With all the scary news stories about pandemics and passengers carrying diseases from abroad, it can sound like everyone is doomed to get sick on a plane flight. After all, you're sitting in a cramped metal tube with hundreds of other passengers, breathing recycled air, and who knows where those people have been?
On top of this, your immune system is getting stressed. You're not moving for hours on end, and feeding your body caffeine, sugar, and processed food. And worst of all, you've got jet lag to deal with, turning your body clock upside down.
So, is staying healthy on a long-haul flight – or any flight – even possible? How do you avoid getting sick when you're literally surrounded by germs?
With hundreds of plane trips under our belts, we're here to help. Read on for our 10 best ways to stay healthy on plane and avoid getting sick.
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How to avoid getting sick on a plane
Dan and I do as much as we can to stay healthy, both at home and abroad. To be honest, most of the things we do to protect ourselves are plain old common sense. You may already do them, but there are a few extra tips we've picked up along the way that are specific to air travel. So rather than keep them to ourselves, here are some favorite tips for healthy flying.
I hope you find this article helpful. Let us know if you do!
1. Strengthen your immune system ahead of time.
The best way to strengthen an immune system is to increase gut flora. For this reason, for the three days preceding long flights, we both mega-dose on high-quality, vegetarian probiotic capsules like these. One bottle per person seems to work well for us.
The week before we fly, we also increase our intake of fermented products like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut. We don't eat any of them on the last day, though, because they can occasionally create excess belly gas. Internal gas can be extremely painful at high altitudes. Besides, we don't want to offend our seatmates by reducing the *ahem* “local air quality” … if you get my meaning.
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2. Stay hydrated.
Drink plenty of water before you get on the plane and limit your caffeine. (Don't forget to use the bathroom before you board!) Once aloft, stick to juice or bottled water (see tip #5) and go easy on the alcohol because it can be dehydrating. Definitely skip the carbonated beverages because those bubbles can cause intense belly pain with the lower cabin pressure at high altitudes.
Wine? Your call. We'll confess that we indulge a bit because we like like to enjoy it with our meals … though to be honest their vintages rarely warrant a second glass.
Tip: Bring an empty, disposable water bottle to the airport and fill it with water from a drinking fountain after you pass through security. Unless they do all the security stuff at the gate, you are permitted to carry it on board.
3. Stick to bottled water.
Are you planning to drink the tap water on board a plane? If so, you might want to read this article from the Wall Street Journal. Trust us on this: To stay healthy, on a long flight or otherwise, don't risk your trip by drinking anything made with the water from on board — including coffee or hot tea — and never brush your teeth with the tap water. Better safe than sorry.
Tip: If your destination's water quality will be questionable, you might want to consider investing in a portable LifeStraw personal water filter bottle. We haven't tried it yet, but blogger friends swear by it, so we are considering one for our next Third World trip.
4. Bring antibacterial wipes.
The air in a plane may be cleaned regularly, but you can't say the same about the seats or seat pockets. We have seen women change their babies on the same drop-down tables that later hold their meal trays, and then not wash their hands. Ewwww!
Get some good antibacterial wipes or a travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer, and wipe down everything … armrests, tray table and latch, light switch, seat reclining button, remote control, air vent, … you name it. Avoid touching anything until you do!
ⓘ TIP: Keep the sanitizing wipes handy and clean your hands after returning to your seat from the lavatory.
5. And speaking of the lavatory, wear shoes when you go.
Floors in airplane bathrooms will often be wet after a few hours in flight.
Think about it: Can you be sure that the wet stuff on the floor is only water?
Besides, while putting your shoes on may be a tad inconvenient, it's no fun to wear wet socks back to your seat.
6. Try to relax.
Stress plays havoc on the body. Relaxation is healing, so do what you enjoy while in flight. Read a book or magazine, nap, listen to some music or enjoy the on-board entertainment.
It doesn't take long for us to tire of the on-board shows and Bollywood movies, so we download music and podcasts beforehand. We also carry Amazon Kindles on every trip.
Here's why you should consider an ebook reader:
- It's like having a library at your fingertips.
- Compared to a tablet or physical books, it saves a TON of weight and space.
- You can always find something in English, even in countries where they don't speak it.
Kindles are super affordable, too. CHECK PRICES HERE.
Tip: Amazon also offers a free Kindle app that works on most laptops, tablets and mobile phones. DOWNLOAD IT HERE.
7. Get some rest.
Good old “R&R” (rest and relaxation) is super healing. If you are changing coasts or continents, make an effort to eat and sleep according to your new time zone while in flight. That nebulous neither-here-nor-there time in fight is the perfect opportunity to adjust your body's clock and avoid jet lag, which is incredibly taxing on a body's defenses.
As further help with adjusting to the time difference, we also swear by No-Jet-Lag. It's an effective homeopathic medication that we take every two hours while in flight, and it helps a whole lot. (As an experiment, we skipped it once on a transAtlantic flight … and felt horrible for days. Ugh. We'll never be caught without it again.)
8. Keep the blanket and pillow away from your face.
A 2007 investigation by The Wall Street Journal revealed that airlines cleaned their blankets every five to 30 days. But even if you get a freshly laundered one, keep in mind that blankets and pillows often end up on the floor, which is incredibly filthy.
Instead, layer your clothing for temperature control and use a neck pillow. The inflatable ones don't take up much space in your carry-on bag and, I was surprised to discover, they are far more comfortable than the little pillows that the airlines provide.
9. Use your own headset.
Even the wrapped headsets that are distributed by the flight attendants are suspect. Seasoned travelers often bring their own. We travel light so we prefer to use earbuds, rather than bulky headsets. Not only are they smaller and far more comfortable, they provide much better sound than what you'll get on board. Plus, they make good earplugs.
Tip: Some older planes have dual-prong jacks that make stereo sound impossible with a single jack. Audio hack: Buy an inexpensive 2-prong adapter that is specially designed for those airplane audio jacks.
10. Move around
Get up and walk around the cabin – it will help to keep your circulation going as often as you can. Being seated for a long time may increase the risk of developing blood clots in the veins in your legs (known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT), which can be life threatening.
Dan developed DVT when we flew to Indonesia and couldn't walk far for weeks. Don't let that happen to you.
Tip: Many people take aspirin before flying,but if you're prone to blood clots, you should check with your physician first.
Chime in below
So what do you do to stay healthy when you travel on a plane ? Leave your thoughts and tips in the comments.
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Other travel tips on As We Saw It include:
- Want to Avoid DVT on Long-Haul Flights? Try This Technique
- 21 Helpful Tips for First Time Cruisers
- 7 Airports That Offer Free Layover Tours
- Should You Set a Goal to Travel to Every Country?
- 17 Things to Prepare Before Traveling Abroad: A Checklist
- How to Keep Your Cool Getting to the Airport
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