Now that Memorial Day has passed, it’s officially summer vacation season — even if kids are still going to school for a while yet. We’re going to spend some time on Cape Cod, a few Chicago visits, and I’m sneaking off to Canada to try, yet again, to catch the Atlantic salmon of a lifetime. We’ve developed a few habits to stay well while traveling since nothing can take the fun out of a vacation quite like getting sick. Whether it’s a cold, the flu, or gastrointestinal troubles, you’re going to remember the vacation for all the wrong reasons if you fall ill.
Although you can’t always prevent getting sick, there are some things you can do before, during and after your vacation to help you stay well.
Rest up and de-stress
You may be planning to rest and relax on your vacation, but rest before your trip can help keep you healthy.
Getting enough sleep on a regular basis is a key component in boosting your immune system. Research has shown that insufficient sleep can increase your risk of catching a cold or flu.
Stress has also been shown to lower your immune system’s ability to keep you healthy. Even though you may be worried about a litany of things at work and about your travel plans, find moments to take a deep breath and relax. Relief is on the way!
Fuel up on vitamins and supplements
Vitamins have been credited with the power to boost your immune system and help counter stress, lowering your risk of catching a cold or flu. Start taking vitamin C leading up to your trip and continue taking it throughout your vacation. There are popular vitamin C supplements for travel that pack a big vitamin C punch.
You may also want to take probiotic supplements before and during your vacation to improve your gut’s ability to cope with unusual vacation eating patterns.
And, just as you would at home, try to avoid coming in contact with someone who’s sick. If you hear someone coughing and sneezing or see someone who looks like they’re sick, just keep your distance.
Visit your doctor
If you’re planning to travel internationally, you should make an appointment to see your primary care physician.
Depending on where you’re traveling, you may need vaccinations, especially if you’re going to certain parts of developing countries. Your doctor will be able to tell you what vaccines you may need as well as provide you with education and prescriptions for illnesses like malaria and traveler’s diarrhea.
If you’re on prescription medications or are managing a chronic health condition such as diabetes, a visit to your doctor will ensure you don’t run out of your medications and know how to take care of yourself away from home.
Prepare to fight germs
If you’re flying to your vacation destination, make sure you pack a TSA-friendly bottle of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in your carry-on bag.
There’s an incredible number of germs for you to pick up in an airport, plane and any other form of public transportation. Bringing hand sanitizer will help you keep your hands clean even if you don’t have access to soap and water.
You’ll be happy you brought along a bottle of sanitizer and disinfecting wipes when you arrive in your vacation destination too; you’ll be able to ward off germs no matter what activity you’re doing or site you’re seeing.
Pack to protect your health
Your mind may get preoccupied thinking about what clothes to bring on your trip, but don’t forget all of the things you need to protect your health while you’re away.
If you’re planning to spend time outside, make sure you have sunscreen and insect repellent with you. You’ll need both to protect yourself from cancer-causing sunburns and mosquito-borne illnesses.
In addition to any prescriptions you’re taking, you should also consider packing antihistamines, Pepto-Bismol or another antidiarrheal medication, decongestants, medicine for pain or fever, antacids, and cough suppressants or expectorants.
Although you may not want to plan on someone getting sick during vacation, bringing everything you may need in case it happens can help you or your travel companion feel better quicker and get back to the vacation fun.
Drink plenty of water
The average person needs to drink 2 liters of water per day to stay hydrated, and that’s without doing any major physical activity in an average-temperature environment. Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated is important, especially on vacation.
Even getting slightly dehydrated can mean headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, muscle weakness and fatigue.
Dehydration can occur much more quickly in high temperatures too.
If you’re in a hot climate, make sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. This allows your body to sweat and maintain a normal temperature, preventing a heat-related illness.
Taking a flight to your vacation? Staying hydrated is important here too.
There’s a significant lack of humidity in planes’ cabin air — it typically has a humidity of 10 to 20 percent whereas typical indoor humidity is 30 to 65 percent. The lack of humidity makes it easy for you to get dehydrated during your flight.
Staying hydrated doesn’t just mean drinking plenty of water — it also means avoiding beverages that can dehydrate you, including caffeinated beverages and alcohol.
Whether it’s the beach, mountains, exotic foreign destinations or grandchildren in Chicago, summer travel can be exciting and fun; just be health conscious and stay well. Maybe that 30 pound salmon’s out there this year.
Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]