Staying Healthy On the Road: Five Tips to Avoid Getting Sick

This is the first installment of a planned series on staying healthy on the road. We’ll focus on several areas, such as reducing stress during travel, eating better at the airport and, in this portion, prevention.

As I’m writing this, we’re in the early stages of Flu Season which, according to local newscasters, is the worst since, well, since last flu season. I’m glad for any opportunity to get out of town this time of year but I’d be fooling myself if I believed that removed me from the threat of flu or other illness. I don’t mean to seem “germaphobic” – not that it’s a bad thing, especially during flu season – but I firmly believe “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” particularly when getting sick means spending a day in bed at best, or seeking medical care and a flight home at the worst. So today, it’s Five Tips to Avoid Getting Sick; simple steps to take at home and away, flu season or not.

#1: Don’t touch anything! You probably know this, but it can be really hard to stick to this simple rule. Here’s a little encouragement: Researchers swabbed surfaces in several American shopping malls and found traces of bacteria, live viruses and (OMG!) fecal matter in places like department store escalator hand rails, surfaces in the food court, dressing room doors…pretty much everywhere. Don’t so much want to touch anything now, do you? Trouble is, that’s not always possible. You have to turn the knob to open the door. It’s often reflex to grab a handrail.

The safest way to use a hand rail?

The safest way to use a hand rail?

My trick: Grab a few napkins or paper towels to place between you and any surface – and dispose of them quickly. I won’t use my clothing if I can help it – that stays with me and, after all, is touching me! Seems to defeat the purpose. If you do touch something, wash or use hand sanitizer as soon as you can, certainly before touching your face or someone else. Which leads us to…

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#2: Wash frequently, even if you don’t think you need it. Try this test: walk behind a friend or family member and count how many times they touch something, then ask how many times they think they touched something. The answer may surprise both of you, and will likely convince you that you are not as careful as you think.

#3: Try not to mingle with the wrong sort of people. While I don’t advocate isolating yourself, I do encourage you to be aware of who’s around you. Stand well away from anyone who sniffles or coughs, touches their eyes/nose/mouth (or other body parts!), or looks a little under the weather. Likewise, if I’m the one sniffling or coughing, I try to stay away from others out of courtesy. Health professionals suggest avoiding crowds in general, which can be hard to do while traveling. If you can, keep a little open space or barriers between you and everyone else, particularly anyone who might be ill.

A family wears face masks during a flu outbreak. Photo: Miguel Tovar/AP

A family wears face masks during a flu outbreak in Mexico. Inexpensive surgical masks are widely available in most countries and provide good protection against airborn contagions. Photo: Miguel Tovar/AP

#4: Cover your nose and mouth. It’s common courtesy when you cough or sneeze, right? During flu season, it’s not a bad idea to do so the rest of the time as well. You may have seen reports from Asia or Mexico during recent flu outbreaks showing thousands of people wearing surgical masks. They take it seriously, and so should you. In a pinch, covering up with a scarf or napkin offers at least some protection, but you can find inexpensive masks in drug stores and pharmacies in most larger cities. Face masks are also suggested for those who are already ill as they trap droplets from coughs or sneezes.

#5: Be mindful of your own health. It’s easy to get a bit run down when traveling. Lack of sleep and exercise, unhealthy diet, escalating stress levels – they all compound when traveling and that opens the door to getting sick. If you’re experiencing any of these, pay particular attention to the other tips to help build that barrier. Maybe trim the itinerary or build in a day of R&R – especially if you’re on vacation! It’s far better to slow down for a day or two than to come to a miserable, achy, stuffy stop for a week.

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What are your top tips to stay healthy while traveling? How do you keep your stamina up and “down time” down? Please share your advice in a comment!

RobRob Sick in Modesto

The Voice of Experience: RobRob sick as a dogdog in Modesto, three days from home and a month on meds.

EDIT: A few days after posting this, I found this Lonely Planet article “The Dirtiest Things You Touch When You Travel” with some more great things to watch out for and a sensible dose of reality.

Featured image: Sick Woman © Szabolcs Szekeres |

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