Traveling is stressful on both the mind and body, and frequent jet-setting can lower one's resistance to sickness. That's especially true during the colder months of the year, when conditions change and the body struggles to adjust. Yet while chilly temperatures are not directly responsible for causing sickness, studies show that viruses spread more easily in lower temperatures, and exposure to cold and dry air can adversely impact the immune system. Illness is also more likely to spread in winter due to decreases in natural air flow (closed windows create more confined breeding grounds for germs).
As we head into the winter months and head out on planes, trains and automobiles, it's important to remain vigilant in protecting ourselves against heightened seasonal sickness. Following are tips for staying well -- both physically and mentally -- during winter travel.
Planes are extremely dehydrating. According to the World Health Organization, aircrafts have an average humidity of less than 20 percent. Residential homes, in comparison, average more than 30 percent humidity. WHO warns that low humidity can cause increased skin dryness and discomfort to the eyes, mouth and nose. Though these seem like trivial nuisances, discomfort and irritation and can add up to larger health issues.
"While traveling, 'eat' your water through fruits and vegetables. Both are actually more hydrating than drinking water," says John Ayo, wellness speaker, author and naturopath. He explains that fruits and veggies are comprised of what is called structured water -- a molecular arrangement of water molecules that absorb into the body faster and keep it hydrated longer than drinking water. "Chia seeds are also a great travel snack addition because they absorb and convert water into its structured form." Ayo suggests adding a handful of chia seeds to your BPA-free travel water bottle. "A big bonus is that chia seeds, fruits and vegetables are each full of antioxidants that protect travelers' immune systems during times of vulnerability.
Pack a Winter Travel Survival Kit
Ayo says travelers can better set themselves up for winter travel success by packing some essential-but-often-overlooked products before heading out. Add the following items to your suitcase to stay well while on the road.
- Ginger tea: It settles the stomach.
- A natural moisturizer for the body and face: Opt for moisturizing cream over lotion as it absorbs into the skin slowly and lasts longer.
- Anti-inflammatories: "Boswellia and turmeric are two of my favorites," says Ayo. Add turmeric to your morning or evening tea.
- Hand sanitizer: Ayo says, "I love the Young Living thieves hand sanitizer as it uses essential oils."
- Extra batteries: Smartphones are also sensitive to cold weather -- battery life drains quickly in freezing temperatures.
- Moisturizing tissues/face cloths
- Thermal gloves: Pack especially if travel includes outdoor activities.
- Liquid chlorophyl: boosts immunity and red blood cell quality
- A natural lip balm
- A Probiotic: balances digestive and immune health
- Immune support: especially elderberry and echinacea
Set Up for Sleep
"Aside from adjusting to geographical time differences, sleeping during travel is always a challenge because our bodies naturally go on high alert," adds Ayo. To caveat the subconscious anxiety, he suggests preparing the hotel room for sleep beforehand.
- Keep the hotel room cool and dark.
- Play calming music or listen to a meditation app to set your mind at ease.
- When sleeping, keep your phone 6 feet away from you to promote a healthy and restful environment.
- Do not use your phone for at least 30 minutes before sleep.
- Spray essential oils around the room to calm the mind and senses.
Smelling plant oils stimulates receptors in the nose that send chemical messages to the brain, Ayo says. "These messages affect mood and emotions and ultimately help the body to transition into relaxation mode." He recommends packing lavender, lemon, chamomile, and peppermint essential oils in your travel bag. "Lavender and chamomile are useful for stress relief and relaxation; peppermint helps with vertigo and nausea; lemon oil acts as a natural mood-booster." Dilute the oils with water and spray them onto your travel pillow or room sheets and bedding.
According to the CDC, flu season in the United States can begin as early as October, but usually does not get into full swing until December. The season generally reaches peak in February and ends in March, but can linger through May. People with the flu can spread it to others up to others within a 6-foot radius, so it's optimal to take the necessary steps to keep stay protected.
An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to fend off the flu and associated sicknesses, says the CDC. Vaccination has been shown to have many benefits, including reducing the risk of flu illnesses and hospitalizations. CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, however, vaccination is beneficial and should be available throughout the flu season, even into January or later.
Avoid These Foods
When you start to feel rundown or get that telltale scratchy throat, immediately start avoiding as much sugar, dairy and wheat as possible, suggests Ayo. "Doing so will cut out a large portion of inflammatory and processed foods from your diet -- foods that make you more susceptible to falling ill." Ayo says to substitute carb- and sugar- laden meals with whole foods. The following menu items are a good starting point.
- Grains: Wheat, wholegrain rice, quinoa, bulgur wheat, rolled oats, faro and barley
- Beans and legumes: Lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, split peas and chick pea
- Nuts and seeds (unsalted): Peanuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, linseeds and pumpkin seeds
- Fruits and vegetables