You’ve saved and planned for your trip for months, maybe even years. You just want to explore, relax, and have a great time. The last thing you want to do is get sick on your vacation, or take care of sick, cranky children.
Getting sick while traveling really stinks. It’s happened to most people at one time or another. There is no guaranteed way to prevent it from happening. But, there are some simple things you can do to make it less likely you or your family members will get sick.
Wash Your Hands
This is one of the most important things to do to prevent illness. Wash your hands with soap and water after going to the bathroom, as well as before and after eating. Make sure your little ones wash well and often, as they tend to touch lots of things and then pick their nose or suck a finger.
Be a Germaphobe
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a total germaphobe and I like to think it’s why I rarely ever get sick while traveling (only once in 12 years)!
I highly suggest carrying a travel-size hand sanitizer everywhere and use it frequently. It does not work as well as washing with soap and water, but it’s good in pinch.
You should also carry anti-bacterial wipes with you and use them to wipe down all the places that are breeding grounds for germs. On airplanes, these include the arm rests, touch screens, and tray tables (I have seen people change their baby’s diapers on top of them)! In hotels, these places include TV remote controls, phones, door knobs, and hairdryers.
I also suggest carrying a travel-size pack of tissues. Sometimes a public bathroom may be out of toilet paper….yuck! So be prepared.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your immune and digestive systems working properly. This is especially important if you’re vacationing in a hot and/or dry climate, or being more active than you usually are at home.
Also, airplane air is very drying to your system, so staying hydrated is very important during flights, too. Make sure your kids are drinking enough as well. Airplane bathrooms are no fun with little ones, or ever, but better to deal with that than constipation or a cold!
Drink Bottled or Filtered Water
If you’re not sure about the purity of the local tap water, don’t use it! Some countries have poor sanitation and the consumption of local water or ice may upset your stomach or give you diarrhea.
Although it’s an extra cost, consuming bottled water is generally safer. Canned or bottled drinks, such as soda or beer, should be safe as well, if filtered water is used to make them.
If you travel frequently to places with poor water sanitation, it might make more sense to buy a water bottle with built-in filter, so you don’t have to keep buying bottled water.
Dress Appropriately for the Weather
This seems like another obvious suggestion, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen vacationers scorching their skin in the sun because they didn’t bring a big floppy hat or use sunscreen. Or, they’re shaking in the cold and wind because they didn’t want to pack their thick coat or a scarf and gloves.
Check the weather forecast for your destination and pack what you’ll need. If you want to travel light, be prepared to buy what you need at your destination.
If you’re not used to the heat and sun, or the cold and wind, then take it easy. When you overdo it, your body will get stressed and that can make your immune system less effective at fighting off germs.
Don’t Be an Adventurous Eater for Every Meal
One of the joys of traveling, at least for my family, is trying the local cuisine. However, if these foods are new to you or you don’t eat them regularly, they could upset your gastrointestinal tract, leading to gas, heartburn, cramps, or diarrhea. If this happens, give your body a break by having some familiar, safe favorites for the next meal.
The best thing to do is to ease into new foods by having something adventurous mixed with something mild. For example, when I first tried takoyaki (octopus balls), I paired them with some plain rice, just in case!
Most people also indulge when they’re on vacation. Traveling often means lots of restaurant meals, fatty foods, more alcohol than usual, and dessert every night. This can give you indigestion and make you feel sluggish. If you start feeling this way, make your next meal a light one with lots of fruits and vegetables, and drink a lot of water to flush out your system.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
This one is tough, even for us. Vacations often mean long days that are jam-packed with sightseeing, activities, and events. And, if you’re flying long distances, it also means starting out jet lagged in a new time zone. Unfortunately, lack of sleep can lower your immunity, making it harder to fend off viral illnesses.
Try to get a good night’s sleep as many nights of your trip as possible. Build in some down time during the day as well. This could mean a mid-afternoon nap in the hotel room, or maybe just sitting on a bench in a park or having tea or coffee in a quiet cafe.
When flying long distances, take a sleep mask, neck pillow, and some good ear plugs to help you get comfortable for napping. If you’re traveling with little ones, napping on the plane is a bit tougher. If you’re not traveling alone, you and your partner can take turns napping while the other keeps an eye on the kids. Just an hour or two of sleep on a long flight can make a world of difference.
Prepare for the Worst
After a lugging a giant, heavy suitcase across Japan, I have become a convert to packing light. However, that doesn’t mean leaving some basic “just in case” items at home. I always bring a small amount of over-the-counter medicines with me. These medicines include things like ibuprofen, antihistamines, cough drops, and an antacid. I try to get travel-size, non-liquid medicines that can slip easily into a small pocket.
If you’re traveling out of country, I highly suggest checking with the embassy of the country you’re visiting to make sure the over-the-counter medicines (as well as any prescription medicines) you’re bringing are legal in that country. Most items are usually allowed in small quantities for personal use, but some countries are more restrictive than others.
If you don’t want to carry any “just in case” items with you, be sure to locate the pharmacy and hospital or clinic closest to your destination ahead of time. I just jot the info on a piece of paper and slip it into my wallet. When you or a loved one is sick, it can save you time and frustration to have the information right on hand.
Just as with everyday life, vacations don’t always go as planned. Your perfectly-prepared itinerary can be thrown out of whack with flight delays, transportation strikes, long lines, unexpected closings, or sickness. Be flexible. Do your best to deal with those things you can control and try to let go of those things you can’t. Getting stressed out won’t make you healthier or your trip any better. Focus on having fun and making memories, no matter what the day brings. Because being on vacation, even when things aren’t going as expected, usually beats a day at work or school!
Important Note: The tips in this post are general health and travel information only. They are not meant to be a replacement for consulting with your doctor about your specific health concerns.
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