It’s likely that, as the Covid-19 pandemic remains foremost on our minds and in our memories, we as travelers will continue to take extra precautions when we plan trips, no matter how far away. But traveling overseas can be especially fraught with worry due to the questionable cleanliness of airplanes, the close air within the cabin, lines through security and passport control, and the crowds at airports, which get even worse with a delay or cancellation. On top of that, jet lag can take a hit on your immune system. Even before the pandemic, traveling created significant potential for illness! How can you boost your immunity when you fly overseas?
1. Get Plenty of Sleep
Be sure to get plenty of sleep before your trip, particularly if you have trouble sleeping on planes. Lack of sleep can put your immune system in low gear, making you more susceptible to illness. If your flight is an overnighter, whether in your time zone or that of your destination, it is also good to try to get some shut-eye during the journey. Bring earplugs/noise-cancelling earphones, a sleep mask, and a travel pillow to help you snooze. Over-the-counter melatonin supplements may also help if you’re too wired to sleep. A rested body has stronger defenses against germs.
2. Carry and Use Hand Sanitizer
Stock up on hand sanitizer or hand wipes, and be sure they are in your carry-on bag. Products that contain a high alcohol content are the most effective. Use them liberally on yourself, and wipe down the plane’s armrests, seatbelt, tray table, and touch screen before you use them. While you will still come into contact with objects you can’t clean properly, the fewer germs your body as to contend with, the better.
3. Wash Your Hands
We’ve heard the handwashing mantra plenty of times already, so it almost goes without saying. However, handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent yourself from getting sick—whether from a cold or other virus—that can be transmitted through touch. Washing hands in public places can be more difficult when you have decontaminated your hands only to have to touch a dirty doorknob to exit the bathroom, and the cleanliness of automatic hand dryers is questionable because the bursts of air may spray germs in all directions. We can only hope that the pandemic situation will encourage public places, including airports, to rethink their bathrooms so that cleanliness is top priority. Until then, use the tools at your disposal—paper towels to open doors if a trashcan is nearby that you can throw it into between opening the door and exiting and automatic sanitizer dispensers if you do come in contact with a potentially dirty object.
4. Choose Vitamin Supplements
Sources vary about the effectiveness of supplements and which ones are the best for supporting immunity. Some sources tout the benefits of vitamin C and D, while others will emphasize omega-3s found in fish oil. Non-vitamin supplements such as curcumin may also boost the immune system by fighting inflammation. For travel, it’s important to be practical, so carrying bottles of different supplements won’t be the most convenient option. Consider a good-quality multi-vitamin for ease of transport and other supplements you have already incorporated into your routine. You can divvy these into a smaller container, such as one specifically for pills, allowing you to carry only what you need.
5. Take Probiotics
Probiotics, or good bacteria, have been widely found to boost the immune system by improving the health of the gut. Many high-quality probiotic supplements exist on the market. However, because everyone is different and the first few days of introducing a probiotic into your system may cause intestinal distress, it is better to establish a probiotic routine well before your journey. Doing so will have the benefit of giving your body time to adjust and begin seeing the immune-boosting effects of the supplement.
6. Make Nutritious Food Choices
When you’re traveling, particularly when en route, it can be difficult to find healthy, nutritious food options. Airport food can be heavy, greasy, and laden with chemicals, whether prepackaged or prepared in a kitchen, and some airplane food may ride the line in being able to be called food at all. You have a couple of options: pack snacks that are healthy and free of extra sugar and salt, such as raw nuts, vegetable sticks, or even cheese or dark chocolate. While perishable food may not be allowed in a foreign country (for example, if you are traveling from the US to Europe or vice versa, you won’t be permitted to carry fresh fruit or vegetables with you), but if you plan to eat them on the plane and they are not in liquid form, you should have no trouble packing yourself snacks. It is more difficult finding healthy food at the airport, but sticking to plant-based foods and avoiding processed ones, if possible, is your best bet for helping your body stay in prime condition to fight off illness. You may also be able to find plain yogurt, fruit, nuts, or salads, and while these may be of dodgy quality, they are better than food choices or dishes the ingredients of which you may be unsure about.
7. Reduce Alcohol Intake
It may be tempting to while away your layover or trans-Atlantic or trans-continental flight with a few cocktails, but alcohol decreases immune function. Stick to water, instead. Hydration helps your body function at its best.
8. Practice Deep Breathing, Meditation, and Overall Stress Reduction
Reducing the body’s stress response helps it fight illness and disease. If you’re used to reducing stress by going on a run or doing yoga, you may feel trapped while in transit or during your flight. However, deep breathing or meditation can help ease anxiety and tension and can be done anywhere, even in an airplane seat. You may even download apps that help guide your breathing or meditation. Of course, your choice of soothing music may also do the trick to help you achieve a more peaceful state.
Other stress-reduction strategies will help you to fly or travel in a more relaxed condition. Make a list of tasks to complete and items to pack well before your trip and move through the list systematically, checking of each entry as you go. Use the internet to look up information you aren’t sure about, such as best ways to get from your destination airport to your accommodation if you plan to rely on public transportation. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready that morning, get to the airport, and move through security. Rushing will only crank up your stress levels and get you—and your immune system—off on the wrong foot.
9. Listen to Your Body
When people travel, in addition to putting them under mental stress, it also puts them under physical stress. That’s why it’s important to listen to your body and don’t overdo it. If your carry-on bag is too heavy for you to place overhead or carry while transiting (escalators may be out of order and some airports will require you to navigate stairs), consider swapping it out for lighter luggage or removing some items. You don’t want to have to heal from a wrenched shoulder or find yourself hobbling with lower back pain. If you’re in your destination city for sightseeing purposes but aren’t used to an active, rapid-fire schedule, take it slow. And if you have an event or meeting during your trip, arrive a day or two before so that you can be rested and at ease. The less physical strain your body has to deal with, the more energy it can devote to keeping you healthy overall.
While it may seem difficult to stay free of illness while traveling, particularly with the coronavirus pandemic making germs seem everywhere, taking steps to help your immune system function at its best even in unfavorable conditions will give you the best chance of fighting illness even when you come in contact with bacteria and viruses that seek to harm you.