Many of us skid into vacation with tires squealing. For weeks prior, we move at full speed to prep work and home life, sometimes just to enjoy one week away. What does this have to do with winter wellness? Everything. Stress, along with its ever-faithful companions—sleeplessness and poor diet—can weaken the immune system making us more vulnerable to sickness, especially during winter cold and flu season. Case in point: Zicam CEO M’lou Walker says the company recently surveyed U.S. travelers and found an astonishing 82% report getting sick while on vacation.
Wellness coach Robert Herbst says it’s no wonder. In addition to pre-trip stress, the physical rigors of travel take a toll. “(Travelers) are exposed to new viruses and bacteria as well as different foods and water,” says Herbst, a champion powerlifter. “Also, biological clocks may be disrupted by changing time zones and they may be getting less sleep from traveling and having fun.” Add in dehydration from long flights and systems are ripe for the onset of sickness.
So how can we enjoy winter globetrotting sans unwanted travel accessories like a hacking cough or runny nose? We consulted a team of far-reaching experts for advice and best practices before and during travel. Dr. Dana Corriel of Chronicles of the Medical Doctor Next Door says the first step toward health during travel is good health practices at home.
Here are more pro-tips and common sense reminders to help us travel in wellness:
Neutralize Public Spaces
Zicam’s study found that 25% of U.S. travelers believe they caught a cold bug on public transportation, like a plane or train, yet 64% admit to frequently forgetting to wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.
If that isn’t alarming enough, Walker says a healthy percentage of airplane passengers admit to “wiping their boogers under their seat most of the time, followed by the seat pocket and tray table, in lieu of a tissue.”
So how can you minimize exposure? Mohammed Arsiwala, medical director of Michigan Urgent Care says handwashing is the single biggest deterrent. “Cold and flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces from a few hours to days…Hands that touch contaminated surfaces then the eyes, mucosa of the nose, or mouth are serving unwanted germs directly into the body.”
Use hot water and soap, hand sanitizer when those aren’t available. Don’t shy away from cleaning tray tables and arm rests. Sit next to a millennial, according to Zicam’s study, 51% are likely to sanitize their immediate area too.
Don’t Overlook Private Zones
Dr. Cedrek McFadden of University of South Carolina School of Medicine says hotel rooms should receive a thorough sweep. “Travel with disinfectant wipes…and immediately use the wipes on all hard surfaces,” he advises. “Take special note of the remote control which can be a harbinger of germs and disinfect it accordingly.”
Jason Greenspan, the CEO of tech hygiene company WHOOSH!, cautions not to forget perhaps your most frequently touched surface. Meaning, your phone. The company says phone screens have been proven to be ten times dirtier than a toilet seat.
Arsiwala advises getting a flu shot at least two weeks prior to travel. “Unlike the common cold, the flu can be prevented—or symptoms greatly reduced—with an annual flu vaccine,” he says. “Cases of the flu peak December to February, but can last into the spring, so it’s not too late to protect yourself and those around you with an influenza vaccine.”
Jim Cantore, popular Weather Channel meteorologist and professional traveler says exercise is his essential immunity booster. “It’s easy to get caught up in everything that’s happening, but going on the treadmill for 45 minutes is kind of our regimen when my team gets out in the field in the winter,” he says. Get your body moving with a gym visit or city walk. Or simply, practice stretching and deep breathing in your room before heading out for the day.
Indulge in Moderation
Whether the chocolate cake or alcoholic beverage-variety, overindulgence can leave the body reeling and vulnerable. Try new foods and sample what a place has to offer, yet be mindful of moderation in quantity as well as timing.
“The biggest concern for me is eating too late—when I do that, I can’t sleep,” says Cantore. “The awkward meal schedule, combined with a new bed in a strange hotel, can be disastrous the next day. I try to focus on eating lighter and settling into my normal, healthy eating habits as quickly as possible.”
Sleep to Dream
“If you know you are leaving town, make sure to get plenty of rest the days leading up to traveling,” says holistic health counselor and reiki master Erica Joy Dunn. “Your body needs rest to prepare for travel, especially if crossing time zones.”
If arriving during daylight hours, go for a brisk walk to begin adjustment to local time zone. Avoid long naps, 20 minutes is max. Arm yourself with an eye pillow and noise reducers.
Drinking plenty of water is vital to good health, says Arsiwala. “There is lack of humidity in cabin air when flying, and humidity is important to help airways trap germs,” he says. “Dehydration also leads to fatigue.”
Dunn recommends traveling with a reusable water bottle so that you can easily refill in airports and have a subtle reminder to drink more water.
Seek Power Foods
While there’s no definitive proof that Vitamin C can prevent colds, experts agree, in some cases, it can shorten the duration. Dietitian nutritionist Gisela Bouvier, of Mindfully Intuitive Nutrition, recommends taking a Vitamin C supplement in addition to regular multivitamins while also focusing on superfoods.
“Increasing intake of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, red bell peppers, spinach, and broccoli can significantly help boost immunity, while at the same time provide other phytonutrients, fiber, and other antioxidants,” says Bouvier.
She also recommends almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and olive oil as good sources of vitamin E.
Listen to Your Body
“The key is to recognize your body’s initial reaction to a cold before the obvious symptoms,” says Cantore. “For me, when my throat gets scratchy, that’s a sign to gear down. Healthy foods and extra sleep are musts.”
Walker adds that the first signs of a cold can be different for everyone. “It’s important to be mindful of your personal cold symptoms and as proactive as possible, helping you get back to better, faster,” she says.
Zicam recently launched an app to track your exposure to the common cold. Walker says ColdSense utilizes smartphone sensors to actively listen for coughs and sneezes, comparing the information with cold incidences in your area, sick friends in your social networks, and hours of sleep to determine the potential risk of exposure.
Slow Down, Quarantine
Corriel says when you feel you’re coming down with a cold, limiting activity is vital, even on vacation. “When you overdo it, you get tired, and your body has a harder time fighting the virus,” she says. “If you are running a fever, especially a high one, or feeling generally unwell, it is best to rest, and refrain from activities which not only expose others to your illness but also exacerbate your condition.”
Before travel, speak to your doctor, especially if you have a chronic condition. Be aware of what treatment and medications your health insurance will pay for in another country.