6 Tips to Staying Healthy While Traveling

Avoid germy hot spots and boost your immune system

Photo: Passenger airline against a blue sky

Souvenirs, pictures from a perfect day, phone numbers of new friends: when you come home from traveling, it's usually with a suitcase and memory full of good things. Except when you come back with a cold. To stay healthy the next time you hit the road, avoid these three germy hot spots and follow these tips from Michael Zimring, MD, author of Healthy Travel: Don't Travel Without It! and director of the Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine at the Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Avoid Germy Hot Spots

Seat backs: Whether you're on a plane, train, or bus, keep in mind that multiple people have used the same seat you're in. Germs stay on surfaces anywhere from a couple minutes to half an hour or even longer, Dr. Zimring says. "If you're walking in the train and grab the back of a seat, remember that the person who just left the bathroom may have also grabbed it," he says.
Avoid it: Although antibacterial sanitizers aren't recommended for regular use, they're okay for travel in order to avoid germs. Carry a small container and use after touching surfaces like the seat back, touchscreens, tray tables, and door handles.

Handles: Public surfaces like bathroom handles can be a hotbed of contamination, especially if people do not wash their hands properly.
Avoid it: "I'd think twice about leaving the bathroom and touching the handle," Dr. Zimring says. Instead of opening yourself up to germs, take a couple paper towels and use them to open the door. At gas stations, use paper towels on the gas pump and sanitize your hands afterwards.

Seating areas: If you travel enough, it's inevitable you'll sit next to someone who is coughing and sneezing.
Avoid it: If they're coughing into their hands, make sure not to touch what they're touching. Hands are the most likely culprit in the spread of germs, Dr. Zimring says. Carry respiratory masks to use if you're seated next to someone who clearly has a cold. While you may look a little silly, you'll be thankful later. Don't forget to wear the mask over both your mouth and nose.


Boost Your Immune System
"Basically, the healthier you are, the less prone you are to get sick if a germ comes by. The germ doesn't want to hit a healthy environment. It wants to hit a weak environment," Dr. Zimring says. Keep these three things on your health checklist before traveling.


Hydration: "On a plane, it's not the bad air that makes you sick, it's the dry air," Dr. Zimring says. Dry air is just one component that will dehydrate your body. Caffeine and alcohol do too, so stick with water when it's time for beverage service. Dehydration lowers your body's defenses, so make sure to drink 8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water a day to stay hydrated.

Nutrition: Just because you're traveling doesn't mean you can ditch your diet. "Carry nutritious food and snacks," Dr. Zimring says. Pack easy no-bake snack bars or some fruit instead of opting for prepackaged junk.

Sleep: "If your body is worn out, you'll catch something. You just have to minimize risk," Dr. Zimring says. Stick to a regular sleep schedule even when you're traveling.