If you call yourself a germaphobe, you’re pregnant, traveling with an infant, or you have a compromised immune system, airline travel might just be your worst nightmare. After months of preparing, packing, and saving, the last thing you need is to catch a cold (or something worse) right at the beginning of your vacation.
While you might not be able to avoid being trapped in a small aluminum tube with a bunch of strangers, there are a lot of things you can control to prevent your exposure to bacteria and viruses. Today we’re going to go through some of the best tips to avoiding germs and staying healthy on vacation. Break out your hand sanitizer because you might be squirming by the end of this.
Drink Up and Stay Hydrated
In what’s probably a confirmation of your worst nightmares, the Wall Street Journal found your risk of catching a cold is increased by 20% whenever you fly. Though you’d likely expect your coughing seatmate is the culprit, lessened immunity is actually due to low humidity during the flight. Plane air typically has a humidity level of around 10%. This is so low that your mucociliary system is compromised, leaving you much more vulnerable than you’d be otherwise. Pair that with the increased prevalence of germs in close proximity and a seldom-cleaned aircraft, and it feels like a setup. So, what can you do?
You probably already knew flights can dry you out, but more is at stake than just glowing skin. The best way to keep your mucociliary system functioning and flushing bacteria out of your system is to stay as hydrated as possible and to continually drink water. It’s more effective to keep drinking water throughout the flight than to drink a lot at once. If you feel especially vulnerable, nasal mists, face sprays, and hot drinks can do wonders to keep your mucus membranes active and functioning. Something we don’t suggest, is drinking coffee or tea on your flight. Airplane water tanks have been documented as a hotbed of bacteria growth, and the water in your coffee or tea generally isn’t brought to a high enough temperature to kill any of that bacteria, meaning it’s likely to be passed on. (Gross, right?)
Keep Clean to Avoid Germs While Traveling
The dirtiest surfaces on an airplane are tray tables, toilet flush buttons, lavatory door locks, seatbelt buckles, and potentially your hands. There’s no shame in wiping down the area around your seat, but make sure you’re equally vigilant about keeping your hands clean—they’re usually your first contact point with the germs that get you sick.
Airplane bathrooms are infamously germy. E. Coli is commonly found on surfaces, so you’d probably benefit from sanitizing your hands again once you’re back at your seat. Hot water and soap are the best, always, but travel-sized hand sanitizer is a great second line of defense (especially when you think about the bacteria in those water tanks).
Stay Healthy Before Your Trip
Unsurprisingly, the best way to be sure you don’t get sick while traveling is to be healthy in the first place. In the weeks before you travel, bumping up your personal health routine can make a positive impact on your travel experience. Exercise, taking vitamins, drinking plenty of water, and eating a variety of healthful foods are all ways to improve your immunity so you’re not left vulnerable in a tight situation.
Avoid Foreign Substances on International Flights
International flights are where you should focus most of your germ-fighting diligence. You’re much more likely to come into contact with a virus or bacteria that your system isn’t used to on an international flight than on a domestic flight. Be extra conscious when using the airplane bathroom (touch as few surfaces as possible), eating in-flight meals (wash your hands), and handling things like seatbelts and inflight entertainment.
Avoid Airborne Bacteria
There’s a sliding scale of general prevention to fanatic germ avoidance at all times, but perhaps no more than when it comes to avoiding airborne bacteria. Airplane air is much cleaner than it used to be thanks to improved filtration systems, but there are still a few things you can do to avoid anything lingering. If you turn on your overhead air vent, make sure you point it toward your lap, not toward your face where bacteria could blow into your nose and mouth. But honestly, it’s better to skip it because air vents have one of the highest bacterial contents of all the surfaces in the plane.
If you’re able to choose, pick a seat toward the front of the aircraft where there’s improved air circulation. Of course, a first-class seat will also give you more breathing room away from your fellow passengers, dialing back the risk of catching something from them. A face mask can also dramatically reduce your risk of infection or reduce your risk of transmitting an illness if you’re already sick.
You’ve arrived at your destination, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods where germs are concerned. You’re likely to be exposed to different kinds of germs, different activity levels, and possibly less sleep than in your ordinary life, so make sure you’re vigilant about washing your hands and staying hydrated throughout your trip.
If you’re traveling abroad, be conscious of tap water and food consumption. Even if the locals are able to drink tap water without issue, you might need to avoid it because you haven’t built an immunity to the specific germs in the water system. The same goes for fresh fruits and salads.
Be sure to take any specific precautions for the area you’re traveling to. Sunscreen, vaccines, bug spray or nets, and medications can make a huge difference. If in doubt, consider booking an appointment with a travel health professional to advise you on any specific precautions you should take.
Stay in a Hotel You Can Trust
When it comes to avoiding lurking germs, it helps to stay in a hotel you can trust. You want a hotel that you know thoroughly cleans their rooms and puts policies in place to ensure each guest’s health and safety. This is why we’re proud to partner with the world’s largest hotel chains that put customer service before all else. Visit roomkey.com to search hotel properties around the world and know you’re getting the lowest rate with the customer service you deserve.
We trust our partners to give you a comfortable place to stay at the lowest price you can find. You can trust us to give you a reliable and gimmick-free search experience. That’s how Roomkey makes travel work for you.
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