Travel Bugbears


Travel can reward you with eye-opening life experiences, but between rushing to airports, hectic timetables and being stuck in confined spaces, it can also push your immune system to its limits. Making the most of any trip away starts with keeping healthy throughout each stage of the journey. Here are a few suggestions for whenever life takes you far away from home.

Before You Fly

Talk to your doctor as soon as you’ve booked your flights. Based on where you’re going, you may need to take action to protect yourself from disease. While some vaccinations take a month to kick in, others – like malaria – may involve taking preventative pills before, during and after your stay in the area.

Stepping onto the plane healthy and strong is your best chance of staying that way, so in the days leading up to your departure, start boosting your immune system by taking supplements such as vitamins C and D, Echinacea and probiotics. Hand sanitiser or wipes are another way to fend off germs, so be sure to have them in your carry-on luggage. Your diet also plays an important role.

Packing small, sensible snacks (think trail mix or muesli bars) and eating a big, wholesome meal before leaving home will help you avoid overloading on the sugar and salt-loaded nibbles on-board. Also, since you normally can’t bring liquid through security checkpoints, take an empty water bottle that you can fill up on the other side and use to stay hydrated during the flight. Finally, for maximum comfort, dress in layers (it’ll make it easy to adjust your temperature), swap contact lenses for glasses, pack a neck pillow and have chewing gum handy (in case you feel your ears blocking up).

In The Air

If you find the surfaces at your allocated seat are dirty, use your sanitiser to wipe it down then stash it away in your seat pocket. Having it close by will prove helpful after you’ve eaten a meal or visited the toilet. Staying active on long-haul flights is just as important as keeping clean. Avoid puffiness and minimise the chance of blood clots by moving regularly. Follow the exercises provided or take the opportunity to walk up and down the aisles. A pair of compression socks or stockings can help reduce your chances of venous disorders.

If you can, also try and sleep during the night time hours of your destination – it’ll help you hit the ground running after you arrive. If you can’t or the timing isn’t right for some shuteye, listening to a meditation app may help you to relax. And if you notice a passenger nearby who seems fluey, try your luck with the cabin crew and see if there’s a spare seat available elsewhere.

Touch Down

After any long flight, our body can feel fatigued and our immune system down, so it’s important to maintain a healthy diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables can give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to fend off sickness and naturally restore your energy levels. Staying hydrated can also help flush out your system (drink tea with honey – the sweet nectar is naturally soothing and contains antioxidants). Gentle exercise may aid a speedy recovery, but be cautious not to overdo it or you risk feeling worse.

Bouncing back

Even when you’ve gone above and beyond on all the precautions, sometimes sickness can still seek you out. Here are a few tips when you’re suffering from:

  1. Jet Lag
    Try your best to adopt the day-night routine of your destination. If you suffer from jet lag, melatonin tablets taken at bedtime – as recommended by a health professional – can reboot your circadian rhythm. Though ultimately, there’s nothing more effective than rest when it comes to staying healthy after air travel. Give preference to going to bed early rather than taking naps.
  2. Motion Sickness
    Also known as kinetosis, travel sickness occurs when there’s conflict between parts of the body that detect motion – namely when your inner ear senses movement but your eyes can’t see it. It can occur on a plane, car or boat and can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches and sweating long after the motion has stopped. While medications are available, both over the counter and prescription, some sufferers benefit from keeping their head still and focusing on a fixed point in the distance, fresh air, sipping on clear carbonated drinks or fresh ginger tea, eating dry biscuits to ease stomach illness and wearing acupressure bands.
  3. Travellers’ Diarrhoea
    Commonly appearing after visits to developing countries, travellers’ diarrhoea normally comes after enjoying food or drink that’s contaminated with certain bacteria. While it’s not always possible, try and steer clear of street food, dairy, raw fruit and vegetables and undercooked meat. If you find yourself suffering from stomach cramps and regular, loose stools (you may hear it being called Bali Belly or Delhi Belly), replenish your fluids and eat well – the symptoms should subside within a few days. Medicines like Imodium can also speed up recovery and are great to have at the ready.
  4. Flu
    Debilitating at the best of times, let alone on or after a holiday, recovering from the flu normally starts with seeing your doctor and ends with bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids. And while it can be hard to avoid, getting your annual flu shot may help keep luck on your side while away. Besides that, diligently washing your hands and taking the right medication to ease symptoms like aches, pains and fever are your best bet. Paracetamol or ibuprofen is ideal, while antihistamines and decongestants can clear the head.
  5. Common Cold
    The excitement of travel and stresses of home can catch up with us soon after take-off, leaving us feeling run down and with a head cold. Taking it easy is the best medicine, but some treatments can help ease the symptoms. A saline solution can clear the nose while a salt water gargle should disinfect and calm a sore throat. Although studies report mixed results, it’s generally recognised that taking supplements like Echinacea and vitamin C can shorten a head cold’s lifespan. And since cigarette smoke can irritate the respiratory system and hinder recovery, have a go at kicking the habit.

Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.