With all the hype about coronavirus lately, travellers are paying more attention to the hygiene of their environments. Airports are well-known cesspools of sickness- and there are plenty of articles on the dirtiest places on a plane (see here, here, and here if you can stomach it). But germs aren’t the only thing to worry about when travelling- those long flights wreak havoc in other ways that can jeopardise your health. Here are some tips from me, speaking as a licenced pharmacist, to help you stay healthy on your next flight! As always, it’s best to speak with your physician before travelling if you have concerns; this information is general and not a replacement for personalised medical advice.
1. Bring a pack of disinfectant wipes and WIPE DOWN EVERYTHING
Sure, you risk looking like a germaphobe. But if you’re going to be spending 7+ hours on a transatlantic flight, why wouldn’t you take a moment whilst boarding to give your area a quick wipe-down? Remember your headrest, seatbelt buckle, tray table, seat pocket*, and the area around your window where you rest your head. You won’t be able to eliminate all the germs, but it will help.
*Fun fact: I have personally witnessed someone dispose a used diaper into the seatback pocket.
This applies to both the airport as well as the airplane. It can be tempting, once you’re through security, to stake out a seat by an outlet and set up camp until it’s time to board. If you have more than fifteen minutes, don’t do this. Take a walk- you’ll have a chance to sit soon enough. And once you’re on the plane, be sure to stand up, stretch, and move about the cabin at least a little bit, especially if it’s a long-haul flight. Prolonged periods of inactivity, coupled with the dehydration many people experience on planes, can contribute to venous stasis- in other words, your bloodflow becomes sluggish. This puts you at risk for blood clots (called deep vein thromboses), particularly in your legs, which are painful and dangerous. Frequent movement helps to keep your blood moving and decrease your risk of developing one. Many of the airline magazines provide pictorials in their back pages of exercises you can do on a plane. These promote bloodflow and can be done from your seat or in very limited space- try them every hour while you’re awake.
3. Stay hydrated, but skip the caffeine and alcohol
Any time a flight attendant comes around, take him or her up on an offer of a complimentary beverage (ideally, water). Plane air is notoriously drying. But forgo the wine and coffee if you can- both alcohol and caffeine are known to dehydrate you, which can increase the risk of the aforementioned blood clots, as well as contribute to discomfort in the form of muscle aches, dry eyes, hemorrhoids, and runny noses.
4. Get all recommended travel vaccines
Many government health authorities (the World Health Organisation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Government of Canada, etc.) provide public information regarding health-related concerns in countries and regions across the globe. They also recommend certain vaccines based on endemic communicable diseases, and I cannot stress this enough: YOU SHOULD GET THESE VACCINES. Yes, you might have to pay for them, as most health insurance plans consider them “elective”, but that’s still better than contracting malaria or hepatitis. Check with your local public health authority for recommendations and additional information.
5. Practise good sleep hygiene
If you’re on a red-eye, this means maintaining an environment that is as conducive as possible to getting some rest. After a late dinner, avoid the temptation to start a movie or play games on your phone. Try to incorporate a routine that signals it’s bedtime to your brain- change into comfortable clothing, brush your teeth, listen to soothing music, pull out a light-blocking eye mask. Even if you’re not tired, these tasks can help switch your body clock onto your destination’s time zone. And the sooner you can do this, the less jetlag you’ll experience.
Your health doesn’t have to take a hit when you travel. Taking these steps, and common-sense precautions, can help keep you healthy and comfortable en-route to your next destination.
What steps do you take to stay healthy when you travel? Any questions for me? I’d love to hear from you!