It’s so unfair: Just as you set foot in your hotel room, you feel that telltale tickle in the back of your throat. You’re coming down with a cold. Unfortunately, the stress of travel combined with exposure to unfamiliar germs can put your immune system on the fritz. But if you follow these simple tips, you’ll be much more likely to enjoy healthy travels.
1. Make sure you’re set on medications and vaccines.
If you’re running low on any vital prescription medications, contact your pharmacy to get a refill before you go on vacation. Also, let your physician know if you’re traveling abroad in case you need boosters for polio, hepatitis B, malaria or any other localized diseases that are of concern at your destination.
2. Keep your hands clean.
This is always sound advice, but especially so when you’re traveling. You’re going to be exposed to lots of germs—germs you may not have immunity against—so soap up frequently and carry hand sanitizer.
3. Pack your carry-on strategically.
If you’re traveling on a plane, the stale air and cramped quarters can make you feel lousy, particularly if it’s a long flight. Some items you’ll want close at hand: Clothing or a wrap to guard against chilly cabins, hand sanitizer, saline nasal spray to counteract dry cabin air and disinfectant wipes to de-germ your seat.
4. Get up and move.
It’s not always convenient to get up and move around on a flight or road trip. But make a point of doing so frequently to avoid deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), also known as economy class syndrome. DVT leads to blood clots that can develop when you remain still for too long, and it can land you in the hospital. As a general rule, remember: Whether you’re on vacation or not, being physically active is key to good health.
5. Drink plenty of fluids.
It’s easy to forget to drink enough water while traveling, but it’s vital. When you combine lots of walking with lots of sunshine, you can get dehydrated very quickly. Drink up!
6. But don’t drink untreated tap water if you’re traveling abroad.
This is especially important if you’re traveling to developing countries, where water can be contaminated by disease-causing microorganisms. Also, be sure to avoid ice and don’t use tap water to brush your teeth. Montezuma’s revenge is a real thing—and you don’t want it! Stick with sealed, bottled beverages.
7. Allow for jet lag.
The fatigue of jet lag isn’t exactly an illness, but it can have a similarly disruptive effect on your vacation. If you’re traveling across time zones, limit activity on the first day of your trip, spend time in natural light to help your body adjust its circadian rhythms, and keep naps short so you can still sleep at night.
8. Beware of raw fruits and veggies.
In many parts of the world, uncooked fruits and vegetables can carry bacteria, just like the water. Unless you’ve peeled it yourself or it’s been cooked, proceed with caution.
9. Cool it on the umbrella drinks.
Yes, you’re on vacation, and sugary alcoholic treats are very tasty! But alcohol can contribute to dehydration and, of course, a headache or upset stomach. Try to keep the cocktails to a minimum.
10. Watch those rays.
The closer you get to the equator, the more of a concern sun exposure will be. Travelers tend to spend lots of time outdoors, so no matter where you go be mindful of your time in the sun. Wear plenty of sunscreen, put on a floppy hat and wear UV-blocking sunglasses.
11. Tell bugs to bug off.
If your travels take you to rural areas, be wary—in some countries a simple mosquito bite can make you extremely ill. Use bug repellent with DEET or picaridin, and consider wearing insecticide-treated clothing if you expect a lot of bug exposure.