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.
Yes it’s time for cold and flu season. But that doesn’t mean that you should cancel any travel plans.
This is not medical advice. If you have concerns about treating a cold, flu, or if you should travel, 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 staying healthy on a trip during cold and flu season. Avoid getting sick by adding these healthy travel tips to your travel toolbox.
19 Healthy Travel Tips for Cold and Flu Season
1. Start with a healthy you
A robust immune system is the best defense against getting sick, not just for travel but also for everyday 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. 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. 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.
4. Bring sanitizing wipes
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.
5. 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? So Alan and I wash our hands or use a hand sanitizer AFTER handing the menu back to the server. We don’t mind looking like germaphobes because this healthy travel tip has kept us from getting sick on long cruises and at home.
6. Keep hands away from your face
Germs enter the body through the mouth, nose and eyes. So 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.
7. Think about what you’re touching
How many people have touched the handrail or doorknob that you’ve just touched, especially in busy places like airports, museums or shopping malls? During cold and flu season, avoid using handrails unless you absolutely need them for balance. When entering a public restroom, wash your hands immediately. Then wash them again after using the restroom—duh. You wouldn’t believe how many women I notice leaving the bathroom without washing their hands. If the public restroom requires exiting by a doorknob or handle, use a clean paper towel to touch the door handle.
8. Pack 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.
9. 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.
10. 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? So 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.
11. 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!
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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 your 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.
16. 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.
17. Know your risks
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. 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.
18. Be a good neighbor
“Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing.” That advice from mom still holds true. But I recommend taking the good neighbor approach a step further, so read on to travel tip #19.
19. Cancel the trip if you’re sick
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.
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Do you have healthy travel tips for cold and flu season? Have you ever cancelled travel due to illness? Come join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook. Or send us an email with your thoughts.
This is not medical advice. If you have concerns about treating a cold or flu, contact your doctor.
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