Travel is stressful for the mind – and body.
Frequent business travel can lower your resistance, but there are some very easy ways to keep from getting sick when away from home.
A few behavior changes and some over-the-counter, widely available supplements can help road warriors ward off common ailments like colds and the flu.
Prevention starts prior to the trip to the airport: Strong pre-travel health will mean your body has the tools it needs to fight off illness, no matter the hygiene level of your plane.
You should talk to your doctor if you have any specific health concerns, and of course make sure you’re not allergic to any vitamins or other medicines you’re considering taking.
“Travelers should aim to exercise regularly, sleep well, eat healthfully, reduce stress levels, and have some kind of regular digital detox established at home,” says Dr. Navya Mysore, a primary care physician who counts frequent business travelers among her patients at One Medical, a membership-based medical practice.
These habits will not only boost overall immunity, cultivating them year round will make you more likely to keep them up while on the road.
Once you’re off, Mysore suggests a super simple first defense: drinking enough water. “When you’re well-hydrated, your gut moves better, so there’s less chance of acid build-up and headaches,” she says.
Naturally, planes – and hotels’ potentially dry indoor air – are dehydrating factors. Mysore suggests drinking half-again what you normally do at home: If you normally quaff one to two liters of water a day, add a half-liter to a liter when traveling.
Wash hands “constantly,” advises Dr. Mysore, and wear a face mask on planes and public transit. “Masks are the best defense you can have, and have helped me not get sick” she says. If wearing a mask makes you feel a little weird, just tell seatmates that it’s “for my own health,” which most people can relate to.
Masks can also help keep the nasal passages moist, which helps keep bacteria from sticking around.
A bumpy flight, missed meal, or weird food combinations can all easily bring on nausea, which is the most common travel complaint.
Mysore relies on ginger for travel nausea: She keeps cut-up raw chunks of it doused with a fresh lemon (which keeps the spicy root naturally fresh) in her plastic bag.
Sleep can keep the immune system strong, but it’s often a serious challenge for frequent travelers. Melatonin is something to keep in your travel wellness kit.
“It doesn’t make you go to sleep –it helps regulate your sleep cycle,” says Dr. Neil Borja, division director for Integrative Medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who suggests taking it 1 to 2 hours before you want to sleep.
Try melatonin at home once to see how much works for you, advises Dr. Borja, and talk to your doctor before starting any new regimen.
And if you have the time and space, try a 30-minute siesta to catch up on your rest: “Naps are helpful in rejuvenating the body and clearing the mind,” says Borja.
If you feel a cold coming on, Dr. Borja says vitamin C works for some people – and won’t hurt. He recommends aiming for 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day.
If a sore throat is dogging you, the simplest solution is to gargle with warm water and salt, which is both antibacterial and antiviral. “Peppermint and chamomile tea can help soothe the throat,” says Borja.
Reducing stress wherever – and whenever – you can will keep stress hormones like cortisol at bay. Stress reduces immunity, so try to leave for the airport early to avoid rushing, and “if you can sneak in a meditation before takeoff, do it to reduce your cortisol levels,” says Mysore.