21 Healthy Travel Tips to Avoid Cold, Flu and Novel Corona Virus on a Trip

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Updated 02.01.2020: I’ve updated my healthy travel tips for cold and flu season to include the current travel issues with the Novel Corona virus that originated in Wuhan, China.

There’s a lot of misinformation and fear mongering in the news and on social media. Let’s approach the topic with practicality and common sense. So here are a few facts to consider:

As of the day I’m writing this, Saturday, February 1, 2020, 259 deaths from coronavirus have been reported, all in China. And 12,037 confirmed cases have been reported in the world, the majority in China or Chinese visiting other countries. By the time you check the
John Hopkins up-to-date map the numbers will have increased.

The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4 warning: Do not travel to China.

To put this in perspective:

The CDC estimates 19 million influenza cases with 10,000 deaths this season have occurred in the U.S. The percentage of deaths from pneumonia and influenza is 6.7%, which is below the epidemic threshold of 7.2%. You should be most worried about the flu!

There are precautions that you can take to protect yourself against Corona virus or any other infectious disease. Using the healthy practices that we have always known—can you hear your mother say “wash your hands before coming to dinner”?—we can lessen the chances of catching the flu, a cold or even the Corona virus.

21 Healthy Travel Tips for Cold, Flu and the Corona virus

You’re on the boomer bucket list trip of a lifetime. Tomorrow you’ll be snorkeling on a South Pacific cruise excursion. The underwater camera is charged up for a morning of colorful photography—we interrupt this beautiful scene to bring you the sounds of coughing and sneezing. Uh-oh, you should have followed my healthy travel tips.

Man and woman on a ship with an iceberg in the background. Text on photo: heatlhy travel tips for cold and flu season.

Yes it’s time for cold and flu season. But that doesn’t mean that you should cancel any travel plans, unless your doctor or the State Department advises against going to a destination.

This is not medical advice. If you have concerns about treating a cold, flu, or if you should travel during an epidemic such as the Corona virus, contact your doctor.

How do you enjoy a trip without exposing yourself to germs and other pathogens? The old saying “The best defense is a good offense” especially applies to traveling healthy during cold and flu season.

As boomer’s age, staying healthy becomes even more important. Avoid getting sick by adding these healthy travel tips to your travel toolbox.

Staying healthy on a trip starts before leaving home

A healthy trip begins with a healthy you. These tips for how to be healthy will keep you well during the trip, but more importantly, they’ll keep you feeling great on a daily basis, no matter where you are.

1. Help your immune system out

A robust immune system is the best defense against getting sick, not just for travel but also for every day life. Keep your immune system functioning well by eating right, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep.

Traveling soon? Don’t exhaust your immune system when preparing for a trip by overdoing it or losing sleep. Start preparations early, including packing, so that you begin the trip feeling well-rested, refreshed and relaxed.

2. Take your vitamins

Do you take vitamins or supplements for health support? The Cleveland Clinic recommends vitamins C, B6 and E—preferably from food sources—as immune system boosters.

If your body is accustomed to daily vitamins and supplements, don’t stop now! Be sure to bring them on the trip. Using a weekly pill organizer will remind you to take vitamins and supplements.

3. Get a flu shot

These days, vaccinations are controversial. But one bout of the flu will convince you to take a flu shot the next season.

The CDC recommends that travelers get a flu shot. And even if the current flu shot proves to be for the wrong strain, it still lessens flu symptoms. While we’re talking about vaccinations, if you’re 65 or older, the pneumoccal pneumonia vaccination is a good idea, especially if you are prone to secondary infections from respiratory illnesses.

4. Find out if you are traveling to a destination with a flu epidemic

I believe in the power of being in the know when it comes to travel. Researching a country or region’s health situation is vital to knowing what to expect.

The CDC publishes a map of flu cases in the U.S. that’s updated each week. And here’s a map of current flu cases in North America, just in case you’re traveling to Canada or Mexico.

The CDC Travel Health notices page also provides international travel health notices. Type in the country or illness to check current warnings.

5. Know your risks

Before leaving on a trip where you might be exposed to the flu, cold or Corona virus, ask yourself these questions:

  • How is my overall health?
  • Do I easily catch colds or viruses?
  • Does flu or respiratory illnesses often require hospitalization for me?
  • Am I asthmatic?
  • Do I have pulmonary or heart disease?
  • What does my doctor advise?
  • How well do I handle the anxiety of potentially being exposed to an infectious disease?

If you have ongoing medical issues, consult your physician for the healthy travel tips that are specific to your condition. Work with him or her to create an “if I get sick” plan before departing on a trip.

If your doctor advises to go on the trip, discuss what to do if you catch the flu or another virus. Should you see a doctor immediately? Will there be a possibility of hospitalization?

Learn which over-the-counter medications are safe to take, without interacting with your current prescriptions. If you have serious medical issues, it’s a wise idea to travel with copies of medical records, prescriptions and physician contact information. And, by all means, purchase travel insurance that covers pre-existing conditions.

6. Cancel the trip if you’re sick

Should you travel with the flu? Not if you can help it. Traveling with the flu could lead to secondary infections for the sick traveler, not to mention spreading flu germs to fellow travelers.

One of the most important healthy travel tips of all: don’t expose others to germs by traveling when you’re sick. Cancel the trip even if it hurts your pocketbook.

Worried about losing money? Flu and cold season is one of the times when purchasing travel insurance is a wise choice. And don’t forget to renew your medical evacuation membership just in case that flu turns into a lengthy illness. I’d much rather recuperate in my local hospital than a medical facility thousands of miles from home.

What to include in your staying healthy travel kit

I always include a healthy travel kit in my carryon or personal item bag. You’ll find products that protect against germs in my kit as well as doctor-approved medications for relieving cold and flu symptoms.

7. Pack an emergency first aid kit in your carryon

Nothing’s worse than being sick on a trip without medications to relieve your symptoms. Who wants to go to a drug store or pharmacy when they’re feeling ill, especially in a country where you don’t speak the language?

Pack the basics, not the entire contents of your home medicine cabinet. Your kit will be personal to you. For me, that would be ibuprofen, decongestant and cough lozenges.

Many travelers swear by Zicam. And there is research that zinc lozenges reduce cold and flu symptoms. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health recommends more tips for natural products that treat cold and flu.

8. Bring a pillow and blanket for the plane

During cold and flu season, do you really want to put your head on the airplane pillow? Maybe it’s been sanitized but maybe not. And the same goes for the blanket.

Bring your own pillow and blanket. For women, cashmere shawls make a good blanket substitute. And rolling up a puffy jacket serves as my pillow on winter trips.

Tips to stay healthy while you’re on the trip

A few good health practices go a long way in avoiding the cold or flu while on a trip. None of these are hard to do, you just have to make them a habit.

9. Wash, wash, wash your hands

It’s important to wash hands frequently during cold and flu season. That’s even truer on a trip where you’re exposed to crowds of people who’ve left their germs on surfaces like handrails or airplane tray tables.

The CDC recommends washing hands for about 20 seconds, which is long enough to sing two rounds of the Happy Birthday song. But if every person used that much water in the airplane lavatory, the water would run out long before the end of the flight. So pack a TSA approved sized hand sanitizer to use after washing your hands in the lavatory and before eating any snacks or meals on the plane.

When washing my hands in public restrooms, I tuck the paper drying towel underneath my arm BEFORE turning on the faucet. After washing my hands, I quickly dry them with the paper towel, then use the towel to turn off the faucet if it doesn’t have an automatic shut-off.

When leaving the restroom, I use the same paper towel on the door handle. If there isn’t a trash can nearby, I take the paper towel with me to throw away at the next trash can that I see.

10. Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing into them

Coughing or sneezing into your hands is a matter of using good manners. But the next item that you touch becomes infected with the germs that you’ve just transmitted into your hands. If it’s not possible to immediately wash your hands, keep hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipe handy to clean your hands.

11. Bring sanitizing wipes for the plane or hotel

Tuck a few sanitizing wipes into your carry-on or personal bag for cleaning the tray table, arm rests and seatbelt buckle as soon as you are seated on the plane. And sanitizing wipes are handy for wiping surfaces in the hotel room or anywhere else that you suspect contains germs.

12. Use a hand sanitizer after handling restaurant menus

When was the last time the menu that you just handled—on land or at sea—was sanitized? Who knows?

Alan and I wash our hands or use a hand sanitizer AFTER handing the menu back to the server. If we forget the hand sanitizer, we go to the restroom to wash our hands before dinner is served. We don’t mind looking like germaphobes because this healthy travel tip has kept us from getting sick on long cruises and at home.

13. Keep hands away from your face

Germs enter the body through the mouth, nose and eyes. This means: don’t rub your eyes, pick your nose or put on lip gloss with your finger. Don’t touch your face unless hands have just been washed or cleaned with a hand sanitizer. Of course washing hands before putting anything in your mouth is a given.

14. Don’t touch this

How many people have touched the handrail or doorknob that you’ve just touched, especially in busy places like airports, museums or shopping malls?

  • Avoid using handrails on stairs and escalators unless you absolutely need them for balance. Keep a sanitizing wipe in your pocket to wipe off hands immediately after using handrails.
  • Push doors open with your shoulder, arm or knee, rather than touching the doorknob.
  • Wipe off the airport ticket kiosk before printing out your ticket or luggage tags. If that’s not possible, immediately use hand sanitizer or a hand sanitizing wipe after completing your transaction.
  • Exit the bathroom by using a paper towel to open the door.
  • Use your knuckle to push elevator buttons rather than your fingertip.
  • Grab a paper towel to handle the gas nozzle when filling up your car. Do you think they are ever cleaned? I doubt it.

15. Drink water

Drinking water flushes out the toxins in your body. And, according to Fitness Magazine, water keeps your immune system functioning properly. Drinking water also moisturizes mucous membranes, making it more difficult for cold or flu germs to live in your nose or lungs.

16. Keep nasal passages moisturized

I’m a life-long allergy and sinus infection sufferer. But through years of experience, and some savvy advice from my ENT doctor, I’ve learned the importance of keeping nasal passage moisturized, especially on a plane.

What happens when my nose dries out? I tend to rub it. What did I just tell you about NOT touching your face?

I pack cotton swabs and a small tube of nasal moisturizing gel to use during the flight. Do not, I repeat do not, use fingers to put the gel into your nose. That will only introduce germs.

If I’m checking luggage, I also pack saline nose spray to use at my destination, or I purchase it as soon as possible after arriving. The spray washes out allergens and germs, which keeps me healthy.

17. Lubricate dry eyes with moisturizing drops

Having cataract surgery has taught me the importance of keeping eyes lubricated. Since I’m allergic to preservatives, I use single-use moisturizing drops that don’t have any preservative in them. The container has a cap and lasts for 24 hours. I always wash my hands before putting the drops into my eyes.

18. Smile a friendly greeting rather than shaking hands

During cold and flu season especially, smile a greeting rather than shaking hands with someone. Alan and I’ve noticed that cruise lines are using this practice during the reception line at the Captain’s Welcome party.

Everyone exchanges pleasantries with the captain but he does not offer his hand for a shake. Good for him! We want a healthy captain driving the ship!

19. Clean electronic devices frequently

Did you know that cell phones and computer keyboards harbor germs? Get in the habit of wiping them down with a sanitizing wipe on a daily basis. Use this tip whether you are traveling or at home.

20. Know the symptoms of the flu

Is it the cold or the flu? Knowing the difference between cold and flu symptoms helps you decide how to treat symptoms or whether to cancel an impending trip. And if you catch the flu while traveling, staying right where you are is vital to a quicker recovery, not to mention avoiding exposing others to your illness.

Here are the symptoms of Novel Corona virus directly from the CDC.

21. Be a good neighbor

 “Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing.” That advice from mom still holds true.

And if you become ill during a trip, quarantine yourself to the cruise cabin or hotel room. Don’t be one of those travelers who keeps on going while exposing everyone else to your germs. Thank you!

This is not medical advice. If you have concerns about treating a cold or flu, contact your doctor.

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Healthy travel tips for cold and flu season for the boomer traveler. 19 tips to keep you traveling!

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