Traveling can be exciting, but it can expose you to a slew of germs and bacteria. Just getting into an aeroplane puts you at risk because of the shared surfaces and recycled air. According to statistics, a whopping one in five people gets either a cold or the flu after a flight – not a fun prospect.
And if dirty aeroplanes aren't enough, a study by Cambridge University has shown that travelling between different time zones affects your circadian rhythm, which compromises your immune system. Travelling to another hemisphere, exchanging one season for another, also taxes your immunity. Add to that anxiety, a lack of sleep and a change in diet and routine – and you know you're in for a bumpy ride.
If you're about to pack your bags and you're worried about your immune system and staying healthy, the following tips may come in handy:
1. Prepare early
In the weeks leading up to your trip, eat a healthy, balanced diet and get more sleep in order to to boost your immune system. Consider incorporating more fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet and try to add an hour to your sleep. Stay hydrated.
2. Keep stress at bay
Travel, anxiety and stress go hand in hand for some. But stress wreaks havoc on your immune system and can drain the excitement from your trip. Manage your stress by being well-organised – make sure you have the proper documentation early enough and that your flight tickets and itinerary are all in one handy folder. A checklist might make things easier for you. Try to get ahead of tasks at work to lower your stress levels.
3. Update your medication
If you are on any chronic medication, make sure you have enough for your trip, as getting a prescription abroad may be a bit of a hassle. If you suffer from severe seasonal allergies, you may also want to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about adapting your current medication to the environment you will be traveling to.
4. Be squeaky-clean
Banish germs on the flight by taking sanitary wipes and hand sanitiser to keep your hands and surrounding surfaces clean. Seasoned travellers all swear by this tip: lining your nasal passages with an ointment such as Vaseline or Bactroban will not only keep them hydrated and protected against the dreaded dry cabin air, but will also help minimise the germs that enter your system through your nasal passages. You can also bring your own travel blanket, eye-mask and pillow – not only will this be cleaner, but might help you get better sleep on a long-haul flight.
5. Take a supplement
Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about a supplement to boost your immune system before you leave. This should, however, not be in lieu of a healthy diet.
6. Don’t forget about your health while you're away
By all means, indulge in the local cuisine and enjoy a couple of cocktails. Relax whenever you can and keep your immune system strong by making healthy choices. Have fresh fruit, a healthy source of protein and wholegrains or fibre at breakfast to sustain you throughout the day, stay hydrated and walk a lot (or hit the hotel gym).
7. Wash your hands regularly
This is a no-brainer, but hand hygiene is the most effective method to stop germs from spreading. When you are not close to restrooms, keep a waterless sanitiser in your travel bag.
8. Be weather-smart
While getting sunburned or soaked to the bone in rain might not directly cause colds or flu, your body will certainly take a beating if you're exposed to harsh weather conditions. Consult a weather app to see what the weather's like at your destination and pack appropriately. Remember to apply and reapply sunscreen regularly, even if it’s winter there.
9. Avoid food and water contamination
It’s fun and rewarding to explore street food and local cuisine, but when in doubt, steer clear of dodgy offerings and stick to familiar choices. Gastrointestinal illnesses are common on travels and can compromise your immune system even more. Keep a refillable water bottle with you, but fill only from trustworthy sources and ensure that all your food is fresh, or cooked through.
10. Take an extra day
If possible, on your return, don’t rush straight back to the office, as the stress and lack of rest may cause the illness you managed to avoid thus far. Take an extra day or two to unpack, clean the house, fill your fridge with fresh food and catch up on much-needed rest.
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