Avoiding Illness in the Air or on the Road

woman at international airport waiting for flight at terminal

The smell of pine is in the air, with decorations going up around my neighborhood and carols floating out of stores. Travel is another theme of this time of the year, with most people traveling around Thanksgiving, Christmas, or both. While more people head out for the holidays on Thanksgiving, those traveling for Christmas and New Year’s tend to go farther, and all that travel can be hard on your body and bad for your health. Before you leave for your vacations and family visits, I want you to take some time with me to go over a few pointers on how to stay safe and healthy this holiday season.

Wash Off Those Nasty Bugs

If there’s one thing you should be doing more of this holiday season, it’s washing your hands. To begin with, we’ve already entered cold and flu season, and you’ve probably noticed people around you coughing and sniffling. The bugs that typically cause these are highly contagious and easily passed on by touching the same surfaces those who are sick have also touched. While these germs are everywhere, it is possible to keep them from making you sick. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and warm water whether you’re in the airport or at a rest stop on the highway. Make sure to bring some hand sanitizer with you for those times you’re not close to a bathroom.

Hydrate Effectively

We all try to avoid the bathroom on long trips. It’s often inconvenient to pull off to find a place to use the restroom and sometimes you’re stuck in the window seat of the plane with two sleeping passengers between you and the aisle. It’s tempting to hold out on water in these situations to cut down on your bathroom breaks, but try not to do this too much. Without water, your mouth, nose, and other airways dry out and can’t protect you from germs in the air. Add to that the dry air of the winter, and you have a recipe for illness. Water is best for rehydration, but juices can be okay as well. Studies have found that tomato juice is tastier when you’re up in the air because the dry, low-pressure air changes your sense of taste. Give it a try next time you’re on the plane for a vitamin boost!

Prep Your Snacks and Meals

Eating on the go tends to be the worst kind of eating. The food at rest stops or layovers is almost always low quality, high in calories, and high in salt, not to mention far more expensive than it should be. Plan for your hunger and cravings in advance by packing some snacks before you leave. I always bring a bag of nuts with me since they’re filling; high in vitamins, fiber, and healthy fats; and easy to throw in a bag. Fruit and vegetables are also great options. Apples tend to travel well and pack a serious health punch. I also love to bring carrot or celery sticks with me since they’re easy to slice up and throw in a bag. If you’re going to be on the road for a longer period of time, it might be wise to make something that travels well to bring along in the car. A big bowl of salad is a great travel option.

Get Enough Sleep and Quit While You’re Ahead

Chances are good you’re going to be doing more driving than usual these holidays, and it’ll be tempting to push on even when you’re tired. In those moments, remember that sleepy driving kills about 1,600 Americans every year and injures another 71,000. There’s already enough danger on the roads with earlier nightfall during the winter and more drunk drivers around. If you’re starting to feel tired, quit while you’re ahead. Pull off the road and take a break or switch drivers. Saving 30 minutes of travel time just isn’t worth the risk if you can’t be 100 percent focused on what’s happening on the road. If you know you’re going to be driving, make sure to give yourself ample time to sleep the night before. Last-minute packing and trying to get an early start on the trip can cut into your sleep, putting you at more risk for an accident. Plan ahead and give yourself a solid eight hours the night before you set off.

Get the Flu Vaccine

If you haven’t already, now is the time to get the flu vaccine. If you’re passing through transit points or flying on planes, chances are good you’ll be exposed to the flu. Getting the vaccine now will give your body enough time to ramp up protection before you’re exposed, making it less likely that you’ll end up sick in bed for the holidays.

Check Conditions Before You Leave

During this time of the year, the weather can be unpredictable and you should plan on bad weather. When you’re driving, that means knowing your limits when it comes to snow and ice. Some people have a lot of experience driving in winter conditions, but if you’re heading off to see family that live far from you, you may be heading into weather you’re not familiar with. Check the forecast and avoid days where weather could ice the road or blind you with snow. It’s also important to have some emergency supplies in the car. A breakdown in the cold can be bad news if you don’t have anything to keep you warm. Throw a blanket or two in the trunk and make sure you have a winter coat with you even if it’s relatively warm where you’re leaving.
I wish you happy and safe travels to wherever the holidays might take you this year. Remember, a little thinking ahead goes a long way to making sure you have a fun and healthy holiday season.