Unexpected health concerns while traveling can get in the way of doing all that you want. But there are steps you can take to stay healthy and active.
To help you get the most out of your travels, here are some tips for how to stay healthy on vacation from Dr. Kristina Angelo, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Before you go
Getting the right shots can support a healthy, active lifestyle away from home, but make sure you’re prepared for the expense.
“Vaccines can be expensive,” Dr. Angelo says. “So we always recommend that people budget in the cost of vaccines as a part of the total cost of their trips.”
Here are a few more predeparture tips:
- Get the shots you need for the countries you’re visiting.
- See your health care provider a month before you travel so your immunity has time to build.
- Make sure you’re up to date on all routine U.S. vaccines.
- Stay apprised of travel advisories and alerts. Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
While traveling to your destination
Colds and flu
No one likes being on a crowded plane when it’s cold and flu season. Reduce your chances of catching something unpleasant by wiping down likely germ-gathering places.
“The germiest places on airplanes are actually the areas where people sit,” Dr. Angelo says. “So it’s mainly the tray table, the seatbelt buckles, airflow controls—not only the stuff that’s in the restroom.”
Here are a few more tips for how to stay healthy on vacation and keep the “bugs” at bay:
- Get plenty of rest before your flight.
- Stay hydrated to keep your nasal passages moist, which helps protect you from viruses and bacteria.
- Carry disinfectant towels to wipe down germ-gathering areas such as tray tables, safety belt buckles and airflow controls.
- Use hand sanitizer after touching surfaces that are likely to have germs.
- Avoid touching your face. Germs need a point of entry, like the eyes, nose or mouth.
- Anyone older than 6 months should get a flu shot before traveling.
How to stay healthy on vacation: venous thromboembolism
Venous thromboembolism (VTE) includes deep vein thrombosis (DVT)—a blood clot in a deep vein (usually in the leg)—and pulmonary embolism (PE)—a clot that travels to the lungs and blocks blood supply. The risk increases when a person is immobile four hours or more.
After Debbie Haas, vice president for travel products and services for AAA, traveled to the West Coast from Michigan in 2019, she noticed stiffness and swelling in her right calf—and shortness of breath. She went to a doctor, who immediately sent her to a hospital emergency room. Debbie underwent treatment for clots in her leg and lungs and has fully recovered. But the experience made an impression.
“All travelers taking flights and long road trips should be aware of the importance of hydration and frequent movement,” Debbie says. “DVT/PE is very underdiagnosed, so knowing the symptoms and seeking medical care without delay can minimize the health consequences.”
Symptoms for DVT include pain or tenderness (usually in the legs), swelling and unusual warmth in that area, and even some redness or discoloration of the skin where the DVT is located. Symptoms for a pulmonary embolism include difficulty breathing, fast or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, coughing up blood and lightheadedness.
“If you experience any symptoms while on an airplane, let one of the flight attendants know immediately,” Dr. Angelo says. “You likely will need to have a medical evaluation on the plane.”
General actions to help prevent VTE include leg exercises, walking around every two to three hours, wearing compression stockings, and, for high-risk travelers, taking medication to prevent blood clots.