Nothing’s worse than being on vacation and falling ill. Being sick means you can’t experience the vacation you spent so much time planning for.
Many of us travel by air when we go on vacation. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that make airplanes less-than-ideal spaces for avoiding illness, and one study showed that harmful bacteria can survive in plane cabins for a week.
Between the lack of sleep and close quarters, cramped airplane flights can be a great way to get sick, especially for older people or for those with underlying conditions.
The key to staying healthy while on vacation is preparation. Take care of your body’s needs so you can enjoy your time away and come home sickness-free.
1. Stay hydrated
Your body needs to stay hydrated to keep up its defenses. Bring an empty water bottle through security so you can fill up without paying the airport’s extravagant prices. Stick to bottled water, both on the plane and at your destination—it’s less likely to be contaminated.
With the dry air inside the cabin, your nasal mucous membranes easily get dehydrated. Use a saline solution nasal spray to increase your nose’s ability to fight contagious bacteria.
2. Don’t touch your face
Airports and airplanes have a lot of dirty surfaces that are touched by thousands of people. Chances are that you will touch that luggage cart and then touch your face. Avoid touching your face at all, unless you have washed your hands and used hand sanitizer. Practice this before leaving for your trip—you may be surprised how often you touch your face without realizing it.
3. Avoid alcohol
Sure, it’s nice to relax with a beverage in the airport lounge or take advantage of on-board drinks, but if you are trying to stay healthy, you should abstain. Alcohol is dehydrating. Add that to the dry plane air and your skin can begin to crack, creating entry points for germs.
4. Avoid the airline pillows and blankets
Many airlines provide pillows and blankets for long flights. But if they’re sitting unwrapped on your seat, it’s better to avoid them—you don’t know where they have been. Only use amenities sealed in plastic.
If you want to bring your own pillow on the plane, pack it so that it doesn’t touch anything as you take it through security and on the plane. Make sure to wash your neck pillows regularly.
5. Prevent dry eyes
Dry eyes get itchy, but resist scratching—touching your face gives you a higher chance of illness. Wash your hands before touching your face.
If you wear contact lenses, it’s a good idea to remove them before you get on the plane and wear glasses instead. Falling asleep with contacts in will exacerbate any dryness. You can always put your contacts back in once you land.
6. Boost your immune system
When you’re in an enclosed airplane cabin, you are exposed to the foreign germs of everyone around you. Protect yourself by boosting your immune system before the flight. Try drinking immune boosting supplements that contain vitamin C, antioxidants, zinc and manganese.
The best way to boost your immune system? Get plenty of sleep before you begin your trip.
7. Get up and move
Sitting on a plane can cause what is known as “economy-class syndrome”— blood clots in the legs. Dehydration and low cabin pressure contribute to this phenomenon.
To get the blood in your legs moving, contract your calf muscles, tap your feet and take some breaks to stand up and walk down the aisle.
8. Reset your internal clock
Jet lag can ruin a vacation. Set your watches to your new time zone while still on the plane. When you arrive, try to stick as close as possible to a regular schedule in your new time zone. If it’s bedtime when you arrive, try to get some sleep. If it’s daytime, try to stay awake. A nap may sound good, but it will delay your internal clock and can make you feel worse.
9. Pack disinfectants
Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes are essentials when traveling by air. Clean your space by disinfecting your seat, arm rests, control panels and tray table with anti-bacterial wipes.
Wash your hands whenever you get the opportunity. If you use the airport bathroom, use paper towels to open the doors and use hand sanitizer after you exit, even if you washed your hands. Those tiny sinks typically aren’t big enough to provide a thorough cleaning.
Keep the germs away and enjoy your stay
Why do so many people get sick after flying on a plane? Sharing a tiny space with a lot of people in a confined space appears to be a major factor.
The key to staying healthy is to clean the surfaces you’ll touch on your flight and avoiding touching your face. Make sure you get enough sleep and water so your body is prepared to fight the germs that try to get through your defenses.
Above all, enjoy yourself. Less stress equals a healthier body and a more relaxing vacation. Stay healthy and enjoy your destination sickness-free. Bon voyage!
Tracy Layden is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Tracy leads the marketing efforts at Alert-1, a personal safety technology and consulting firm dedicated to helping seniors live safely and independently. Tracy holds a degree in mathematics from Scripps College and is an accomplished ballroom dancer and equestrian.