When you’re traveling, anything can happen. But even though you can’t be prepared for everything, there are many steps you can take to stay healthy and avoid illness abroad. The fear of falling ill while traveling shouldn’t deter anyone from adventure and if you follow these five tips you’ll be at a great advantage against illness no matter where you go—before, during, and after your trip.
1. Consult your doctor prior to traveling
Prior to traveling, it is important to take the necessary precautions to ensure that you are prepared for any health concerns you may confront while abroad. The best way to do this is to familiarize yourself with any illnesses currently in season in the area you’re traveling to and to make sure you have all necessary medications and vaccinations to stay healthy. Also, it is important to make sure you have the proper medication to deal with any conditions you may already have before traveling.
Devon Davis, MD, Associate Director of Medical Operations at Global Rescue, says that “if you are going on extended travel or traveling out of the country, it is advisable to see your doctor or a travel clinic for advice on which vaccines are necessary for your trip. For instance, we don’t see much influenza in the summer in the US usually, but if you are traveling to Australia, where it is their winter, influenza could be very prominent at that time. Taking the appropriate medications with you is also important.”
2. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly
Something as simple as washing your hands regularly can make the difference between a great, relaxing trip and a nightmare. “The majority of health care professionals agree that good hand-washing with soap and water is the best way to sanitize your hands and protect against germs. However, if you are in a place where you cannot wash your hands, hand sanitizer is a good alternative,” Davis says. Though if you are going to be using hand sanitizer, it is important that it has at least a 60% alcohol content, or it may not be as effective as desirable.
3. Exercise regularly
It can often be hard to find the free time to work out and stay active while traveling. Luckily, there are little things you can do on the road to stay moving and maintain good circulation. “If you are doing long distance travel—extended car, train, bus or plane trips—get up and walk around, exercise your legs, and stay well-hydrated. This can help prevent blood clots that can occur from staying immobile for too long,” Davis says.
If you can’t find the time to move around a little while traveling, it is extremely important to eat properly and maintain a balanced diet. An unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise can put your immune system at a greater risk for illness.
4. Get a massage
Relieving stress is one of the best ways to stay healthy while traveling. Though it may not seem like the best idea to get a massage at an airport or in an unfamiliar foreign country, Davis ensures that “these types of services follow strict public health guidelines. It’s a personal choice, of course, but often the stress relief from an excellent massage might even do more to keep you healthy."
5. Get plenty of sleep
“Often when people travel, they don’t get enough sleep” Davis says. “When your immune system gets down, it can predispose you to getting sick. When you’re traveling, you are also often enclosed in small spaces with a lot of other people—on planes, buses, etc.—thus exposing you to illnesses that others might be carrying.” Because of this, it can be effective to catch up on sleep while traveling, even if it may leave you jet lagged later.
If you do find yourself jet lagged and unable to adjust to the new time zone, Davis advises avoiding alcohol and caffeine, which disrupt sleep. Each traveler has his or her own preferred ways of dealing with jet lag and not all methods will work for everyone. Try what works best for you—even if it means attempting to adjust your sleep patterns before embarking on your journey.
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