How to Stay Healthy While Traveling

By Leslie Goldman, April 24, 2018

Airplanes are incubators for viruses and bacteria; long car rides can leave you queasy and cramped. Read on for four expert-vetted tips to help you reach your destination safely, soundly and sanely.

 Flying the Germy Skies

“Sometimes people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, and when they touch the bathroom door handle, they can transfer germs or bacteria, like those that can cause e. coli infections,” says Michael Zimring, MD, director of travel medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and co-author of “Healthy Travel.” (Actually, more than sometimes: According to a Journal of Environmental Health public restroom study of 3,749 people, 10 percent skipped hand washing; of those who washed, 33 percent didn’t use soap and only five percent scrubbed long enough to kill the germs that can cause infections.)

E. coli can last for up to two days in airplane bathrooms, so Zimring suggests using a paper towel to open the lavatory door after washing up. “Then, after walking to your seat, if you are feeling off balance because of turbulence and use your hands to catch yourself on the tops of the aisle seats, use some hand sanitizer to kill any germs you might have just come in contact with.”

Quell That Queasiness

“You’re in a moving car, and the sensors in your inner ear tell you the car is moving,” Zimring explains. “But if you’re reading, or looking at the back of the seat in front of you, your eyes think you’re stationary.” The resulting mismatch in environmental cues can cause cold sweats, nausea and even vomiting. The cure: Gaze at the horizon. “Your eyes will see the horizon moving, and that matches things up with your eyes.”

Acupressure bands work, too. Often called SeaBands and available in the digestive section of most pharmacies, these mini sweatbands feature a small plastic button that presses on the P6 acupuncture point (about 1.5 inches down from the wrist crease, between the two tendons,), “a point typically used for nausea, ” explains New York naturopathic doctor Brooke Kalanick.

Master the Mini Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve sleep and even shrink the areas of the brain associated with stress and anxiety. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a pindrop-quiet room to meditate; you can Zen out in line at the car rental place. (Delta and Virgin Atlantic offer in-flight meditation guides, too.) Download a meditation app like Buddhify or Calm, or simply try to focus on nothing but your breath for a full minute.

Steer Clear of Clots

Sitting in one position for an extended period of time can cause the blood flowing through your legs to stagnate. That ups your risk of developing a blood clot; if that clot breaks free and travels to the lungs, it can cause a life-threatening blockage known as a pulmonary embolism. Risk factors include pregnancy; age (older than 60); obesity; recent surgery on your lower extremities; or a chronic condition such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer. Zimring recommends flyers and drivers alike get up a minimum of once every two hours to walk around. Stuck in your seat? Make circles in the air with your ankles, and pump your heels up and down. And stay hydrated—not only will it keep your blood flowing smoothly, but a full bladder will inspire you to get up and walk (to the bathroom.)


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