Healthy Traveler: Don’t Let Illness Ruin Your Trip

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Are you one of those people who always gets sick during or right after you travel? As a frequent traveler, I can’t avoid being exposed to thousands of germ-carrying people often packed into too-tight spaces, but I can be smart and stay healthy.

Here are some tips to keep you feeling great while you’re on the road and when you get home.

Go rested. You’ll be exposed to others’ germs when you travel, but your body will be better equipped to fight them off if you’re well rested. When you know you’ll be traveling, try to go to bed earlier for several days and get plenty of rest before you go. If you’re like me and have difficulty sleeping the night before a trip, plan to sleep in transit to help stay rested (bring along a travel pillow, earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones, and a personal blanket or pashmina).

Hydrate. Air conditioned spaces like hotel rooms and airplanes dry out the nasal passages, making them more vulnerable to germs floating around. Take along your own water bottle and drink plenty while you’re traveling. Also, using a nasal saline spray a few times a day can help keep your nose moist and more able to flush out germs.

Wash hands often. Ask any medical professional and they’ll tell you that washing your hands often will help prevent the spread of cold and flu germs. Public spaces like airports, hotels, stair and escalator railings, bus and railroad stations, and planes, buses, and rail cars are fraught with germs. Washing your hands and using hand sanitizer can help prevent passing along illness.

Employ healthful habits. The better shape you’re in, the better able your immune system will be to fight off potential attacks. Exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes a day if possible) and eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables for best health.

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Take along a few medicines just in case.

Avoid sickies. How often have you sat next to someone who’s hacking and coughing and then you come down with the crud? Ask if you can move to another seat. If that’s not possible, try to stay out of range when the person sneezes or coughs and ask him/her to do so in a bent elbow. Then wash your hands every time you get up from your seat.

If you’re sick, try not to travel. No one appreciates someone who spreads germs around.

Consider a supplement. While studies haven’t confirmed they work, there are plenty of products like Airborne and Emergen-C that many travelers swear help them ward off illnesses. Take them before and during your journey for best results (taking 10,000 IUs or more of vitamin C per day can cause gastrointestinal upset).

Get immunized. Be sure you’re up-to-date with the immunizations you need. An annual flu and pneumonia shot is a great idea for everyone. If you’re traveling to countries where diseases like Dengue fever and malaria are prevalent, get immunized or take precautionary medication (talk with your travel doctor about the pros and cons of different immunizations and medications).

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Street food is delicious and wallet-friendly meals. Just be smart about it.

Observe food/water precautions. There are plenty of places in the world where water isn’t pure or foods are prepared in unsanitary conditions. Do your research, find out the risks, and take reasonable precautions. When in doubt, drink bottled water (check that it’s sealed) and avoid ice or foods that have been washed in local water. Once when we were traveling with a friend in Mexico, she ate and drank everything in sight, despite our warnings about the local water and foods like lettuce washed with local water. She was violently ill for three days and delayed everyone’s trip.

While we enjoy local fare on the street in many countries (and it’s some of the best and least expensive food), we pay attention. If the food is freshly prepared and hot, it’s likely fine. However, if it’s sat out in the sun without refrigeration or if there aren’t sanitary places to wash cookware and utensils, we avoid it. And, just in case, take along something for upset stomach (e.g. Alka Seltzer) and diarrhea (e.g. Pepto Bismol, Immodium, or, for very severe cases, a prescription anti-diarrhea medication).

Be an aware traveler. You’re less likely to become a victim of crime while you travel if you move with confidence and pay attention to your surroundings. Pick pockets are skilled and thieves can be ruthless. Keep your passport, wallet, money, and credit cards tucked safely away. Traveling to Mexico with a friend, I wasn’t surprised when her wallet was lifted from a pocket on her back pack that she’d failed to close. Staying aware and using small locks, or products like Grab-Guard or Pac-Safe security bags (see our reviews) can help keep you and your valuables safe and secure.

Heed travel advisories. Check with the State Department or other travel authority for security, health, and weather advisories. While you can’t avoid all threats while you’re traveling, choosing not to travel in areas where war or other uprisings are happening, plague or other health outbreaks are present, or severe weather is occurring is smart. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor


Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

RFT co-founder Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. An award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook, Bobbie is editor-in-chief at