While there’s no getting away from a person with the sniffles sitting next to you, there are steps you can take to avoid getting sick while flying, from making sure that you get enough rest (especially on overnight flights) to staying hydrated (with water, not the complimentary cocktail). And since stress is a big factor when it comes to keeping your immune system in fighting form, planning ahead can help cut down on any anxiety. Here are some things to keep in mind the next time you take to the friendly skies.
Yes, you’re excited to go on vacation or to visit somewhere new, but staying up late the night before packing isn’t the best way to prepare. Sleep is one of the things that keeps us healthy, and going without it, especially if you have a long travel day ahead, isn’t a good way to get started. It’s also important, especially on longer flights, to try to get some rest—while it does annoy me to have to pay more for extra leg room or a less crowded part of the plane, it’s often worth the investment to be able to stretch out for a nap.
It’s not that I don’t love those complimentary cocktails on Singapore Air, because I do! But alcohol dehydrates the body, and even mild dehydration can impair brain function, affecting your mood and concentration, and increasing the possibility of headaches. Bottled (not tap) water is your friend while flying, and can even help to relieve constipation caused by airline food or whatever fat-laden breakfast snack you grabbed before getting on the plane. I also use bottled water to dab on my face to take down the swelling in my sinuses caused by the dry plane air, and to re-wet the inside of my nose, which also dries out, making it more susceptible to sniffles, and in turn, bacteria.
There are worse things than getting a cold from your seatmate—you could develop deep vein thrombosis from sitting too long in a cramped position. While you don’t need to practice lunges in the aisle, you should make a point of stretching out your calves and moving your feet up and down, and you can still do this while seated. It’s also a good idea, especially on longer flights, to get up and walk around a bit, even if that just means going to the restroom and back. And while you’re up, stretch out your back and arms as well—it may look a little weird, but it’s better than spending your vacation hugging a heating pad.
Take your own pillow
While I’m not a fan of packing anything other than the necessities, carrying a small travel pillow can make a huge difference. Not only does it help prevent neck cramping while you try to rest, but it prevents you from using pillows that someone else might have already used. If you do need to use the plane’s blankets or pillows, make sure that they are encased in plastic, which means they’ve been laundered, so you’re not sharing second-hand germs.
I’m not a germaphobe, but I’m also not real keen on carrying someone else’s cold off the plane. Wipe down your seat, your tray table, and anything else someone sick might have touched, and keep your own hands clean as well. It’s easy to get a few airline-sized packages of these at your nearest retailer, and they come in handy for an amazing number of things, including wiping down the handles and steering wheel of your rental car once you get on the ground. I have also been known to hold scented ones under my nose to block out unwelcome smells on airplanes (you know what I mean).
Reduce the stress
Stress causes elevated cortisol levels, which can weaken the immune system. And when your immune system is down…so are you. While you can’t prepare for everything that could happen while traveling, it’s best to be prepared. Have the numbers of your airline and/or travel agent in your phone; keep all of your important documents like tickets or passports in one easy-to-access place. Check in early online, and keep an eye on your flight so you know of changes as soon as possible. Pack light so that if you do have to run to a different gate or hold onto your luggage longer than you expect, it’s not weighing you down. Always keeps snacks in your carry-on, so if you get stuck somewhere (like on the tarmac) you don’t get hungry. Same goes for any medications you need to take. And try to keep a good attitude; it’s not always easy, but it can make a difference in how you feel –mentally and physically—about your trip.
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