With travel restrictions lifting, the wanderlust vibes are strong – but how can you avoid getting sick once you’re out exploring the world again? These tips will help you stay on the healthy track…
By Karen Kwan
With the world opening up, we are all looking to travel again. But how to do it safely and stay healthy? The last thing anyone wants is to be stuck in the hotel sick while friends are out sightseeing. The good news is that we have all picked up some great habits these past few years that’ll help us stay well when out in the world. While you can’t guarantee you won’t fall ill from the common cold virus, COVID-19, the flu, food poisoning or other common travel ailments, you can be proactive about minimizing your risk.
Wash your hands frequently
Washing our hands frequently throughout the day (with soap and water, for 20 seconds) is a habit we should all have adopted long ago. Now that we’ve gotten used to doing it, keep at it: handwashing helps prevent the spread of germs. Consider how often you touch your face (or used to touch, in the before times). Germs can enter your body via your eyes, mouth and nose, making you susceptible to respiratory infections.
Carry – and use – hand sanitizer
A sink with soap and water isn’t always available. Continue to keep some hand sanitizer with you so you can use it regularly when you’re on the go. Use it (if you don’t have access to a sink) before and after you eat, after you go to the washroom and after you touch any high-contact spots (think stairway railings and door handles).
Wear a mask where it’s required – and even if it’s not mandated, if it makes you feel more at ease
While mask restrictions may have been lifted at your destination, wear one if you feel uncomfortable with the number of people around you in an enclosed space, for example. Consider how the cold and flu season barely struck through the pandemic, thanks to people committed to wearing masks and washing their hands? Masks may not be mandatory on flights anymore, but don’t feel shy about wearing one.
Get a good night’s sleep
We often sacrifice sleep in the days leading up to travelling and during trips – we get so busy wrapping up loose ends at home and packing for the getaway, and then get excited to explore morning til night at our destination. But when you don’t get enough rest, it impacts your immune system, making you more susceptible to getting sick. What happens? When your body is sleep deprived, it weakens immune function and also produces fewer infection-fighting antibodies. Try to maintain good sleep habits even when you’re away from home.
Drink enough fluids (and eat hydrating foods such as melons, lettuce, cucumber and oranges) as this helps your body fight off germs by keeping your nasal and throat passages moist. That mucus in your nose needs to be moist and sticky to keep germs and dirt from entering your body. When your nasal passages dry out because you’re dehydrated, they are less efficient at keeping germs out.
Watch what you’re eating and drinking
It can be tricky to avoid eating or drinking anything contaminated. Trust your gut (sorry!)y and avoid anything that may not have been prepared safely: your meals should be fully cooked and served hot (raw ingredients can be riskier for pathogens that lead to food-borne illnesses). The Government of Canada recommends travellers drink water only if it has been boiled or disinfected or is in a commercially sealed bottle – and use these for brushing your teeth as well. Don’t forget about the ice being used, too: check that it’s been made with purified or disinfected water.
Invest in travel insurance
While these tips will help minimize your risk of getting sick while travelling, there are no guarantees. “The pandemic showed that anything can happen to really mess up your travel plans: new variants, changing restrictions, cancellations and the worry that you could get sick on your trip,” says Jennifer Weatherhead, a Toronto-based on-air travel expert and journalist. She says that even though we’re technically post-pandemic, you never know if restrictions and cancellations could happen again – and you never know if you might get sick while on vacation. Weatherhead recommends ensuring you have travel insurance that will cover you if you need to make changes or cancel. “Knowing you’re covered if something goes awry will help ease stress, because no one wants to be stressed on vacation!”
KAREN KWAN is a freelance health, travel and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @healthswellness and on Instagram at @healthandswellness.