Byline: Deem Editorial team
As the country begins to reopen in the waning impact of the pandemic, airlines have started to see a rebound in business — nearly quadrupling the number of passengers from June 2020 to June 2021. While COVID-19 precautions are still in place in airports throughout the country, you might be considering other ways to reduce your chances of getting sick during your next trip.
We’ve rounded up some tried-and-true ways to support your immune system, while also taking steps to reduce your risk of infection.
Why do I get sick more often when I travel?
According to one study of 460 travelers, 79% reported illness during or after their trip. Many factors increase the risk of getting sick while traveling — like crowded public settings, travel-related stress, and poor sleep quality. The risk seems to escalate because these factors expose you to new or different germs or put a tax on your immune system, or both.
While planes seem like a breeding ground for germs, most are equipped with highly effective HEPA air filters to clean the air and reduce the spread of airborne illnesses. It isn’t the larger presence of germs that creates the biggest risk while flying, but likely the fact that air travel presents the added element of low humidity levels while flying. Low humidity can cause your nose to dry up and impair its innate resistance against airborne disease, thus increasing your susceptibility to illness.
If skipping a flight isn’t an option (or preference), the first step to avoid getting sick while traveling is starting the trip with a strong immune system intact.
How can I support my immune system?
Before you even book your flight, it’s important to have a healthy immune system. Here are few ways to ensure you’re helping your body work its best:
- Get sleep. Studies show that people who get less sleep have increased susceptibility to illnesses and the common cold. Aiming for more than 6 hours of sleep per night can help keep your immune system healthy.
2. Stay active. Regular exercise is one of the pillars of good health — lowering. your blood pressure, helping control body weight, and improving cardiovascular health.
3. Eat a balanced diet. Whole plant foods high in nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants — like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds — can give you a natural immune boost and lower your risk of getting sick.
4. Laugh. Laughter improves your immune system by increasing the production of antibodies and T-cells in the blood that helps protect against infections. Your brain also releases a healthy dose of endorphins when you laugh, which can reduce stress hormones like cortisol as well as lower your blood pressure.
How can I reduce my chances of getting sick while traveling?
Supporting your immune system in its ability to fight off invaders is only half the battle; a few simple habits can help shield you against unwanted germs while traveling as well.
- Wash your hands and wear a mask. Such an obvious tip, but so effective at helping prevent the spread of disease — and oddly bypassed by many people. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water, especially before you eat, after you blow your nose, and when you use the restroom. And while mask-wearing is most effective if everyone is wearing one, they do still provide some protection against airborne particles on an individual basis as well.
2. Carry sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer. Warm water and soap aren’t always available when you’re traveling, so it’s important to carry easily accessible hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes with you on the go. Sanitize your hands after touching the screen at check-in, grabbing your bag off the conveyor belt, or anytime you touch a public surface. Sanitizing wipes can be extra helpful when you sit down on the plane to disinfect the area around you — armrest, tray table, window, and seat.
3. Avoid touching things and yourself. Whenever possible, avoid touching your face, your mouth, bathroom doors, or other people. Use a Kleenex to open the airplane bathroom door, your elbow to press elevator buttons, and skip the handshake when meeting other people.
4. Stay hydrated. Water helps carry oxygen to your cells, which improves their function. It also helps carry toxins out of your body, which could help prevent them from having a negative impact on your immune system. Bring a reusable water bottle when you travel, fill it up once you pass security.
5. Keep zinc throat lozenges on hand. Throat lozenges are great to have around if you feel your throat getting dry or get a little tickle. Zinc can help boost your immune system too, so it’s an easy hack to have ready. (Just make sure to limit your zinc intake to 40mg per day.)
6. Add humidity. Remember what we said about low humidity, dry noses, and susceptibility to illness? Pack a travel humidifier to take with you if you’re visiting somewhere dry or will be in buildings that are blasting the air conditioning all day. Not only will you avoid waking up with dry eyes and throat, you’ll ensure you’re not boarding your flight with dry sinuses to start.
7. Wear washer and dryer-friendly clothing. Once you get home, strip off any clothes you wore while traveling and throw them in the wash. A laundry sanitizer additive can help kill any bacteria that are hanging onto your clothes. Throw your clothes in the dryer on high heat to get rid of any lingering germs. (That is, if your clothes are not at risk of shrinking!)
The bottom line
There’s no surefire way to avoid getting sick on the road, but with some preparation and a few precautions, you can greatly reduce your chances. Remember to follow recommendations from your local government or public health agency, and check with your healthcare provider for any recommended vaccinations if you’ll be traveling abroad.