‘Tis the season to travel, which means our immune systems will be bombarded with an endless amount of illness-causing enemies. Fortunately, you can stay healthy while traveling — and keep your family healthy, too — by following some simple tips.
Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, a family physician in Lexington, Kentucky, and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, has plenty of experience traveling with her kids and teaching other moms how to stay healthy while traveling. She shares her insight so that you can travel with peace of mind.
The challenge of travel
Traveling with kidsis never easy. It usually involves extensive planning, packing, dragging and entertaining, which is tough enough, but it’s the unseen travel companions that can really ruin a trip. Wherever your final destination, if you are sick or on the verge of being sick, your trip definitely won’t be enjoyable.
“Traveling can be emotionally and physically stressful for kids and adults,” says McAllister. “All this added stress can weaken the defenses of the immune system. The results of numerous studies have firmly established that any type of stress, whether emotional or physical, impairs immunity.”
Traveling usually results in a drastic change to our sleep habits and eating habits. Lack of sleep and an increased consumption of fast food make our bodies susceptible to illness. “Many families tend to eat more junk food when they’re traveling,” says McAllister. “Eating fewer fruits and vegetables and more processed food means fewer vitamins and minerals and more sugar, all of which compromise the immune system.”
Dehydration is also a huge factor to consider while traveling. “For example,” says McAllister, “If the mucous membranes — a first line of defense — of your nose and throat aren’t moist and sticky from proper hydration, they’re not as capable of trapping and destroying microbial invaders before they travel deeper into your sinuses or your lungs and set up infection.”
You are your family’s best defense when it comes to staying healthy while traveling. Try carrying an illness prevention travel bag when you’re out and about this holiday season. McAllister suggests you include the following in your preparedness kit:
- A zipper lock baggie for each toothbrushes and toothpaste
- Small packets of honey (an antibiotic and cough soother)
- A disposable ice bag for bumps and bruises
- Children’s multivitamin and mineral supplement
- Healthy snacks, such as nuts, raisins or granola bars, in single serving size packs
- Sugarless chewing gum to ease ear discomfort on the airplane
- Tylenol and the dosage cup
- Benadryl and the dosage cup
- Hand sanitizer and wipes
In addition to carrying “stay healthy” tools, McAllister suggests the following travel tips:
- Try to stick to a nutritious diet without a lot of sodas and sugary treats
- Drink plenty of water
- Take time for regular potty breaks
- Avoid sharing straws or drinks
- Encourage kids to wash their hands often and as soon as they can after playing in a public play space or traveling on any type of public transportation system
- When you return home, clean out your travel bag and replenish supplies