Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Avoid crowds. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it a hundred times. It’s proven advice for how to avoid getting sick when you travel.
But are there any new ways to stay healthy on the road?
Maybe. Before her recent trip from Reno, Nevada, to Appleton, Wisconsin, Shelley Hunter began taking Vitamin C supplements and practicing stricter social distancing. She also made sure she got plenty of extra sleep.
“I treat travel like an athletic event,” explains Hunter, who owns a small inn in Quincy, California. “On the day of travel, I avoided coffee and much food to limit my trips to the bathroom. I wore an N95 mask the entire day of travel. I also wore biking goggles to block the aerosols that could potentially land in my eyes.”
It seemed to work. Hunter returned home safely and infection-free. But which of those precautions are effective? And is there anything new that would help you avoid a COVID-19 infection on your next trip?
“With flu season upon us, we’re bound to see more illness,” says Bevan Versfeld, director of sales and marketing for Travelong of Summit, a travel agency in Summit, New Jersey. “We also see clients going through quite a bit of stress, which has affected their health. Avoiding getting sick while traveling is about following the right protocols.”
Those steps range from getting a flu shot to eating the right foods and getting plenty of rest. It’s deceptively simple, say experts.
With the twindemic of COVID-19 and influenza, you should take every precaution before you leave, says Karl Minges, director of the University of New Haven‘s Master of Public Health program.
“Get the flu vaccine,” he says. “The least you can do is protect yourself from one of those debilitating communicable diseases.” Also, if you’re older, consider a pneumonia vaccine. Both will boost your immunity.
Take care of yourself before you leave
Medical experts say what you do before your trip matters. Healthy habits will set you up to have the best chance of not becoming sick. And there’s more to it than strictly practicing mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing.
“It’s also important to get adequate sleep and to choose healthy foods – including plenty of fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water,” says Dr. Jo Anna Leuck, assistant dean of curriculum at TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine in Fort Worth, Texas. “These healthy actions are the best way to lead to strong immunity.”
Manage your stress
Holiday travel – that’s what they call the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s – is stressful. And stress weakens your immune system, according to Dr. Danny Branstetter, the medical director of infection prevention at Wellstar Health System.
His advice: Avoid peak travel times, which ratchets up the stress. “If possible, consider traveling during non-peak times or make alternative holiday plans to avoid crowded airports and the stressful aspects that come along with it,” he says.
Many hotels now offer a contactless way to check in and out. If it’s an option, use it. The less you touch, the less your chances of getting infected.
“Hotel guests can now self check-in at kiosks in the hotel lobby and cut their own hard key or digital key,” says William Rademacher, general manager of the Wayfinder Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island. Better yet, some hotels offer a fully remote check-in online or by phone.
Take Vitamin D
Vitamin D may offer “some” benefit from daily doses between 2,000 and 4,000 IU, says Dr. Tista Ghosh, an epidemiologist and senior medical director at Grand Rounds, a digital health care company.
“Vitamin D deficiency seems to increase the risk for severe COVID-related illness, so it may be worth talking to your doctor about whether you should take vitamin D supplements proactively,” she adds.
Try a little zinc (but not too much)
That’s the advice of Dr. Reagan Anderson, a former Marine battalion surgeon and co-founder of Your Health University, a community of health care providers. “Zinc can help strengthen you against viruses,” he says. Consult your doctor on the right dose for you.
Avoid unproven remedies
The internet is littered with herbal remedies that may or may not work. Medical experts recommend staying away from them.
“There are no medications definitively proven to boost immunity against contracting COVID-19,” says Lucy Wilson, a professor of emergency health services at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “But straightforward healthy behavior can help prevent infections, such as adequate sleep, nutrition, taking prescribed medications and therapies, as well as staying up to date on vaccinations.”
There’s only one proven way to avoid getting sick from traveling. “Don’t go,” says Dr. Suzanne Pham, the medical director for COVID-19 hospital response at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “There is no truly safe way to travel right now.”
Here’s your pre-trip checklist
Here are three things you must do before you leave:
Do your research. If you’re staying somewhere overnight, check the facility’s cleaning policy. “Ask about air filtration, air exchange rates, and if they’re using UV-C cleaning and sanitizing,” advises Dr. Tammy Penhollow, a Phoenix anesthesiologist who travels extensively. “Also, ask if the housekeeping staff is being screened for illnesses, wearing masks appropriately and consistently, wearing gloves, and what surfaces are being cleaned.”
See your doctor. That’s particularly important if you have an existing medical condition. “Make sure your preexisting medical condition is well controlled,” advises Teri Dreher, a critical care nurse who founded NShore Patient Advocates. “If you do have a preexisting condition, monitor it closely. If your blood pressure or blood sugar levels aren’t really where they should be, call your doctor and ask for help.”
Pack the right hand sanitizer. There are many hand sanitizers on the market, but not all of them are effective against COVID-19, says Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute. “Be sure to pack some into your carry-on or whatever bag you have accessible,” he says. “But pay attention to the alcohol content of the product. Any hand sanitizer you use should contain at least 60% alcohol.”