Germ-ridden airports paired with the tendency to forgo your healthy routine while traveling can create the perfect storm of a low immune system and exposure to harmful bacteria and viruses. In other words, it's pretty easy to end up not feeling well during or even after a vacation. This is especially true during the busy holiday season when millions of passengers circulate through packed airports on their way to see family and friends or to get away from it all on a holiday getaway.
Although some aspects of travel, like whether or not you're seated next to a person with the sniffles, are unavoidable, there are plenty of ways to prepare your body to stay healthy before, during, and after a vacation. "The truth is that we are constantly exposed to organisms that can make us sick," explains Josh Axe, DNE, CNS, DC, founder of Ancient Nutrition, and DrAxe.com. "Whether or not they cause you to become sick really depends on the integrity of your immune system."
Ahead, he breaks down the keys to staying healthy while traveling, from daily supplements and the best seat on the plane to what the best foods to eat and how to recover when you're back home. Consider this your ultimate guide to healthy travel.
Before Your Trip
Before you even think about what to pack, you'll want to start considering what you can do to boost your immune system before traveling. Axe suggests taking a daily probiotic supplement to help improve your gut health, which will help keep your immune system strong. According to him, you should be taking a supplement like this every day, no matter your travel plans, since the organisms that can cause illness are everywhere, not just at the airport.
Aside from daily probiotics (and doing your best to get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated), you can eat anti-inflammatory foods to give your immune system a boost. Trade in processed, packaged, sugary foods for nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. He recommends blending up an immune-boosting smoothie made with grapefruit, strawberries, organic yogurt, ginger, and local honey.
At the Airport
Axe's in-airport trick to staving away any potential illness is keeping essential oils on hand. "Many of them have antibacterial and antiviral properties," he explains. Simply apply a few drops of oregano, eucalyptus, peppermint, or lemon to your wrists, the back of your neck, and chest, to boost your immunity while waiting at the gate.
If essential oils aren't for you, you can also take a combination of vitamin C and zinc in the hours before hopping on the plane. "There's research suggesting that this will help to boost your immune system and reduce the duration of the common cold if you are exposed to bacteria," he says.
On the Plane
When it comes time to pick your seat, aim for a spot by the window and try to avoid walking about the plane as much as possible. "The more you move around, the more germs you can be exposed to, so sit tight," Axe says. If the worst occurs and you're seated next to someone who's obviously sick, your last line of defense is turning on the overhead air and doing your best not to come in direct contact with them.
Once seated, you'll want to keep your essential oils handy in case you need a whiff mid-flight. Axe also recommends bringing your own high-quality ginger or ginseng tea to add to hot water on the plane, as both will help to fight infection and cleanse toxins from the body.
Finally, do your best to avoid touching parts of the plane used by multiple people, like the bathroom and overhead cabinets, which are more likely to spread germs. If it's unavoidable, be sure to wash or disinfect your hands afterward and try not to touch your face. Axe also notes that when you see a line for the bathroom, it's best to stay seated until it becomes available in order to reduce the number of germs you're exposed too while waiting in line.
During Your Trip
"When we are busy or traveling, it’s easy to put our normal regimen on hold for a while, but that's what makes you feel sick, bloated, and tired," Axe explains. The key to staying healthy while traveling is to do your best to maintain your usual lifestyle and routine. "This may be difficult when you have a packed schedule, but you want to make sure you're getting enough rest and physical activity to keep your immune system working properly," he says.
While vacations are a time to indulge, Axe also recommends limiting alcohol and unhealthy, inflammatory foods as best you can. "Be prepared with healthy foods that your body is used to, like fresh fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, and good quality, organic meat, like wild-caught salmon," he suggests.
After Your Trip
The final step is allowing your body to recover from your travels once you've arrived home. It's important to get back to your normal routine with plenty of sleep, exercise, and healthy foods, according to Axe. If you do feel sick after a trip, you can try having a bit of elderberry extract, which has been shown to reduce the symptoms and length of a cold or flu, Axe explains.