Traveling during the holidays is the perfect time to catch up with old friends, connect with family and explore new places. Unfortunately, it’s also a time that’s ripe for getting sick.
Between flying on planes with recirculated air, packing a ton of activities into a short time and risking becoming run down, and the dreaded jet lag, there are a lot of pitfalls that could leave you not feeling well and longing for your own bed — and not the one from high school.
Luckily, there are several small steps travelers can take to help prevent getting sick and make it easier to deal with if you do. Travel + Leisure talked to Dr. Rand McClain, the medical director for LCR Health, specializing in regenerative and sports medicine, to get his best tips for staying healthy while traveling during the holiday season so you can think less about illness and more about the amazing beach you’re planning on going to escape the winter cold.
“Try enjoying all the stuff you enjoy doing when you're not feeling well — it’s no fun,” McClain said. “When you’re sick, you are not only drawing energy away from things you enjoy... you don't want to dig into your reserves for down the road.”
The simplest trick of all is just washing your hands.
“One simple hand washing if you've been exposed can be enough to save you from getting sick,” he said.
From choosing the best seat on a plane to getting enough sleep and eating the right things, these are McClain’s tips to not only get through holiday travel, but actually love every minute of it.
Sleep is key
McClain’s No. 1 tip is to get enough sleep. While it seems obvious, it’s a simple fix that will make your brain work better. When you travel, however, that becomes harder and harder.
“Travel gives you double whammy potential — not only do you lose sleep oftentimes, but you throw off your rhythm. Changing time zones will affect your circadian rhythm,” he said. “Roughly for each time zone hour you change, it takes you at least a day to adjust to that time zone.”
McClain said you can compensate for lost sleep and jet lag with getting plenty of sunshine and exercise.
“One of the tricks to help your body at least learn to go to sleep at the right time is as soon as you land, get some sun exposure... and help reset that clock,” he said. “And exercise also helps. It can even just be a walk, [and] if you can get to a HIIT or a spin class, even better.”
Choose the best seat on the plane
Not all plane seats are created equal — and we’re not just talking about business vs. economy. McClain explained that choosing the window seat can actually help you avoid as many germs as possible, walling you off from more passengers than if you were in the middle or aisle.
“If you're on the aisle, you're more likely to get affected by germs floating around,” he said.
The first thing you should do when you get on a plane or into a hotel room, is to wipe down the surfaces. McClain recommends using alcohol wipes or bringing a container of antibacterial gel — 3 oz or less, of course.
“They can kill germs on contact,” he said, but warned: “they're all not created the same. The higher the [alcohol] concentration, the better, the more likely you are to kill a virus or a bacteria.”
In a hotel room, McClain suggests wiping down things like the phone and remotes.
“All the things where you're going to get contact from the hands, where people cough... that's a Petri dish of germs,” he said.
While alcohol is good for wiping down surfaces, it’s not the best thing to drink while flying. Planes can be dehydrating and alcohol just makes this worse. Instead, stick to water.
“You definitely want to avoid drinking too much alcohol on a plane because that can weaken your immune system by dehydrating you,” McClain said. “At least 8 oz [of water] an hour is a pretty good rule of thumb. Once [I] get through security, I always buy a big old thing of water.”
Get a move on
McClain said it’s important to get up and move while on a plane to prevent potentially dangerous blood clots and swelling.
“Sitting too long can create enough stasis where you can form a clot,” he said. “Getting up and moving ideally once an hour would be great.”
Eating a higher protein meal before you get on the plane can also help to reduce swelling while up in the air.
McClain recommends traveling with an emergency kit so you’re never stuck without the proper medication or first aid. He would stock it with a broad-spectrum antibiotic and an antiviral like Tamiflu.
“It’s for the flu, but there are no downsides to it,” he said about Tamiflu. “There’s nothing but upside for you there and no downside… it’s worth the chance of covering your bases. You build the kit, keep it with you.”