How Do You Stay Healthy When Traveling?

by on May 12, 2011 · 27 comments

in Points Guy Pointers, Travel Health

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This past weekend I had a really interesting conversation with one of my travel writer friends (who jetsets the globe more than almost anyone I know) about staying healthy when traveling. He swore by using a Neti pot to relieve sinus congestion, which helps him avoid colds when traveling. I laughed at the notion, but upon returning to NYC late Sunday night, a mixture of allergies and fatigue promptly smacked me with one of the worst sinus colds I’ve ever had.

Which leads me to ask all of you: what do you do to stay healthy when traveling?

I like to think I’m somewhat ahead of the pack – I drink lots of water, I try to sleep on a regular schedule, I wash my hands (especially in airline bathrooms) and I try to eat healthy. But what else should I be doing? Do Airborne or Emergen-C even work?

I’m not a germophobe, so I don’t crazily disinfect my seating area like I see some people doing, but I am grossed out enough by airplane restrooms that I always wear shoes – even in the middle of the night when I’m in a sleeping pill haze. Admittedly, I will use those dirty airline pillows from time to time (especially the big comfy Delta BusinessElite pillows and duvets), so I may be making a mistake there. Honestly, I’m often exhausted while on a plane so comfort usually trumps all.

Your secrets are much appreciated, because I have a ton of long-haul travel coming up this summer (more on that later) and I can’t afford to be sick for any of it!

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  • Sean

    It costs ~$7 for 10 Airborne effervescents. I usually mix one in the serve-yourself water glasses in the Sky Club at the start of the trip. If I’m going overseas I usually drink another one onboard at the very start of the long flight. I also get a flew shot every autumn. I haven’t been sick while traveling in years. I think the Airborne has saved me at least once, probably several times. Worth it, IMHO.

  • ahow628

    I agree with your friend: Neti pots are amazing. I just started using one this winter.

    After you rinse with it (I usually do two rounds), you will need to blow your nose into something more hefty than a Kleenex. I usually pick a piece of clothing out of the hamper, but a towel would work fine.

    I’ve also heard (but never tried) that when you get good with a neti pot, meaning you don’t swallow any of it, you can even add a drop or two of nasal mist (Nasonex or Afrin) to help clear things out even more. Another advanced technique when you’ve added the nasal mist is to tilt your head so it will hit the tubes that connect your ears to your sinuses, thereby relieving ear pressure as well.

  • A. S.

    Also, if you haven’t already, make sure you take the flu shot.

  • MichaelP

    I always pack Emergen-C, I take it before each flight and during the trip to boost the immune system and energy. It’s been working for me for years.

  • Tom

    Vitamin D. There are numerous studies being done on the ability of Vitamin D to prevent flu. It is cheap and effective. I never get the flu since starting Vitamin D. Take at least 2000-5000 IU per day, or get 20 minutes of summer sun over most of your body (no sunscreen, Vitamin D is made from UV rays).

    As for neti pots, you can buy a squirt version of a neti pot at Walgreens. It is much easier to use, plastic bottle, easier to travel with. Works wonders. Like having Niagara Falls heading up your nose.

  • happy at altitude

    I’m with Tom, I was doing the Neti pot thing on the advice of my ENT doc, and it was helping me as I tend to get sinus infections. I switched to the spray bottle and prefer it. Very easy to use while on board.

  • Eric

    As said Neti pot-using friend, I have to say that it’s been a lifesaver on long-haul travel, especially after hours and sometimes even days stuck on planes and in airports.

    The whole point of using it, however, isn’t to clear you out, it’s to keep things moving inside your sinuses. The problem with air travel is how dry the air is and how dehydrating it can be; it reduces your mucous production and thus your natural immunity. So I wouldn’t suggest using antihistamines or sprays like Afrin because they’ll just exacerbate the dry-out and make you more susceptible to catching something.

    In addition to the Neti pot (or the squeeze bottle Tom suggests, which is great for travel and much easier to use to mix up the saline solution), I also sometimes pop a Mucinex for the really long flights to keep everything moving. That seems to really help as well.

    I also sanitize everything–yes, I am one of those crazy people! But I just read this horrifying article about how dirty seatback pockets and the magazines and safety instructions are–the author called them biohazards–and I use sanitizer after opening the overhead bin, and even using my seatbelt. I know it’s crazy, but it makes me feel better for having done it.

    Brian, you might want to invest in your own travel pillow (just a little one) or travel pillow cover, as well as a light blanket to carry on with you instead of using the airline’s if you’re not sure whether they’ve been washed or sanitized. And wear a hoodie if you do use their pillows. That will create a wall between you and the germy pillow covering!

    Okay, I sound like enough of a hypchondriac already, but do go get that Neti pot, it’ll help!

  • ahow628

    Eric: Yeah, I’ve mostly used the neti pot for times when I was sick or getting over being sick. For that reason, there was PLENTY of mucus pouring out of my nose. As I mentioned though, I read about the Afrin thing but have never actually done it. However, I have used Afrin as it should be used – directly in the nose.

  • Jeff

    Ah…great topic. I too swear by the plastic neti pot – Neilmed. I use it after each flight religiously. My doctor told me not to use it daily, but after flights it’s a great way to help protect you from any germs. More importantly, I always line my nasal passages with vaseline. Yes, this involves sticking my finger up my nose (and usually at the gate as I never remember to do this in the car on the way over) but I swear it helps. Basically, it keeps your nasal passages from drying out, which as other folks are noting, is very important.
    Those two products are part of my normal travel routine.

  • Mark

    I have a FA friend that swears by the neti pot. I am going to regret saying this, but I don’t do anything (other than infrequently taking a multi vitamin) and I haven’t been sick in years. But, I exercise regularly (mostly cardio-type exercise). I also haven’t eaten red meat in over 20 years. Who knows? I am sure I will get sick now.

  • David

    I usually drink as much champagne as I possibly can. I don’t, however, like putting things in my nose.

  • David

    In addition to always washing/purelling your hands (especially if you eat, rub your eyes, etc.), you should use a paper towel/shirt sleeves to open the door on your way out of the bathroom. Just think about the number of people who do not wash their hands on their way out the bathroom and touch that handle. If you’re a complete germophobe like me, you can extend the no touching rule to elevator buttons, hand rails, and basically anything else.

  • Lori Zaino

    I try to take echinecea pills before, during, and after travel (one a day). They aren´t good to take every day for more than a week or so, but they help to strengthen your immune system if you are feeling under the weather, sleeping erractic patterns due to jet lag or long flights, etc. You can get it an any drugstore.

  • Lili

    I do many of the above items. On overseas flights I use cloth or paper facemasks as they do in Asia, I find it helps my sinuses from getting infected on 14 hour flights. I also like a sauna after long flights (to sweat out toxins). I generously gargle with mouthwash that kills germs, trying to really get to deep back of throat, and i use it to swish the glassware in the bathroom and my toothbrush before use if am not using bottled water for brushing teeth (EU etc). Some of my friends use a slight film of neo-sporin smeared inside their nose.

  • rob

    Simple, vitamin d. Check out I started the process 3 years ago and since no colds, flu,sinus infections. Prior 2-3 major problems a year. 2mm miler in the air a lot.



  • Cindy

    I came home with a cold about half the time I flew until I came across the right combination of things that works for me:
    - I use the Sinus Rinse version of a neti-pot morning and night. Easier to pack with the Sinus Rinse bottle than the awkward size of the pot. When I get to my destination I buy distilled water to use with it if in doubt of the local water source.
    - I use disposable earplugs during the flight (Mack’s is one brand). I put them in before the boarding door closes and remove after deplaning. They are supposed to help with ear pressure/sinus issues. I had to buy a new pair of Bose headphones to work with them (the kind that go around the ear), but the earplugs really do help. On long flights I sometimes take them out and re-insert while at cruising altitude.
    - The Airborne really does work! I was skeptical but now swear by it. 3x a day at least while traveling.
    - My last secret weapon for wellness when traveling is homemade chicken stock. I’ll let Google explain all the healing properties of bone broths, but it works wonders. You can make a big batch and freeze it. I reheat it and drink several mugs of it day or two before I depart and once I get home. I’ll paste a quick recipe at the end, it really only takes about 15 minutes to get it going and then straining it at the end.

    Over the last two years, I can’t think of a time I have been on a plane or in other close quarters (i.e. conferences) that I have caught a bug if I remembered to do these things – in addition to old fashioned hand washing and sleep, of course. Enjoy your summer travels!

    Homemade Chicken Stock (Adapted from Zuni Cafe Cookbook)
    1 whole organic chicken
    1 large yellow onion, ends discarded, washed and quartered
    2 stalks celery, leaves removed and chopped into 2-inch pieces
    2 carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
    1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

    Remove the chicken breasts from the raw bird, and a set of legs and thighs if you want to use them for later, and refrigerate to use in another recipe of your choice. Add the remaining chicken carcass to a large stock pot. Fill with cold water until the bird is covered by no more than about an inch of water.

    Bring to just barely a simmer around 190 degrees and skim the foam. Stir the chicken under once—just to allow the last of the foam to rise—reduce the heat, and skim the foam carefully, taking care to leave behind any bright yellow fat that may be starting to appear on the surface.

    Add the vegetables and salt and stir them under. Bring back to a gentle simmer and adjust the heat to maintain it (190-200 degrees). Don’t cover the pot. The most important part of stock making is to avoid agitating it, which will affect the clarity because the fats, proteins, and impurities will emulsify into the liquid. In a stock pot with the cover off, you simmer it slowly to maintain a steady heat, never stirring it, never ever letting it come to a boil. Let it do its thing for at least four hours.

    When ready to store, strain the stock with cheesecloth and then cool over an ice bath before placing in the refrigerator. The next day remove the layer of fat on the top. For freezing, use odorless plastic containers with tight-fitting lids that allow room for expansion as ice crystals form. Thaw frozen stock slowly in the refrigerator, or slide from the storage vessel into a pot and melt over low heat. I like to reheat it and drink it out of a mug if I feel an illness coming on – works wonders.

  • http://[email protected] Worldtraveller2

    Ok, so I can’t believe anyone hasn’t said this yet, but, I always take small packets of SALT and a STRAW. That really is all you need, as it is a cheap version of a Nedi pot. Once you get to the hotel, if you are feeling a little under the weather due to sinus stuffiness or flu like symptoms, just run hot tap water, and put in a small cup, add salt, sip the hot salted water thru the straw, hold the end of the straw with your finger, then tip your head back and let the water run out and into your jacked up nose and down the back of your throat, then spit it out. Only takes a few times on both nostrils and you are as good as new!
    I also bring my packet of: Bose noise cancelling headphones, earplugs, mask, socks, blow up pillow, perosnal blanket and myocalm pm from Metagenics. The myocalm pm are like natural muscle relaxers, that help you have a calm sense of sleep, even when you don’t sleep that good. I take 2 or 3 depending on how good I want to sleep.

  • Bettina

    I second the neti pot for clearing your sinuses. If you are severely congested or sick, don’t do the neti pot.

    I also recommend movement like yoga or mindful stretching when you sit for a long time.

  • Haley

    I usually drape my hoodie or whatever layer I have with me around the airline pillow to use as a pillow case.

    My travel regimen: 1 Zesty Orange flavor Airborne Effervescent dropped into my Greygoose and Tonic to wash down my Xanax. Night Night.

  • HikerT

    Hand sanitizer is a must. Not a germophobe here, just pointing out it is next to impossible to wash hands properly in airplane sink. If anything you are inviting germs. Probiotics boost the immune system before / during a trip. Airborne, etc. is overhyped. Get the same benefits from daily vitamins, zinc tablets, etc. at lower cost.

  • RDM

    Airborne the night before and the morning of my trips. In Europe they like handing out sealed wet naps on flights or you can find them in airport club lounges, mostly in Europe. I always keep 2-3 with me to clean my hands or whatever. Lastly, I wear a Q-Link, which is supposed to help reduce EMF around you. I’ve been using one now for 6 months and have felt more energy after long haul flights and quicker recovery.

  • Anoop Kansupada

    I went backpacking around Asia for a solid year. I stayed in some of the dirtiest places ever. My father is a doctor so I had lots of prescription medicines, but I never used them. The pillowcase was the best thing I ever bought. It didn’t matter how dirty anything was, I had my own pillow case. I also used hand sanitizer as often as I could.

    The pillow case, the hand sanitizer, and the baby wipes. You can figure out for yourself what the baby wipes were for.

  • Saadia111

    stop posting you stupied idiots

  • Kevin


  • GuestQuest Vacations

    Drinking a lot of water is a great tip. Here are some other tips to staying healthy while traveling:

    1. Travel with an open mind because you won’t be as uptight or stressed out.
    2. Take Zicam chewables or the rapid melts. You can also buy the oral mist. Before I travel, I’ll use the Zicam oral mist just to safeguard against air travel.
    3. Eat a balanced diet.
    4. Workout while you travel.
    5. Bring hand sanitizer with you.
    6. Go with the flow. Again, you won’t be as uptight or stressed out.
    7. Stay away from sugary sodas and other drinks.
    8. Drink Gatorade or Powerade.
    9. Don’t overindulge when you travel.

    Happy travels!

  • robin.joshua

    Well, it completely depends on us how we maintain and adjust ourselves at some place. We must carry the supplements and medicines with us while travelling. Next things, we get so much excited seeing the delicious food and wine, but we must take it in just required amount not extra. so that the balance of food and water must be maintained, it keeps our digestion proper.

  • saraanthony73

    Well, staying healthy while travelling is majority as per the body type, condition and its required of one’s body. Still some tonics and antiseptic must be carried.

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