, including watermelon, yogurt and cucumbers, also contain a high water content.
Be Careful What You Eat and Drink
Dr. Kozarsky notes that the CDC provides a lot of general recommendations, but "it’s not clear how much they work, as it depends on contamination of the food or beverage at any point when it could be handled." That said, experts agree eating hot, steaming food is the safest option. In developing countries, the CDC suggests avoiding raw food, fruits and vegetables washed in tap water and food from street vendors. It's okay to drink boiled or bottled water, hot beverages and carbonated drinks, but be careful of ice cubes made from tap water.
Dr. Tierno also warns against drinking the water in airplane bathrooms. "It is contaminated… it's teeming with bacteria," he says. He personally uses a hand sanitizer instead of washing his hands with it.
If a regular fitness routine is part of a healthy lifestyle at home, try to maintain it while on the road. Many hotels include fitness centers, and in-room fitness programs are a growing trend. For example, celebrity yoga instructor Tara Stiles teemed up with W Hotels to provide short, instructional yoga videos. Depending on the area you're in, running or riding bikes are also great ways to sightsee.
Use Common Sense
Experts say to practice the same behaviors while traveling that you would at home. For example, Dr. Kozarsky doesn't think it's realistic for people to sanitize everything around them, and it also infringes on one's ability to enjoy a trip. She cites how many germs we encounter in our daily lives, from the mall to the movie theater, "yet, somehow we become paranoid when we’re out of town."