This past winter has been brutal. If you’re lucky enough to be escaping the snow and rain and darkness, even for just a few days, congratulations: you are the proud new owner of our envy. Make full use of it by making sure you realize your full potential as a vacationer. This means not shooting yourself in the foot by getting sick before the vacation even properly commences. We don’t know about you, but one of our worst nightmares consists of getting a week off to go to Maui and then being confined to the hotel room for the entirety of the trip because you got sick on the plane. Make that our actual worst nightmare, actually. Don’t worry, though — we’ve got you covered with tips on how to exit those 80-ton sickness incubators they call airplanes relatively unscathed.
While the idea that the air in an airplane cabin is constantly being recycled (and thus filled with other people’s germ) has been proven as an urban myth, the fact of the matter is that the air being circulated is extremely dry. All that dry air is serving to dehydrate your skin, leaching moisture from your body while you’re being propelled to your destination at cruising altitude. Mild to moderate dehydration, the kind you might experience on a particularly hot day, has some cumbersome side effects of its own, like headache, constipation, and dizziness, but the reason to particularly avoid dehydration on a flight is because dehydration leads to a weakened immune system. Dehydration will make you easy pickings for all the little critters lurking on the plane, hoping to infect you (more on that below). Plan on drinking at least eight ounces of plain water per hour you spend in the air (and you’re gonna want to make sure that you bring your own, “airplane water” on certain planes has been shown to contain fecal bacteria and that’s no urban myth). Also, avoid alcohol and drinks that contain caffeine, as these are actually diuretics and will contribute to dehydration. We know, no fun, but trust us, you’ll be thankful when you step off that plane dewier than a rosebud.
Not that kind, although we suggest you always do that, too. We mean wipe down your surfaces. This includes headrests, armrests, tray tables, seat back pockets, windows — basically anything that any part of your body has the potential of coming into contact with. The reason is actually quite logical — like other forms of public transportation, surfaces in a plane come into contact with hundreds of different passengers on a daily basis. Each of these passengers could potentially be carrying any number of different bacterias or viruses, from your garden-variety flu to Staph to E. coli, even, and because of the tight confines in the plane’s cabin, the dearth of restrooms, and the prolonged contact passengers have with these possibly-infected surfaces, there’s a very high chance of infection if you’re lucky enough to come across one of these nasty bugs. Carry hand sanitizer and disposable Clorox wipes and wipe like your life depended on it (in certain cases, it might), especially in the restroom area, since studies have shown that airplane restrooms are notorious for harboring fomites (objects that are capable of transmitting infectious organisms, like skin cells or hair). Also, cover any and all open wounds, so that you don’t let anything in through the back door.
On the plane, if possible. But, more importantly, sleep well in the nights leading up to your flight. Your body does most of its cellular reparation when you’re sleeping, when your body’s resources can be dedicated to processes other than digesting, thinking, or moving. A couple of nights of good, deep sleep will get your immune system in prime shape, so that when you enter the battlefield, you’ll at least have a shield to help you withstand the assault those little buggers are going to launch your way.
Consider taking a vitamin supplement, especially if it has a high dose of vitamin C, in the days leading up to your flight. It’ll help boost your immune system and make your body an inhospitable environment to infectious organisms. On the day of your flight, take a supplement filled to the brim with compounds proven to boost immune function, like Airborne or Emergen-C, for an extra kick to your germ-fighting capabilities. Also, popping a baby aspirin thirty minutes before your flight can help with the aches and pains that come from sitting in one place for too long, and can help prevent blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) from forming due to the combination of low cabin pressure, low levels of oxygen in the air circulating the cabin, and dehydration. A stroke or heart attack would certainly put a damper on any vacation plans.
You’re probably planning on relaxing once you get to your destination, right? That’s the whole point of a vacation, after all. You should really consider trying to get into vacation-mode before you actually touch down, though — stressing out suppresses your immune system by raising levels of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is released in response to stressors, making energy available for the body to use. Chronic levels of cortisol in the blood, however, have been linked to abdominal fat retention, loss in cognitive function, and compromised immune function. So being stressed out on your flight is going to release all kinds of cortisol, which in turn will weaken your immune system, which in turn will make you susceptible to all the fomites on the plane. So make sure you dot all your Is and cross all your Ts when it comes to your preparations for your vacation, and then sit back and enjoy the ride when you get on the plane.
Safe and happy travels!