Whether it’s the trip of a lifetime to a faraway place or a brief business trip to a nearby city, nothing will put a damper on your travels faster than being sick while you’re on the road. While there’s no guarantee that you won’t catch a cold or spend the night in the restroom due to something you ate, here are 14 easy ways to avoid getting sick when you travel.
I have an MBA (and not an MD), so the advice in this article is based on my personal experience and the steps I take to avoid getting sick when I travel. It should in no way be perceived as medical advice, as my diploma is clearly lacking the letters required to be a physician or an infectious disease expert. That said, you’ll see many links to respected medical sources as you continue reading.
It happens to even the most seasoned travelers — lack of sleep, unfamiliar food, an increase in altitude, or a coughing passenger in the airplane seat next to you — and suddenly you’re away from home and feeling crummy. While it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep on the road, and there’s still no cure for the common cold, here are 14 easy ways to avoid getting sick when you travel.
Whether you’re staying stateside or traveling abroad, there are several steps you can take before you leave home, on your journey, and at your destination to avoid getting sick when you travel
1. Verify Your Vaccinations are Up to Date
As an adult, you might think that your days of visiting the doctor to get a shot are behind you, but one of the easiest ways to avoid getting sick when you travel is to be sure your vaccinations are current. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these vaccines for adults, including a seasonal flu shot each year.
All American adults should also confirm that they received the Tdap vaccine as a child to protect them from pertussis (whooping cough). And a TD booster is required every decade to protect you from bacterial infections like tetanus and diphtheria.
Midlife travelers will want to speak with their physicians about the shingles vaccine and other specific considerations for travelers who are 50+.
And after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s best for all vaccine eligible travelers to be fully vaccinated before traveling.
2. Make Over the Counter Meds Part of Your Packing List
If you regularly take prescription meds, you’re likely to ensure that they arrive with you at your destination. But it’s easy to overlook over-the-counter meds that can improve your trip if you come down with anything. While it won’t necessarily help you avoid getting sick, having these items on hand can provide comfort from allergies, colds, headaches, and more.
- Allergy pills – from seasonal allergies to the resident cat at your quaint bed-and-breakfast, allergy medicine can provide relief from itchy, watery eyes and sneezing
- Antidiarrheal medicine – if your stomach is upset from lack of sleep, a change in diet, or another factor, it’s helpful having antidiarrheal medicine on hand
- Cold medicine – packing both day- and nighttime tablets can help you power through a day of meetings or get a good night’s sleep rather than sneezing, coughing, or otherwise battling a cold
- Pain relievers – from an altitude headache to a sore back from lugging a heavy suitcase, pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are always beneficial to have on hand
Sage Advice: If space allows, it’s also wise to bring first-aid kit basics with you when you travel. While space may be an issue when traveling by plane, be sure to pack a first-aid kit if you’re taking a road trip.
3. Wipe Down Surfaces
Air travel is one of the fastest and most convenient ways to get from point a to point b, but planes are full of germs. Studies have shown that swabs from tray tables, seat belt buckles, air vents, seat pockets, and other surfaces regularly show levels of bacteria, yeast, and mold high enough to make passengers sick. So whether you travel by plane, train, or automobile, avoid getting sick when you travel by wiping down commonly touched surfaces with disinfecting wipes.
I keep a pouch of travel-size sanitizer wipes in my purse and carry-on so that they’re always with me when I travel. And as soon as I get to my seat on the plane, I wipe down all surfaces with one of the cloths. I also regularly wipe down my phone and credit cards* when I travel to help keep germs at bay and avoid getting sick.
Sage Advice: If you’d rather DIY your sanitizer wipes, check out this recipe for reusable disinfecting wipes that uses rubbing alcohol and essential oils. There’s also this recipe that uses a combination of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide to fight germs. If you make your own sanitizer wipes, keep a supply in a quart-sized resealable bag when you travel.
*Wait, credit card? You bet! As that puppy gets handed to cashiers and swiped around the world, it gets seven times dirtier than a Penn Station bathroom in New York City. Nasty!
4. Wash Your Hands Regularly and Carry Hand Sanitizer
One of the simplest and most important ways to keep germs at bay when you travel is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water as often as you can. Because that’s not always possible, it’s also wise to carry hand sanitizer (in addition to the disinfectant wipes mentioned above).
Sage Advice: All of that hand washing can lead to dry, cracked skin, so be sure to keep a tube of good quality hand lotion with you, as well.
5. Apply Essential Oils
Some people swear by essential oils while others refer to them as modern-day snake oil. My personal experience aligns with the findings of this professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Pharmacy and this article from Johns Hopkins University. After all, about 40 percent of all prescription medicines are plant based. So while essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the US, it’s not unreasonable that high-quality, reputable essential oils have merit.
These are the best essential oils for travel, and I never leave home without them.
Related Article: 8 Reasons to Travel with Essential Oils
6. Stay Hydrated (While Being Mindful of Your Water’s Source)
Consuming enough water each day is so stinking important. Even if you don’t leave the house, staying hydrated helps your body prevent infection, keeps your joints lubricated, and aids in a good night’s sleep. And when you’re on the road — exposed to germs, moving more or differently than usual, and bunking in a strange bed — staying hydrated is more important than ever.
If you are staying stateside or visiting western Europe, it is generally safe to use tap water for brushing your teeth, rinsing produce, and drinking. However, if you have any concerns about your body’s ability to tolerate the local tap water, travel with a LifeStraw or drink bottled water.
Sage Advice: If you are traveling to a destination where you don’t think you should drink the tap water, then be sure to avoid ice since it’s nearly certainly made from tap water.
7. Pump Up the Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that can benefit your body in several ways. And while it won’t cure or prevent disease, it can boost your immunity, helping you avoid sickness and recover faster if you do catch a bug.
In addition to consuming vitamin C through foods like spinach salad tossed with sliced strawberries and orange segments, steamed broccoli, and sliced bell peppers dipped in hummus, I like to travel with a supply of Airborne vitamin C gummies.
8. Eat Healthy Foods
In addition to eating foods full of vitamin C, it’s also wise to not go overboard on sugar, carbs, and alcohol when you travel. Believe me, I know how hard it can be to resist croissants and wine in France or frites and poffertjes in the Netherlands. You can still eat these tasty treats at your destination, just don’t eat so many of them that you aren’t adding health foods to the mix. You also want to avoid a wicked sugar crash and tossing and turning all night because your belly is too full!
Related Article: 8 Ways to Eat Healthy While Traveling
Be mindful of food poisoning when you travel. In many cases, the culprit is washing fresh fruits and vegetables with tap water to which your body is not accustomed.
9. Stay Active to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling
If you’re visiting a new city, exploring a national park, or taking in an attraction, chances are you’re walking a marathon each day. But if you are sitting in a car, on a train, or in a plane for ten hours or your travel has your butt stuck in a chair in a convention center all day, it’s a whole other story.
Whether you’re strolling the streets, swimming laps in the hotel pool, or jogging a local trail, be sure to stay active to avoid getting sick when you travel.
10. Get Your Zzzzzzzs
Whether you stay close to home or travel around the world, I believe that eating healthy food, drinking plenty of water, and getting regular exercise always contribute to the best sleep. But when your body is battling jet lag or your mind won’t turn off — either from excitement or worry — it can be hard to sleep soundly on the road. However, getting adequate rest is another way to avoid getting sick when you travel.
If you are having a hard time falling (or staying) asleep, try these techniques:
11. Take an Epsom Salt Bath at the First Sign of Ickiness
Like recommendation #5, this tip for avoiding getting sick has its believers and naysayers, but it has worked well for me. Also known as magnesium sulfate, a soak in an Epsom salt bath is believed to draw out toxins from the body. Every time I feel the first signs of a cold or flu bug, I draw a hot Epsom salt bath and soak for at least 20 minutes. By soaking (and sweating) in the hot, mineral-rich water, I’m nearly always able to nip the crud in the bud.
Additionally, absorbing magnesium in this manner has been shown to keep skin hydrated, reduce inflammation and muscle pain, and deliver these health and beauty benefits.
12. Be Smart in the Sun
When I was in high school, my family got to spend two glorious weeks in San Diego while my dad attended a training course for work. Cursed with fair hair and alabaster skin since birth, I stupidly sat on the beach our first day there expecting to look like the sun-kissed beauties on suntan lotion commercials. That evening, I discovered I had a second-degree sunburn all over my body. My back was covered in blisters, and I could barely wear a loose t-shirt without howling in pain. So while my sisters fondly remember the adorable koalas from our visit to the San Diego Zoo and the other activities during our trip, all I can remember is the extreme pain.
So don’t be me as a dumb teenager. Instead, be sure to pack and regularly apply sunscreen to avoid getting sick when you travel!
13. Protect Yourself from Bug Bites
While it’s not uncommon to be afraid of rattlesnakes in New Mexico, sharks off the coast of California, or grizzly bears in Montana, did you know that none of these animals is the deadliest to man? Nope! Believe it or not, it’s that annoying mosquito buzzing around your ear that you should fear the most. Responsible for spreading malaria, West Nile, yellow fever, Zika, and other diseases, millions of people around the world become ill with mosquito-borne conditions inflicted by the blood-sucking bugs.
You’ll also want to prevent tick-borne illnesses. Ticks are truly nasty little buggers that are commonly infected with bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Disgusting! They spread diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tularemia, and Lyme disease.
So after you’ve slathered on sunscreen and donned a big floppy hat, be sure to also douse yourself with insect repellent to avoid getting sick when you travel.
14. Adjust to Altitude Like a Champ
Did you know that a change in altitude of just 1,000 feet can cause headaches, shortness of breath, nose bleeds, vomiting, and other symptoms associated with high altitude? Help your body adjust to higher altitudes and avoid getting sick by:
- Drinking plenty of water
- Limiting diuretics like caffeinated drinks and alcohol
- Consuming foods rich in potassium and iron like bananas, broccoli, beef, eggs, spinach, and tuna
How Do You Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling?
Do you have a tip to share that I haven’t mentioned? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
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- Need something else to plan your perfect trip? Visit my travel resources page for more trusted partners. Happy wandering!