Seeing your family and friends over all of the fall and winter holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa is a good thing. But traveling during the holidays can mean the flu, which is definitely not a good thing. As if traveling during the busy holiday season — with all of the traffic, bad weather, and flight delays — wasn’t bad enough, you also have to make sure you stay healthy. Otherwise, you’re going to spending the holidays quarantined from those family and friends you just traveled all that way see.
While many ways to avoid the flu over the holidays are common sense, it never hurts repeating. So if you’re journeying home for the holidays — whether it be by train, bus, or plane (you’re pretty safe in your own car even if it’s not great for the environment) — here’s how to ensure you remain your healthiest self during the 2016 holiday season.
1. Get a flu shot!
A bit self-explanatory, but the number one way to fight the flu is to get the flu shot. If you are hesitant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the chances of any serious harm coming from the flu shot are “extremely small.” And along with keeping yourself healthy, you will help keep people who are more at risk for the flu (like elderly people and young children) healthy too. The CDC recommends you get your flu shot two weeks before you need to travel.
2. Keep good sleep habits
Traveling can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule — especially if you have an early morning flight. But getting your seven to nine hours a night is important in helping keep your body in tip-top flu-fighting shape. As the health system SSM Health St. Louis wrote, “Studies show that getting at least eight hours of sleep a night can help prevent a compromised immune system.”
3. Don’t touch the T-zone!
You’re probably familiar with your T-zone when it comes to washing your face. But Dr. Will Sawyer uses the T-zone and his kid-friendly Henry the Hand cartoon as a way to remind you not to touch the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose, and mouth — when you are sick or healthy. That’s because you could have come in contact with a person who was sick without even realizing it and touching those parts of your face with your germ-exposed hand offers a direct gateway for respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases to enter your body.
4. And wash your hands after touching these things
Money Talks News wrote to be mindful when you touch the following items while traveling: Door handles and locks, toilet flush buttons, seat belts, tray tables, arm rests and any buttons on them, drinking fountain buttons, and other types of buttons and knobs (like vents or lights). Make sure you wash your hands with water and soap for 20 seconds after coming in contact with these germ-infested surfaces.
5. Carry hand sanitizer
Although washing your hands is the best, you don’t always have access to soap and water when you’re traveling. So bring along hand sanitizer — the CDC recommends it be alcohol-based and contain at least 60 percent alcohol — as a backup precaution.
6. Drink plenty of water
Even without knowing the science behind it, you know that you usually are more prone to getting a cold while flying. IndependentTraveler cited a study that colds may be caused by low cabin humidity. As a way to thwart this, stay hydrated with plenty of water throughout your journey. Yes, drinking water is good for your health no matter what, but IndependentTraveler and FitDay claim staying hydrated may help your immune system as well as keep you from drying out.
7. Use saline nasal solution
Along with drinking liquids, IndependentTraveler, USA Today, and U.S. News & World Report all advise using nasal sprays on airplanes to help keep your nasal passages moist. “Saline solution and nasal mists are also effective in fighting germs, as they keep your nasal passages moist, which enhances your body’s own germ-flushing activity,” U.S. News & World Report wrote. Just don’t go overboard since WebMD says you can overuse these decongestant nasal sprays.
8. Keep your distance from sick passengers
The company Caring wrote that in a study published in the CDC publication Emerging Infectious Diseases, airplane passengers were found to be at a “3.6-percent increased risk for flu if they sat within two rows of someone with symptoms, and the risk jumped to 7.7 percent for those who sat within two seats of the sick passenger.” So no matter what type of transportation you take, keep an eye out for fellow passengers who appear sick and try to avoid them if possible.
9. And don’t be afraid to move your seat
In the same lines as number 8, if you’re sitting close to someone on a plane, train, or bus who is sick, see if you can move your seat. While this might be tricky on a packed airplane, it never hurts to politely ask what your options are. This will be a tough one for the less outspoken people out there, but it’s all about your health. And, of course, there’s no need to shame your fellow traveler — especially if they are practicing good hygiene. If you can’t move your seat, Rick Seaney for ABC News says open up your air vent since airplane cabin air is clean (though dry) and circulating air may help you avoid getting sick.
10. Bring your own blanket and pillow
Business Insider cited a Wall Street Journal study that showed that airlines only wash the pillows and blankets they hand out out every five to 30 days. Yikes! So if you want to stay snuggly and comfortable on your flight, or even on your bus or train ride, bring your own clean blanket and pillow.
11. Avoid getting up close and personal even when you get home
Even when you get to your destination, you might want to skip hugging or kissing family members or friends who are either sick or showing signs of being sick, Dr. Philip Tierno told CNN. Yes, you want to be close for the holidays — but not too close if it will make you sick for your journey back.
12. Be healthy before you leave
Yes, this is not a simple fix, but the best way to stay healthy while you’re traveling is to already be healthy, Travel + Leisure wrote. “Have a healthy immune system before you leave,” Dr. Vanessa Maier told the magazine. “That means eating lots of fruits and vegetables, getting at least seven hours of sleep a night, and exercising regularly.”
13. Stock up on your vitamins
Although the effects of vitamin C on your immune system have been debated, Men’s Fitness wrote it can decrease a cold’s duration by 10 percent. Even if using products like Airborne and Emergen-C are more a placebo than anything else, vitamin C is good for your health overall and might just help you avoid the flu.
If you don’t want to have to miss celebrations and parties because you’re sick, try to follow these 13 rules as you travel home for the holidays. Because even though the flu isn’t mentioned in the song “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,” it can be a very real consequence of getting to see your loved ones during this magical season.