No one plans to get sick on a trip, but that could be part of the problem: without proper packing and precautions, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to some fun-dampening illnesses. There are exotic ailments your body might not be prepared to fight (like Malaria), common colds you could catch from other travelers on a packed plane, or the dreaded food or water-borne “traveler diarrhea” you might need antibiotics to cure. All could land you in the doctor’s office instead of the local landmarks.
Illnesses are always a risk of traveling, but as the CDC says, a little vigilance, preparedness, and self-control can go a long way in keeping you healthy. Here’s what to do before your next adventure:
Commercial airline travel can mean equilibrium-disturbing changes in humidity and pressure, coupled with exposure to germs from all over the world (and in a sealed environment, to boot). With your defenses down and pathogen exposure up, planes are no places to take chances with your health.
That means your best bet is to skip the red eye and get on the plane rested, well fed, and armed with a few essentials.
First and foremost is water. Since your body is 75% H2O, changes in the humidity of your environment can wreak havoc on your body, from your digestive system to your immune defenses.
Experts advise you drink at least 20 ounces of fluids during your flight, so be sure to grab a bottle of water after you make your way through security, and be wary of drinks on the flight: tea and coffee might be made with water from the jet’s tank, which may be unsafe, depending on your destination.
Also in need of hydrating: your nasal passages. Believe it or not, dry, cracked mucus membranes are a major breach in your immune system’s defenses, which is why cold season tends to take place during the cooler, drier months. And since airplane cabins often have a humidity level of 25% compared to our usual 35% levels, it’s smart to pack a saline nasal spray for your flight. You might always want to consider toting a spray bottle to mist dry skin.
Other necessities for your carry-on bag: disinfecting wipes to give your dining tray a wipe down, hand sanitizer, protein bars (they settle your stomach and keep energy up), and anything to help you sleep, be it earplugs, eye masks, a neck pillow, or herbal relaxants.
Eating and Drinking Safe
Depending on your destination, the drinking water (including ice cubes for your cocktails or a quick swish from your bathroom sink for toothbrushing) could be risky. Be sure to drink only bottled water, hot drinks–preferably ones that have been boiled–or pack a filter for your beverages. Whatever your method of safe drinking, be sure to get enough, because digestive disruptions like constipation are common troubles that arise from dehydration while traveling.
Food-wise, be sure everything you’re eating is thoroughly cooked, or has a tough peel that you remove yourself, like melons of bananas. Avoid dairy products unless they come from a major retailer (smaller distributors may not pasteurize their goods), and skip raw foods, like salads or sliced fruit, as they may have been washed in unsafe water.
As always, skip undercooked or unrefrigerated foods, and take a pass on restaurants devoid of any locals As globe-trotting food critic Anthony Bourdain has said, “My crew — who are more careful and fussy about street food, get sick more often — almost invariably from the hotel buffet or Western-style businesses.” Locals likely know best, so visit the restaurants packed with them!
Medical Supplies to Bring on Your Trip
When you’re far from home, minor annoyances or health concerns can be huge hassles. A few necessities that can save the day (and your trip). Remember to pack: band-aids, anti-bacterial ointments, pain killers, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, anti-diarrheals, iodine or chlorine tablets (to make drinking water safe), and full supplies of prescription medication, since the CDC advises against getting your prescriptions filled abroad. In addition to preparing for common ailments, you might also want to do some research regarding diseases to watch out for in the country you’re visiting. Consult with your doctor before you trip to plan any immunizations you might need, or any treatments for altitude sickness you could be privy too.