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Travel Health: How To Stay Healthy Before, During, & After Traveling

Find out why traveling makes you sick, what the most common travel illnesses are, and what natural tactics and supplements you can use to avoid getting sick on your next trip.

What could be worse than losing your luggage while traveling? Getting sick while traveling! More than 2.6 million passengers board a plane in the United States alone each and every day. And while many are looking forward to getting that sun-kissed tan, countless others will enjoy a less-pleasant side effect of travel: getting sick.

Did you know?
Almost everyone tends to get sick from traveling. A 2016 study found 79% of participants reported illness upon arrival, during travel, or following their trip. (1)

man sitting at the airport with luggage

Nothing can ruin a trip faster than coming down with a travel illness. There are many natural ways you can ensure and enjoy healthy travel wherever you go.

Why do we get sick when we travel?

From close, unsanitary seating on airplanes, questionable meal choices, to flipping your daily routine upside down, travel puts a good deal of stress on our bodies and our health at risk. It almost feels inevitable — but it doesn’t have to be.

The spread of germs

Travel often means crowded places and highly trafficked areas. It’s essential for you to be on high alert for the spread of germs. Side by side seating on airplanes, subway handles, public restrooms, and taxis are just a few of the places to be wary of.

Did you know?
If you see or hear a person coughing, sneezing, or who simply looks sick while traveling, keep your distance — six feet to be exact. That’s the distance virus-filled droplets can travel. (2)

Air travel compromises our immune systems

Are you traveling by air? One of the most common concerns that vacationers have when it comes to getting sick while traveling is the time spent on airplanes. Many people are quick to blame the recycled air in an airplane cabin as the main culprit of illness, but the real reason is the low humidity levels.

When flying, the flight elevation causes a significant drop in humidity levels. The decrease in humidity triggers our noses and throats to dry up, which leaves our body’s natural defense system compromised. (6)

Did you know?
The combination of hand-washing and wearing masks has been shown to decrease the chance of contracting influenza by 75 percent. (3)(4)(5)

close up of person washing their hands

It is extremely important and recommended that you wash your hands regularly when travelling, especially by air!

Overdoing it

It’s important to enjoy yourself on vacation (that is the point, after all!) but just try to do it within reason. Excessively drinking alcohol or skipping out on sleep to party is going to compromise your immune system and make you more likely to pick up something while traveling.

When traveling, it’s easy to justify skipping out on workouts and letting your diet and supplement regimen fall to the wayside. Remember travel days should not count as “cheat” days — especially when you are traveling for an extended period of time.

Plan ahead and bring healthy snacks with you, and whenever you can – take the stairs over moving escalators and sidewalks.

What are the most common illnesses while traveling?

According to a study with most of its subjects visiting tropical regions, travelers’ diarrhea (TD) is the most common disease while abroad, followed by a number of different skin problems and fever.

Did you know?
Hand sanitizers are not a cure-all to avoid all travel illnesses. A 2005 study found that using hand sanitizer while traveling did not alter diarrhea or respiratory tract illness rates. (7)

Over 69% of subjects in the robust 2016 study reported TD, 15% skin problems, 17% fever, 12% vomiting, 8% respiratory tract infections (RTI), 4% urinary tract infections, 2% ear infections, and 4% gastrointestinal complaints other than TD or vomiting. (1)

Travel and health insurance

Worried about travel and health insurance after seeing these statistics? Don’t be! Symptoms are usually mild and do not require you having to track down the nearest urgent care clinic or hospital.

If you are traveling for a long period of time, you are better off safe than sorry. It’s worth finding out what medical services your health insurance will cover overseas. Be sure to check with your provider if your health insurance policy provides coverage outside your country of origin. And remember, it’s very important to bring both a claim form and your insurance policy identity card as proof of such insurance.

Travel health tips for before, during, and after travel

Before you travel

Prior to departure, make sure that you have set yourself up for success. If you’re traveling outside the country, make a point of touching base with your healthcare practitioner beforehand. It’s worth doing this a couple weeks in advance of your trip. The following travel health tips are also useful:

  • Get plenty of sleep. If excitement or stress is keeping you up in the days before traveling, consider different sleep supplements and essential oils.
  • Hydration is key. Dehydration often makes you feel run down and more prone to illness while traveling.
  • Start taking vitamin C supplements before you travel. Studies have shown that vitamin C can’t cure a common cold — but taking it regularly will slightly shorten the amount of time that you’re ill. (And every second counts on vacation!) (9)
  • Add some probiotics to your daily supplement routine to help prevent and stop travelers’ diarrhea and boost your overall immune system. (10)
  • If you often suffer skin problems while traveling, talk to your integrative healthcare practitioner about natural skin supplements.
child drinking orange juice while on vacation

Drinking orange juice while you travel can help get you the vitamin C you need. (9)

While traveling

Traveling is an amazing thing, but it can also be quite detrimental to your health when you’re constantly on the move and in a new environment. Stay healthy on your trip using the following natural health tips while traveling:

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, or after air travel.
  • When flying, you should also wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face too much, and wear a mask.
  • Maintain a balanced diet. Meals high in omega-3s that can help reduce inflammation and boost your immune system.
  • If you exercise regularly, continue to do so while traveling.
  • Probiotics can be taken to help relieve the symptoms of diarrhea. (10)
  • Pack zinc supplements to acutely combat a common cold if you start coming down with something. (11)
  • If you are traveling to a different time zone, bring melatonin to combat jet lag symptoms. (21)
  • Magnesium helps combat constipation. (12)
  • If you are prone to sinus infections or sore throats, nasal saline can make a huge difference. (22)(23)
  • To avoid bad bug bites and heavy chemicals, opt for natural citronella products.
  • Stay hydrated and drink at least 8 glasses of water daily.
  • Drinking alcohol depletes your body of B-vitamins. Ask your practitioner about taking an activated B complex supplement. (13)
  • Remember to sleep. Try to allow yourself at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Avoid ice if you’re traveling to an area where the water quality is a concern, be sure to order drinks without ice. Canned or bottled beverages are preferable.
pistachios in a bowl

Suffering from jet lag but forgot to pack supplements? Eating a handful of pistachios before bed is equivalent to taking a high dose of melatonin. (14)

Did you know?
Traveling to the Indian subcontinent nearly doubles your risk of becoming sick. (15)

After you travel

Have you ever come home from vacation and had to take days off from work due to an illness? You are far from alone! An average of one-third of returning travelers experience health problems after traveling. (8)(1)

Did you know?
After travel, the most frequent complaints are fever, respiratory tract infections (RTIs), and skin problems. (1)

Getting sick when you return home from a trip and having to jump right back into your pre-vacation routine to play catch up at work and school can be daunting. Most of the time, you can’t control catching a cold or coming down with a stomach bug, but there are things you can do to arrive home rejuvenated following a trip.

  • Boost your immunity by continuing to take vitamin C daily.
  • Taking magnesium supplements and eating bananas for a natural source of potassium can help restore your body’s electrolyte balance.
  • If you feel a cold coming on once you are home, ask your doctor about taking zinc supplements.
  • Don’t stress out about catching up at work. It actually increases the likelihood you come down with a cold. (16) Consider relaxation techniques, such as a daily meditation practice.
  • Continue to get enough good quality sleep. If you’re feeling anxious about returning back to your normal routine, chamomile tea before bed may help. (17)
  • Coughing after traveling? A diet rich in antioxidants has been shown to promote respiratory health. (18)

If you travel more, do you build up a ‘tolerance’ to travel sickness?

Unfortunately, no. Frequent corporate travelers get sick a lot too. A survey of over 250 employees frequently traveling by plane found that 35% of participants experienced diarrhea, and 29% contracted a respiratory illness. (19)

Did you know?
Do you ever experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, or a persistent cough after flying? You may be experiencing what is known as Ozone toxicity. It’s more likely to occur on high-altitude, long international flights abroad. (20)

The bottom line: eat, sleep, supplement, and bon voyage

Don’t let travel sickness derail your next trip! Check in your integrative health practitioner to talk about potential post-travel health problems by setting up a pre-travel visit before setting off abroad.

During your pre-travel check-up, discuss putting together a personalized travel health kit with your practitioner. You’ll worry a lot less about your health being compromised by your travels, giving you more time to focus on enjoying your experience while traveling.

Have any tactics or travel supplements you use to stay healthy while traveling and avoid getting sick abroad? We would love to share them! Comment below with all the ways and precautions you take to enjoy your travel time to the fullest.

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