In the last article of this two part series, we dove into why traveling is so hard on the immune system. In this final installment, I’m going to give you some tried and true advice on how you can mitigate your risk. This, hopefully, will help aid you if you or one of your companions gets sick.
Before You Leave
Yes, that is right! Your first line of defense for healthier, happier, sick-free travels begins before you leave 😉
- Take your vitamins- After struggling with medical issues for several years which impacted my immune system significantly I can attest to how powerful vitamins are in supporting your immune system. I paired mine with a good Probiotic (link) for better vitamin absorption and gut function (but in Europe we have noticed they don’t really do Probiotics and instead just eat a LOT of yoghurt which is rich in probiotics). After only one month of taking my vitamins and probiotic daily I went from getting sick almost monthly, to getting sick only 3 times in a year and for about half the number of days each time I did catch a bug. Since addressing my medical condition I have lapsed from my daily routine and have paid the price! Sick 3 times in 3 months is not good so back to the vitamin routine it is! If you are not one for a daily vitamin routine, at the very least start taking some Airborne (link) or Emergen-C ( link) or similar products a few days before you plan to travel. This will at least give your immune system a bit of a boost before you bombard it 😉
- Get plenty of sleep– Do you remember in the last article about how sleep impacts immune functioning? Yeah, so even though you are super busy doing life AND planning a big trip, it is super important that you prioritize your sleep and make sure you are getting at least seven hours a night (especially the week leading up to your trip). That means you may have to be better at managing your time, say “no” to some extra activities or tasks that pop up demanding your attention and energy. If you are anything like me who struggles to shut their brain off despite the best of intentions to go to bed at a reasonable time, you may want to take something to help you get to sleep. Melatonin (link) has been a huge help to my husband though I have required more heavy duty meds in the past: ie. Trazodone. If you’re not keen on taking anything (natural or otherwise) to help you nod off, getting into a ‘bed-time routine’ can be helpful, which means doing activities that aid your body in shifting gears, relax and wind down naturally. Some of my favorite go-to’s: drinking a cup of warm tea (non-caffeinated), reading, doing some stretches and deep breathing exercises, journaling/writing (a great way to get the things that are on your brain out of your head so it can chill out), and listening to soothing/calming music. You want to avoid screens (TV, phone, computer) as much as possible right before bed as these can actually be stimulating (and not in a good way), right before bed.
- Eat well and do some meal planning/prep before you go- Food is fuel and unfortunately airports and train stations are not known to be the healthiest places to eat. Before you go pack some healthy snacks and even a meal option or two if you are going to be taking a long flight/train ride to give your body and immune system the best shot at having the nourishment it needs to function at its best. We like to pack mixed nuts, ProBar () or other protein meal replacement bar, fruit (apples and bananas are our usual go-to) with a travel pack or almond butter (link), veggies (baby carrots and cut up celery is good), and we have recently started to bring our own sandwiches on long outings and train travel, which not only is healthier but also saves us money- double bonus! Since we live out of our backpacks, we are packed to the gills with everything. It’s been very important to plan out our calorie intake to avoid getting “hangry” – but this also means ease of access. Placing food in outside pockets or in other easy to reach areas makes it convenient to grab, otherwise, it’s very easy to just say to yourself, ‘to hell with it – I can’t reach it/get to it – I’ll just wait’. So just plan for success. Make it easy on yourself and have it quick, accessible, and healthy!
- Avoid sick people– this may seem cruel or ‘a bit much’ but if you are one week out from a big trip or long-distance travel you need to do whatever you can to minimize your exposure to people who are symptomatic or have recently been sick. Better to excuse yourself from get-togethers, switch seats in public, or tell your friends/loved ones to keep clear than risk your own trip and health.
- Reduce your stress and increase your self-care– Believe me, I know how crazy life is right before a trip and how much there is to do, but if you want to get to your destination healthy and sane, do yourself a favor and start taking care of yourself mindfully before you leave (come back to read future article “What Self Care Is & Isn’t”). If there is too much to do, reach out to others for help and support. I think we often make assumptions about our friends and families willingness to help and feel like requests for help are too burdensome, but the reality is that most people who love and care about you would be more than happy to help out in any way they can. If you need an errand run, help deciding on outfits to pack, ideas for activities to do at your travel destination, help getting dinner on the table the night before you leave, etc. there are always options to help make your life easier and give you more time to “do you”. Utilize them!
While You Are Traveling:
- Get hand sanitizer/wipes and use it (oh, and wash your hands frequently)- when traveling and once you get to your destination and are soaking up all things touristy with thousands of other tourists, be sure you are washing your hands before eating and, of course, after exposing your hands to other people’s germs (after that awesome hands-on learning museum where everyone and their mother was touching EVERYTHING). Having alcohol free (so they don’t dry out your hands) sanitizing hand wipes (link) is super helpful to wipe down travel surfaces (like your armrest or seat tray on the airplane/train) and can also be helpful for your hands when a public restroom is not available to wash up after exposure or before eating. Be aware of touching your face – like rubbing your eyes, biting your nails, etc. All of these activities can be risky. Science has shown us that handrails, shopping carts, doorknobs/handles – all these have a massive amount of germs- the bad kind. You could also be spreading your own DNA and germs all over the place too – which could be .. bad? After all, when you sleep – where do your fingers go?
- Stay hydrated– you would think this would be common sense but I know I have also been guilty of not staying on top of my hydration on long trips or ingesting things that actually dehydrate (but Bloody Marys are so good!) and that is just no good for the strained immune system. So if you are particularly susceptible to illness when traveling, like me, this may mean passing on the caffeinated and alcoholic beverages (which are immune suppressors on their own) and sticking to water, and lots of it! We carry dedicated water jugs with us at all times. We’ve been particular fans of Hydroflask (so highly recommended by Brian – link) but over time found a tested other brands that have been just fine: Camelbak (link) and Takeya (link).
- Use sinus spray– if you are particularly susceptible to ear, nose, or throat bugs a spray can be a big help. With typical airplane humidity at around 12%, which is dryer than most deserts (and 2x drier than the Sahara Desert! And also why you NEED to drink way more water than you normally would), your nose/sinuses may need a little extra lubing to help the mucosa from drying up. The mucosa lines your throat, nose and trachea and provides a line of defense against invading germs. When it dries up, this leaves these areas vulnerable to viruses and invading germs. A simple all natural, saline based spray like, Xlear (link) can help clean and moisturize your nasal passage and boost your natural defenses.
- Stretch and move around as much as possible– we’ve all heard that it’s good to get up and stretch to prevent blood clots for those that are at risk, but really it’s just good for you to get your blood circulating and re-oxygenated as frequently as possible. I had it pointed out to me by my doctor before we left for our travel adventures, that if I did a ‘good job’ drinking enough fluids (again, which means something like 2-3x more than normal) I should *have* to use the restroom every couple of hours, and that each time I get up gives me the perfect opportunity to do a few stretches and some deep breathing to help get oxygen into the bloodstream. While sitting I also like to do some progressive muscle relaxation which is a great stress buster while also helping to get your muscles working- Double bonus again!
- Try to get on your new sleep cycle as soon as possible– Nick and I started doing this several years ago on our way to France, then on another trip to England and most recently on our way to Germany once we started our long term traveling abroad. It isn’t easy and in our case required sleep aids on the plane but it was a HUGE help in getting our bodies adjusted to the new timezone as quickly as possible. Once we boarded the plane, within an hour or so we adjusted our watches to the timezone for our upcoming destination and acted as we would for those timezones, not our previous. We ate snacks, drank lots of fluids and made ourselves try to sleep at hours that paralleled where we were headed and then once we arrived at our destinations we dropped off luggage and made ourselves get out regardless of how tired we were. Putting in this extra effort on our way over made the adjustment a lot easier. Nick was again helped by using Melatonin (link) to help shut down at the desired time. Note: we’ve personally used and have known several for whom Melatonin has worked beautifully, but for others not at all. It can be hit or miss but it is worth a shot to try a natural option before moving on to the hard stuff 😉
Once You Arrive
- Give your body some time to adjust– I know this can be a bit challenging, especially if you have a limited time at your travel destination. The desire to just dive into tourist mode and pack in as much stuff as possible right away can be strong and alluring. As tempting as this may be, the reality is that your body is going through some major adjustments and needs some time to adapt to its new surroundings and environment. This is especially important if you have crossed time zones- jetlag is no joke! Symptoms of jetlag are: fatigue, insomnia, digestive issues (yes. I am talking about poop or lack-there-of), and headaches. While re-calibrating it is especially important that you avoid caffeine and alcohol (yeah, I know you’re on vacation!) at least in the first 24 hours, as these are immuno-suppressants and can also affect your sleep cycle as it is trying to adjust to the new timezone, giving it a double whammy. It is also strongly advised that you avoid the enticing allure of a nice nap (unless it is night time when you arrive at your destination and then it is recommended that you try to get to sleep) once you arrive at your destination and instead get out and get some sun. I’m not advising a marathon or anything, just walk around a little bit and let the daylight help your body as it adjusts. Walking around near where you are staying is also a great way to scope out where good restaurants, grocery stores, markets, pharmacies (or Apotheke’s as they are called in Germany) shops and entertainment might be, so there’s that too 😉
- Flush your sinuses– doing a flush with the NetiPot (link) or something like it can help rinse out germs, new pollens, and debris from your travels that can cause irritation and inflammation and increase your risk of catching a bug. Doing a full sinus flush with the saline solution (link) help adds moisture and promote healthy mucosa functioning (which I touched on earlier, but if you forgot, that is a good thing).
- Enjoy yourself!– remember that you are on VACATION and vacation is supposed to be enjoyable. Enjoyment, of course, is a subjective experience so I can’t tell you what that should look like, only that you shouldn’t be stressed out the whole time. If you are you might want to re-evaluate your approach. I can tell you that after getting sick so much when traveling (or beating my feet up to the point I could barely walk). I have adopted a ‘less is more’ approach to my travels and instead of trying to do as much as possible, we decide on what our top few choices are and spread them out over an extended period and allow for flexibility in our planning to accommodate our bodies needs and limitations (writing that made me feel so old!) has made our adventuring way more enjoyable for both of us. Whatever your adventuring and enjoyment style just make sure your taking care of yourself, drinking lots of water, washing those hands frequently, getting enough rest, nourishing your body with healthy (but also delicious- yes, the two can simultaneously exist!), and keeping up with those vitamins!
I want to hear from you! What are your travel healthy tips and go-tos? Tell us about it!
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