You’ve done all the planning, pored over all the details, and you’re finally ready for the perfect vacation. Your flight went well; your hotel is wonderful; and everything seems perfect. But not so fast … not long into your vacation, your throat starts to hurt. When you wake up the next morning, your nose is congested and you don’t feel like getting out of bed. Being sick was not on the itinerary for the perfect vacation.
Getting sick while on vacation is actually pretty common. Why? Well because vacations are stressful; they throw off your routine; and you’re around more germs. These factors can work together and can make you sick enough to sideline you for your entire vacation. You’re likely to be exposed to unfamiliar germs, and your immune system may not be in peak condition to fight the germs; it’s a setup for illness.
Here are four reasons why traveling can make you sick:
Between catching flights, making connections, keeping with tours and making it home on time, traveling can be stressful — sometimes more stressful than your daily routine. High levels and prolonged stress can lead to the release of too much of the hormone cortisol, which can inhibit your immune system’s performance over time.
If you feel like you’re experiencing high levels of stress, try relaxing and just doing less. After all, vacation should be a time to relax. It isn’t a waste of time, it’s actually very important for your health.
Not sleeping enough
When you’re on vacation, it’s easy to lose sleep. After a rough sleep on the plane and the unfamiliarity of hotel beds coupled with a desire to stay up late and enjoy yourself, it’s easy to fall behind on your sleep schedule.
While it may not seem like a big deal, sleep is one of the most effective ways to prevent getting sick. One study found that people sleeping less than seven hours a day were three times more likely to catch the common cold than people who get seven hours or more. Another study found that people who got less than six hours of sleep over the course of a week were four times more likely to get a cold.
Make sure sleep is a priority on your vacation schedule, especially if you’ve gone through multiple time zones. Keep consistent wake up and bed times to help keep your circadian rhythm steady.
Undernourishment is a condition where you are eating, but you’re not getting enough of the nutrients you need. Whether you’re traveling to a foreign country or just surviving on fast food at the airport, it’s easy to not get enough of the regular nutrients that your normal diet might include.
It’s great to try new things while traveling, but be careful — straying too far from your normal diet could cause mischief. Try to find some things to eat that are like your normal daily nutritional routine.
In addition to food, don’t forget about water. While traveling, it’s easy to get dehydrated, especially if you’re running on coffee and alcohol. Being dehydrated can strain your body and cause you to be more susceptible to getting sick. If there’s any question about it, be sure to drink clean, bottled water to avoid getting sick from local bacteria in the water.
While on the plane, train or bus, there may be people around you who are sick. As a result, their germs can float around the cabin and infect you. In a 2002 study, researchers found that 20 percent of plane passengers reported developing respiratory infections within five to seven days of flying — demonstrating that sickness travels fast in confined spaces.
The best way to avoid germs while traveling is just like at home. Wash your hands often — especially before eating, drinking or touching your face. Try to avoid sick people and crowds. Finally, make sure to be up to date on vaccines like the flu shot or the pneumonia vaccine. Talk to your doctor about whether there are any special vaccines you should get for the area you’re visiting.
Traveling is a wonderful way to expand your horizons, learn, grow and have fun (especially if you can sneak some fly fishing in.) Following a few simple rules will help keep you healthy.
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]