By Harry Oken, M.D., practicing internist in Columbia, Maryland, medical advisory board member for Persona Nutrition; Dr. Oken is an adjunct professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and author of the new book BOOM: Boost Our Own Metabolism.
I receive several questions a day from patients, friends and family who are curious about what they can do to minimize their risk of getting sick while traveling. Given the current environment in the United States, travel is only advised if absolutely necessary. Always refer to your local government for travel advisories and restrictions. If you need to travel, there are ways to travel safer to help mitigate risks.
Tip 1: Cover, wash, repeat.
Always wear your face mask and decontaminate it daily. Be sure to wash your hands before and after eating. It’s better to use antibacterial soap instead of gel hand sanitizers. However, if you don’t have the option for soap and water, you should use what you have available.
Tip 2: Use hydrogen peroxide to clean your mask.
Clean your facemask regularly. An easy way to decontaminate is to spray it with hydrogen peroxide and let it sit for several hours until it dries. I do not recommend spraying the mask with a disinfectant as prolonged exposure of residue buildup on your skin can be harmful. The vapors may be irritating.
Tip 3: Consider new ways to stay.
Rest and relaxation are essential parts of our health and summer vacations are a way for many families to unwind. Though, I hope more people will keep social distancing in mind as they make summer travel plans. Renting recreational vehicles that can be decontaminated or camping outside in the wilderness are smarter things to do right now, instead of going to hotels and resorts. I also recommend travelers bring their own travel kits that include cleaning supplies.
Tip 4: Be mindful of what you’re eating.
It’s important to make healthy decisions about what you’re eating when you travel. For instance, select peeled vegetables and fruit instead of unpeeled, and cooked meat instead of uncooked, unless you feel 100 percent confident in the food preparation. Ask for drinks without ice.
Tip 5: Watch what you touch.
If you are going to any public space including airports, subways, and train stations, minimize your touches in common areas. This also applies to transportation such as rideshares, taxis, etc., again be conscious of what you touch and wash your hands frequently. On public transportation, use antibacterial/antiviral wipes to clean your area; this includes the seat, tray table, armrests and headrest. After you finish wiping these surfaces, wash or sanitize your hands.
Tip 6: Get easy nutrients on-the-go.
Adequate nutrition while you travel can be especially tricky. Nutrition research points to the use of some dietary supplements to help support overall health and wellness, especially for those who aren’t getting at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. For instance, if you have a slight deficiency in vitamin D, you may be more susceptible to contracting influenza according to a study published in the BMJ. Curcumin is another nutrient that supports health and may have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
I always advise people to speak with their doctor before starting a dietary supplement program or turn to a personalized nutrition company that cross-references vitamin and supplement recommendations against any prescription medications you may be taking. One personalized program that offers this feature is Persona Nutrition. Persona offers vitamin D3, curcumin as well as several other nutrients that can support your immune system all year long. The company organizes its vitamins and supplements into biodegradable daily packs, which are delivered directly to your doorstep – eliminating your need to visit a store or pharmacy in-person, and they are easy to pack in your luggage, handbag or briefcase.
Tip 7: Get plenty of Zzzs.
Be sure you’re getting ample sleep. Sleep is extremely important as it refreshes the immune system. The length of sleep is variable per person, but typically the sweet spot is between 6-8 hours. It is also beneficial to try to go to sleep and wake at similar times every day. If you’re sleep depleted, you’re much more likely to get a viral infection.
Tip 8: Practice watchful waiting.
What happens if you become ill while you’re on the move?
If you’re sick, be sure to quarantine yourself. Take measures to minimize your contact with people. If you must be around people, of course, wear your facemask. And then even still, if you are sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth with your elbow. For minor symptoms, I usually practice “watchful waiting” and follow the same procedures if I have a common cold. If your symptoms worsen, contact your health care practitioner right away to discuss the next steps.
We are living in an entirely new world with lots of uncertainties. It is possible to travel safely as long as you are careful.