5 Tips on Avoiding Illness During Holiday Travel

By Maegan Pollard, MD
Department of Family Practice

Few things are more frustrating than getting sick over the holidays, especially when traveling away from home to visit with family or friends. One reason is the stress of travel can decrease your immune system’s ability to fight off disease. In addition, you often come into contact with a large number of people each day when traveling which can increase the odds of contracting an infection.

Below are some tips to help you minimize the risk of illness while traveling. If you are going outside the United States, the CDC website can provide up-to-date information about required vaccinations and health notices for individual countries. Reliant also has a convenient Travel Clinic that can offer guidance, vaccinations, as well as prescription medication for potential illnesses encountered when traveling.

Be prepared

Bring hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes with you to help keep the germs at bay and provide an added measure of safety. Don’t forget to wipe down the TV remote in your hotel room as this device can often hold germs on the surface from previous visitors.

Get enough sleep

The body’s white blood cells, which help fight off disease, increase while we are sleeping. When you become sleep deprived, this important defense mechanism weakens, making it more likely you can become ill. So strive to get the hours of sleep your body needs before, during and after traveling. Do not disrupt your normal sleep cycle by going to bed at your usual time if traveling in the same time zone. Avoid alcoholic beverages which can disrupt your sleep. In addition, try to account for any jet lag by adjusting your sleep pattern per recommendations.

Pack a medical kit

For travel, put all your medical prescriptions in a plastic bag so they are easy to find. You should consider taking some over-the-counter medications for cold symptoms, as well as some first aid items like band-aids. If you are going where mosquitos are a problem bring some insect repellant. (Be sure to check TSA airline travel regulations on liquids and aerosols if you do.)

Eat healthy when traveling

Whether you are driving, flying, or taking the bus, you will no doubt be tempted by some unhealthy foods while getting to your destination. Try to avoid highly processed food and foods that are too rich which could upset your stomach. Whenever possible, look for fresh fruits and vegetables that can help keep your immune system healthy and strong. If you are traveling to a developing country, be wary of eating anything that could cause illness. Undercooked or raw foods, as well as contaminated food or water (including ice cubes) can lead to stomach distress and diarrhea.

Schedule some recovery time

If you are traveling a long distance, it’s important to build in some recovery time before you go back to work and school. Traveling can make you very fatigued and having day or two to recover can help prevent stress on your body and help you stay healthy.

5 Tips on Avoiding Illness During Holiday Travel

About Maegan Pollard, MD

Growing up in Central Massachusetts, Dr. Maegan Pollard was surrounded by people from all walks of life, including the medical profession. “Meeting people in the medical field made me realize I wanted to care for others,” she explains. “And I thought the best way to do that was to become a primary care physician in the community I grew up in.”

As a family practice physician Dr. Pollard treats patients of all ages for many...

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