Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel and how much you’ve missed it. As states begin to relax their regulations with regard to COVID-19 and more Americans become vaccinated, travel is opening up more and more. Before planning a trip, read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before booking and again before traveling.
While traveling under normal circumstances can be stressful, traveling during the coronavirus pandemic takes everything up a notch. The thought of catching any sort of illness while traveling is enough for some people to want to stay home. Fortunately, it’s possible to maintain your good health while traveling with these simple yet effective tips.
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. (Note that most countries are closed to entry by Americans right now due to coronavirus but keep this tip in mind when the world is back to normal.) Your primary care physician may be able to assist with any vaccinations you need or make an appointment with a travel doctor.
2. Maintain social distancing
Once you step outside your home, always keep at least six feet (about two arms’ length) between you and any person that doesn't live with you. This is especially important in crowded places such as bus and train stations as well as airports. People with COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, might not show symptoms. But social distancing can help prevent the infection from spreading from one person to another.
3. Always wear a face mask
Maintaining social distancing can sometimes be difficult, especially in crowded places. In those instances, and every place where a face covering is mandated, wear a face mask that covers your nose and mouth. Although a face mask is not a substitute for social distancing, it can help reduce the risk of transmitting coronavirus. New studies also show that wearing a mask can lower your chances of getting infected and can lessen the symptoms if you do get infected. That's because viral load is an important factor in how ill a person may get. The lower the viral load, the lower your chances of getting sick and the less impactful the symptoms may be if you do get sick. It is recommended to always wear a face mask in public—even if you don’t feel sick.
4. 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.
The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water. However, if this isn’t possible, a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol will suffice until you can properly wash your hands. Note: Stay away from sanitizers with methanol, a toxic substance that can cause vomiting, nausea and other adverse side effects. Check out the list of hand sanitizers with methanol on the FDA’s website.
5. Don’t touch your face!
According to studies, we touch our faces 23 times per hour on average. Nearly half of the time (44%), those touches come in contact with mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth). It’s an unconscious habit that we need to keep in check when traveling.
The best way to stop touching your face is to be aware of where your hands go or what they’re doing. You could also try to keep them busy, fold them in your lap or use a clean tissue to touch your face for any reason. Imagining them covered in germs is also a good tactic, as is wearing a mask that fits well so you don’t fidget with it.
6. 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 and tray table.
And, for peace of mind and protection from coronavirus, have these supplies handy too.
- Cloth face mask. Keep one out to wear and have an extra packed in your bag , too.
- Hand sanitizer. In times when you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol will help prevent germs from spreading.
- Antibacterial sprays and wipes. Use wipes or a cleaning spray to disinfect high touch point areas during travel, such as doorknobs and seats.
- Tissues. You should also include tissues to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Discard used tissues quickly.
7. Bring cleaning supplies
Cleaning standards vary from hotel to hotel and airline to airline (many now give out a face mask, cleaning wipe and hand sanitizer upon boarding). To be on the safe side, it’s best to bring along your own cleaning supplies, such as disinfecting spray and/or sanitizing wipes, whenever you travel. Here’s a list of EPA-registered disinfectants you might want to include in your go-bag.
8. Choose a hotel with contactless options
Keep physical contact with anyone at a minimum during travel. When booking a hotel, check to see that it offers online or mobile check-in, mobile room key and contactless payment options. And, if you order room service, request contactless delivery where they will leave your order at the door and you won't have to sign for anything.
9. Disinfect hard surfaces and other high touch-point areas
Surfaces that get touched by many people must be disinfected to kill germs. During flights, it could be the armrest, seat belt buckle and tray. In hotels, it could be the TV remote, door handles, tables and desks, toilet seat and lid and light switches. Disinfect surfaces that people often touch or where you set things down that eventually will go near your mouth or face, such as glasses on nightstands.
10. Choose outdoor dining or takeout
When eating out, choose to sit outdoors when possible. Alfresco dining is less risky than dining inside a restaurant mainly because any viral particles or droplets will disperse more quickly in open air. Pick a restaurant that isn’t crowded, with tables that are well spaced apart. Check to see what sanitization practices have been instituted and check to be sure all employees are wearing masks. Bonus points for restaurants with plexiglass or plastic dividers between tables. Remember to only remove your mask when eating or drinking.
Takeout is another alternative. You can pick up your order curbside or at a drive-thru, or use a food delivery service such as Uber Eats, Grubhub or DoorDash. Once back at your hotel, take the food from its packaging, put it on a plate and wash your hands before you eat. If you placed the packaging on top of counters or tables, clean and sanitize them once again for good measure.
11. 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.
However, note that although this is sound advice, you might want to forego moving around a crowded airplane cabin on a very short flight. Due to the threat of catching (or unintentionally spreading) coronavirus, it might be safer to stay put at your seat until you disembark. Consider wearing compression stockings to prevent DVT when mobility is limited in a plane.
12. 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! Of course, this means nature will call so be sure to stay safe in public restrooms by staying masked, washing your hands thoroughly or using hand sanitizer.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. Be vigilant
Some places, especially those that aren’t crowded, may seem safe but don’t let your guard down. Wear a mask when out in the public, maintain social distancing and disinfect your hands with soap and water, or sanitizer, regularly. Opt for outdoor activities and alfresco dining or takeout.