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Flu season is well and truly upon us, and there is nothing worse than getting sick when you travel. It is hard enough to stay healthy when you’re tucked up warm at home, but getting on a packed plane full of sneezing, sniffling passengers in the midst of winter is the fastest way to succumb to a bad bug.
In the hope that we all stay healthy this holiday season, here are my top tips for defending against the flu season when you fly.
1. Take Vitamin Supplements: While there are conflicting reports over whether the popular effervescent supplement Airborne actually stops you from getting sick (the company had to amend initial claims of preventing colds to calling its products “immune boosters” following a 2008 class action lawsuit), there is no doubt that taking vitamins and other supplements can be a smart move during flu season. Vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea are the most popular, and while they won’t ward off a nasty bout of flu, they will help against a common cold by reducing the severity and longevity of it. One of my favorite supplements is Berocca, which is common in drugstores in the UK and Australia (and even some hotel minibars!) and you can buy it in the US on Amazon. Emergen-C is another popular one as it has 1,000 mg of Vitamin C, zinc, manganese and seven B Vitamins.
2. Hydrate: I can never emphasize how important it is to stay hydrated when you’re flying, and those little plastic cups that they serve in coach rarely do the job! The combination of the cabin pressure and increase in altitude, along with the often inevitable carbonated drinks, alcohol, and caffeine when flying all sap your body of water. Dehydration not only accentuates jet lag, it also dries your skin out, increases the risk of fever, lowers blood pressure and can cause dizziness or lightheadedness. Experts recommend drinking at least 8 or more ounces per hour when flying, so always pack your own bottle of water in your carry-on. A fortified drink such as Smart Water or Vitamin Water might give you extra minerals and claim to increase hydration (but avoid those that are packed with extra calories and sugar), or coconut water is a great option as it is packed full of electrolytes, potassium and sodium. Along with drinking during the flight, never underestimate the importance of drinking water before you board to give your body at head start.
3. Don’t Stress! Get To The Airport Early: Stress can have a more debilitating affect on your immune system than you would think, leaving you exhausted and prone to any bugs flying around. Studies show that when you are under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. While it is impossible to totally monitor your stress level when you travel due to mitigating circumstances, one way is to make sure you get to the airport early to avoid the inevitable holidays crowds, heavy traffic and inclement weather.
4. Avoid Plane Food By Bringing Healthy Snacks: Even if you are traveling in First Class and get an upgraded meal, airplane food is rarely healthy. Some airlines such as Air Canada and Virgin America (their Protein Boxes are a favorite) are offering nutritious options, but more often than not you will get stuck with processed, salt-laced, calorie-laden sandwiches and snacks – or heaven forbid, fast food during a mad dash through the airport. Both of these scenarios can be avoided by packing your own food and easy options include portion-controlled cereal such as by Kashi, energy bars (e.g. Lara), fruit – apples and bananas are sturdy, or pack a fruit salad in a Tupperware container – homemade sandwiches with wholewheat bread, healthy nuts like pistachios or almonds, dried fruit, beef jerky or baked Pop Chips. If you want to go all-out, especially on a long flight, how about using a meal delivery service such as Paleta, who will pack a full day’s worth of food in a cooler for you in calorie-controlled portions. Just be sure to tell them in advance that you are flying so they omit any liquids!
5. Use A Hand Sanitizer: I’m happy to see that there are sanitizing options in more and more places nowadays, such as grocery stores and in airport terminals, but I always pack my own just in case. A little bottle of Purell or Germ-X doesn’t take up much room, is small enough to pass the liquid regulations for carry-on, and could save you a whole load of sniffles. Along with using a little on your hands before you touch food or your face, I suggest packing disinfectant wipes as well – such as Baby Wet Ones or Clorox wipes – to clean off your tray table, safety cards, armrest and handset, which are often a breeding ground for germs.
6. Pack A Blanket And A Pillow: While it is increasingly rare to even have the option of a blanket or pillow in coach nowadays, even if you are offered it you are better off taking your own. Airline bedding is often not washed regularly enough and can harbor germs even if it appears clean. Instead, pack a travel blanket or a soft shawl to wrap around yourself – especially in winter when the air conditioning still always seems to be on no matter how cold it is outside – and a neck pillow.
7. Use A Nasal Spray: The dry, recirculated air on a plane can wreak havoc on your immune system by sucking the moisture out of the tissues of your nose and mouth, making you more prone to germs. A smart doctor once advised me to always use saline nasal spray before I fly to prevent everything getting dried out and ward off the risk of infection whether you’re already congested or not.
8. Get A Flu Shot: Chances are that if you trust the protection of flu shots then you will get one whether you are about to hop on a plane or not, but they are a good idea for frequent travelers who regularly come into contact with foreign germs. The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of six months gets a flu shot every year, beginning in October. Traditional flu vaccines (called trivalent vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus, according to the CDC. In addition, this season, there are flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). For more information, click here.
Those are my tips, but feel free to share your own, and a happy, healthy holiday travel season to one and all!