You’ve planned your trip for months — maybe years. The last thing you want is a pesky illness to upend your long-awaited adventure. To help you avoid major travel bugs, keep these 17 healthy travel tips in mind; they won’t guarantee absolute health, but they’ll go a long way to keeping you free of major illness. (Note: These are designed to be general guidelines; always follow the guidance of experts or official agencies regarding best health and safety practices.)
1: Keep your hands in your pockets on trains and trams.
Excited travelers often like exploring their surroundings – including during transit. To reduce the chances of picking up a bug, however, keep your hands off of doors, windows, poles, chairs, and other parts of vehicles where bacteria and viruses temporarily live.
2: Stand, don’t sit.
If you’re concerned about the cleanliness of public transit, we recommend standing for the duration of your trip – unless, of course, it’s a long one. This way, you reduce contact with the potential grime of passengers who have come before you. If you need to sit, consider bringing a small cloth you can put on the seat before sitting down.
3: Find a corner.
If you’re standing on a bus, it’s likely you’ll be surrounded by people – people who will be breathing on you and may cough or sneeze on you. To avoid this, find a corner of the bus so you’re only surrounded by people on a couple of sides.
4: Wear light gloves.
Travel with a light pair of gloves, which will allow you to avoid touching dirty surfaces. Preferably, find a pair you can easily wash when travel is completed. We don’t recommend wearing latex gloves as this might suggest to others you are either sick yourself or have recently come from a medical facility where sickness is prominent.
5: Steer clear of coughers and sneezers.
This one is obvious, but when you’re in the thick of logistical planning or navigation, it can often be forgotten. As you travel through major hubs and tourist centers, keep a constant eye out for others who are coughing or sneezing and head a different way. If you can’t avoid them, try to move past with your back toward them.
6: Drink lots of (safe, potable) water.
Water is key to staying healthy as it helps flush contaminants out of your system. Be sure, however, that the water you’re drinking is safe; some countries do not offer potable drinking water from the tap. In these instances, purchase bottled water instead.
7: Wash your hands frequently; use hand sanitizer only if you can’t wash.
When sickness is prevalent, we all have the urge to sanitize constantly. There’s a downside to this, though; the more sanitizer we use, the more antibiotic resistance we build up, contributing to the development of superbugs. Whenever possible, wash your hands instead. If soap and water are not available, be sure you have hand sanitizer as a backup.
8: Get plenty of sleep at regular hours.
We all know how important sleep is to health, but it’s important that this sleep occurs on a regular cycle in one continuous period of time. This gives your body the opportunity to fall into REM sleep, which is when much of your body’s self-restoration and healing happen. Don’t think you can nap your way through the day; even a cumulative eight hours will not give you the restoration you need.
9: Rest if you feel worn out.
Tangential to the note above, be sure you pay close attention to signs of fatigue — common during travel. If you feel like you need to rest, do so. Never mind your itinerary; find a way to take it easy for a bit before getting back to your adventure. Your body, mind, and mood will thank you.
10: Wear a mask if you’re coughing or sneezing, or if directed by a health agency.
Panic-crazed tourists often believe that wearing a mask will protect them from contracting an illness. That’s usually not true; masks are beneficial if you’re already coughing or sneezing and want to protect those around you, but is less efficacious if you’re trying to protect yourself. That said, there are instances when federal, regional, or local health organizations/agencies will recommend masks for everyone; be sure to follow the guidelines they set.
11: Avoid common serving bowls at restaurants.
Many countries across the world have restaurants that serve food in communal dishes or serving bowls. Some will provide serving utensils, but many simply leave serving up to each guest, who uses his/her own set of utensils to dish up their meal. Naturally, the saliva from their utensils transfers to the serving bowl. Ick. Avoid this type of service and opt for individual plates/bowls instead.
12: Eat only fully cooked foods and fruits/vegetables with peel-able outer skins.
If you’re concerned about the overall quality of the food being served in a given location, look for dishes that are fully cooked (to avoid bacterial infestation) and/or fruits and vegetables that have outer skins or peels that can be removed. These are the safest options for travelers.
13: Carry disinfectant wipes.
A small container of antibacterial wipes can be useful when spending a lot of time in public places and when using public facilities. For instance, we recommend using a wipe to clean off public toilet seats before taking care of business.
14: Take the stairs.
Unless you require different accommodation, we recommend taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Not only do you get a bit more exercise, but you avoid pressing those grimy buttons and standing in someone else’s personal space. While lift rides are often short, elevators can nonetheless be an incubator of germs. Avoid them.
15: Get a flu shot.
Even if you don’t believe in the effectiveness of the flu shot, get one. It has been shown to be effective in reducing instances of the virus and can help prevent a miserable travel experience. Plus, if you don’t have the flu, you won’t transmit the virus to others inadvertently.
16: Check the CDC for recommended vaccinations prior to travel.
Some countries experience occasional or regular outbreaks of specific illnesses. To protect yourself against these, be sure to check the CDC website for vaccinations you should get before leaving. You’ll also find general tips on staying healthy when abroad.
17: Wear sunscreen.
This may seem silly – especially if you’re not planning on being somewhere particularly sunny – but we often spend more time outside on vacation (at least during warmer months). Sunburns can creep up on you, so be sure you wear sunscreen.
Do you have other tips for staying healthy while traveling? Send them to use at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add yours to the list.