Your game plan for staying healthy while traveling

Are you one of the millions of Americans traveling during the holidays? Holiday traveling is getting underway, but you don’t have to leave good health behind.

One forecast predicts more than 103 million Americans — the most on record — will travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, including 93.6 million by car. Whether you choose to hit the roads or fly to your destination, it can be easy to get caught up in the hubbub of travel and lose track of your healthy habits.

But because the body is under some level of stress while traveling — and exposed to more germs — it’s vitally important to take steps to protect your health. Try out these five tips for keeping at the top of your game, even while you travel.

  1. Wash your hands. When you’re away from home, you typically find yourself out and about more often. Which inevitably means you will be exposed to more germs than usual. If you’re traveling by air, this is especially true. A study conducted by the Today Show found that bacteria responsible for the common cold, the flu, E. coli and even MRSA are all often found on planes and in airports. Because surfaces within an airplane aren’t always sanitized during the day, washing your hands regularly is your best defense. Wash your hands with hot water and regular (not antibacterial) soap for at least 20 seconds — and be sure to get soap on all areas of your hands, including between your fingers and under your nails. If you don’t have access to soap and water while you travel, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can work in a pinch. Choose one that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, and use it just as you would soap and water. (Except don’t rinse!) And back to the plane: You may also want to pack disinfecting wipes and use them to wipe down the area around your seat, including your tray table. Better safe than sorry!
  2. Drink plenty of water. Whether you’re traveling by air or by car, take a refillable water bottle with you. It can be hard enough to ensure you’re getting enough fluids while you’re at home. When you hit the road, it’s even harder. Because you often don’t have a refrigerator or sink handy while traveling, you may not think about drinking water. But you should. Try to drink the same amount of water while on a holiday trip that you would typically drink at home. Watch for signs of dehydration — if your urine is darker than pale yellow, you need to drink more. This is another case where this tip is especially important when flying. Humidity levels in an airplane are very low, which can quickly lead to dehydration. So bring an empty refillable bottle through security, then fill it up with water and drink up!
  3. Make healthy food choices. No, you don’t have to skip your holiday feast. But for optimal health, try to make healthy choices when you can. At holiday meals and parties, fill your plate with fruits, vegetables and lean proteins first. Then treat yourself to small portions of items you can’t get at any other time of year, such as your grandma’s famous dressing or your uncle’s cheesecake. If possible, stick to your normal meal schedule. When large holiday meals are on the horizon, it’s even more important to make sure you eat a healthy breakfast. Start out your day with a breakfast made up of carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fat, such as a whole-grain bagel with avocado and egg or a whole-grain waffle with peanut butter and banana. This will keep you from feeling ravenous and overeating later in the day.
  4. Stay active. When you’re away from home, it can be tempting to let yourself slack off your exercise routine. But if you want to return home just as healthy as you left it, you need to stay active. And you’ll feel better if you get moving. If you’re staying in a hotel, choose one with a gym and/or pool. Carve out a half hour or so at the start of your day to get some physical activity in.Or, if the weather outside isn’t frightful, head out on an adventure! Explore the city you’re visiting on foot or by bicycle and visit old favorites or new-to-you places. You can also make staying active a whole-family activity. Before or after your meal, head outdoors for a hike, or play a game of pick-up football in the backyard. It doesn’t matter what you do — as long as it keeps you moving!
  5. Stick to a sleep routine. When you’re catching up with family and friends, you may find yourself staying up later or sleeping in. Try your best to avoid that. When you’re traveling, your body needs even more rest than normal. And normally, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. You don’t need to sleep more hours, but stick with your normal routine. Go to bed and wake up at around the same time you usually would. Find it difficult to fall asleep in a bed other than your own? That makes sticking to your routine even more important. Do you normally put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, wash your face, then read before bed? Do the same while you’re on the road. If you usually take a bath and light an aromatherapy candle to help you wind down, do the same while you travel. Your body will respond to your normal routine, and you’ll get the sleep you need.

The arrival of the holidays means 2016 is drawing to a close. Have you had your annual checkup? If not, schedule one today! Need a doctor? Find one here.