Getting sick during the holidays is nothing to sneeze about. The stress of the season alone can run you down, but mix that with a boatload of human interaction at, say, the airport, and you’ve got a recipe for an old-fashioned cold.
People are more likely to catch the common cold during the fall and winter thanks to being indoors and in contact with more people — like on planes, trains, and buses. Now factor in that guy sitting next to you who can’t stop coughing and the lady a few rows back who sneezed without covering her nose. Feeling feverish yet?
Here’s how to ensure you give something better than one of the 200 viruses known to cause colds this holiday season.
Sanitize Your Space
The longer your travel time, the more opportunities you’re going to have to touch things around you. Things like armrests, touch screens, tray tables, seatbelt buckles and headrests are crawling with germs–not to mention the public bathrooms you’ll be using. Do yourself a favor: wipe down surfaces with sanitizing wipes and keep a travel size hand sanitizer nearby. If you’re one of those people who tends to doze off and wake up drooling on the headrest, pick up one of these covers–essentially a seat condom but very effective!
While rushing to catch a train from Penn Station in Manhattan one December, I dashed across the street and stepped right into a deceptively deep pile of slush before getting to the other side. I had no other socks with me and no time to buy replacements, so my options were either keep my sopping wet socks on or let my bare feet freeze in my wet shoes. Since this harrowing episode (and the nasty cold that ensued), I always make sure to wear Merino wool socks when traveling. Not only do they keep your feet warm (a lower body temperature may make you more susceptible to catching a cold), but they keep your feet dry even when they get wet thanks to a fiber that holds about percent of its own weight in water. Plus, they are naturally odor-resistant, so your fellow travellers will thank you if you kick your shoes off.
In planes, the cabin humidity is typically less than 20% (normal room humidity is usually over 30%), leading to dry nasal passages. Trains, buses, and cars probably have the heat blasting, which dries you right out. If there’s no mucus (or more likely–crusty mucus) in your nose, viruses can pretty much waltz right in, so keeping things gooey is in your best interest. A saline gel is an easy way to do this without the mess. When you apply it to the inside of your nose, the saline acts as a hypertonic solution, pulling water back through your membranes and preventing dryness. And even though most airlines do not permit portable humidifiers on board, you can stash a cotton washcloth in your bag and ask for a cup of hot water to dip it in (or use the faucet in the lav). Lay the hot cloth on your face and breath deeply. You may look funny, but you’ll be laughing when everyone else is coughing and sniffling later.
Even if travel isn’t in your immediate future, consider starting a regimen of probiotics. Taking them regularly has shown to improve the body’s immune response and shorten the length of illness if you do end up catching something. Plus, having healthy gut bacteria improves digestive function and helps prevent gastrointestinal woes like diarrhea. So go ahead and indulge in that airplane food!
One of the easiest ways to compromise your immune system is to stress out. And what’s more stressful than holiday travel? Aside from giving yourself more than enough time when getting to and from airports or train stations, making sure your gas tank is full, and preparing yourself mentally to spend time with family (kidding–sort of), there are a few non-prescription things you can stash in your bag to help you keep your cool. Essential oils are a great for promoting calmness. Look for a blend that contains lavender, ylang-ylang, rose, or bergamot and one that can be rolled right onto your temples, wrists, and forehead. You can also pop a Rescue Remedy Pastille in your mouth and chew your way to sanity, and download an app that reminds you to take deep, calming breaths periodically.