How to Stay Healthy During Summer Travel


Are you planning a big summer trip? You’re probably researching accommodations and restaurants and thinking about activities to do and places to go.

Make sure your preparations also include how you’ll stay healthy. By avoiding infection and injury, you’ll be able to enjoy the trip to its fullest.

We spoke to Louise King, MD, a UNC Health internal medicine physician and director of the Internal Medicine Travel Clinic, about steps to take for healthy summer travel.

1. Prepare for common ailments while packing.

As you prepare the packing list for your trip, be sure it includes medications and other products to address common health concerns.

“Some good over-the-counter medications to pack include Imodium or Pepto-Bismol for travelers’ diarrhea, pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and a hydrocortisone cream and an antihistamine for allergies or an insect bite,” Dr. King says.

Antihistamines also can relieve motion sickness.

When flying, a decongestant such as Sudafed or a nasal spray such as Afrin can soothe the pressure buildup during takeoffs and landings, Dr. King says, though she advises not to take Afrin for more than three days because it can lead to a persistent runny nose. Alternatively, you can chew gum or eat hard candies; the act of swallowing can cause your ears to pop during air pressure changes.

“A change in altitude is a stress for the ears,” she says. “If you develop ear pain after a flight, see a doctor.”

Dr. King also recommends sunscreen and an insect or mosquito repellant with DEET or picaridin. A first-aid kit with bandages and an antiseptic will be useful for cuts or blisters.

If you take prescription medications, put those in a carry-on bag rather than checked luggage, and travel with a list of the medications you take in case you lose your medications or have a medical emergency.

2. Research the need for vaccines or medication at your destination.

Before traveling internationally, Dr. King says to visit the Travelers’ Health website maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A big part of staying healthy is research of where you’re going,” Dr. King says. “The CDC’s site shows what vaccines are recommended and if malaria is a concern.”

When traveling to countries with a high risk of malaria, you may be prescribed medications to take before your trip.

Also, your primary care provider or someone at a travel clinic can identify and administer any vaccines you need before traveling. Dr. King says it’s a good idea to have a copy of your vaccine record with you on your journey.

If your trip involves high altitudes (8,000 feet or more above sea level), you may want to consult your doctor or a travel clinic for tips and medication to prevent altitude illness. People who are pregnant or who have certain conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, may need to take special precautions before ascending.

3. Stay hydrated.

Hydration is important for physical health in general, but it becomes vital when you travel. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 64 ounces—about eight glasses—of water a day, though you may need more or less.

Drinking plenty of water can help prevent constipation and headaches. Even mild dehydration can cause irritability and lack of energy, which can spoil your trip.

“Making sure you’re adequately hydrated and avoiding excess alcohol will also help you to get better sleep,” Dr. King says, which gives you the rest you need to enjoy your activities.

Proper hydration is key to avoiding heat-related illnesses if you’re frequently outside in hot temperatures or engaging in rigorous physical activities, such as hiking or cycling. Flying can also be dehydrating, due to low air pressure and humidity on the plane, so bring an empty water bottle for your flight and fill it up once you pass security.

Check the CDC’s travel website for advisories about tap water in other countries. In some destinations, you may need to take care to use only bottled or filtered water and avoid ice.

If you get diarrhea when traveling, try to stay hydrated. For travelers’ diarrhea or overexertion in the heat, consider taking oral rehydration salts.

4. Boost your immune system with healthy habits.

Maintaining healthy habits is good anytime, and that includes when you’re traveling.

To protect yourself from sniffles, sneezes and coughs on vacation, bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands often to reduce your risk of catching a cold, the flu or COVID-19.

“I’m still recommending a mask on planes,” Dr. King says. “There’s less COVID, but people are at increased risk when they travel.”

Although vacations often present opportunities for decadent meals, eating a balanced diet will support your immune system in fighting off possible infections.

Traveling can mean long days and late nights, so try to prioritize sleep. Even if you don’t have jet lag, travel can affect your sleep routine, so be mindful of your bedtime and any time zone changes. Dr. King says that using melatonin for a night or two can help your body adjust.

5. Plan for the unexpected.

Dr. King says it can be beneficial to plan for what will happen if you do get sick. Travel insurance may cover cancellations of trips due to illness and medical emergencies that happen abroad. If you’re traveling domestically, check whether your health insurance will let you see a provider in another state.

You may have planned a trip that’s full of fun and adventure, but you should also be prepared to hit pause if you’re not well.

“If you do feel yourself getting sick, don’t push yourself,” Dr. King says. “Take a break and try to rest for a day or two.”

Getting ready for a big trip? Talk to your doctor about the precautions you should take to stay healthy. If you need a doctor, find one near you.The post How to Stay Healthy During Summer Travel first appeared on UNC Health Talk.

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