Packing the Essentials for Cold and Flu Season

Woman blowing her nose during cold and flu season
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Making sure you pack everything you need when you travel can be a chore. Just remembering the basics isn't always easy—the right clothing, toiletries, documents, and money. But if you are traveling during the cold and flu season, you may want to consider packing a few extra items to make sure you are prepared.

Germs are everywhere and traveling takes its toll on the body. Drier air in airplanes and hotel rooms could make it easier for you to get sick. Not to mention the fact that stress, time change, and interrupted sleep patterns can wreak havoc on your immune system.

The Essentials for Your Bag During Cold and Flu Season

If you have a cold and flu season travel bag ready to go, it can make getting sick away from home a little more tolerable. So what should you pack in your bag during cold and flu season? It depends somewhat on your preferences, but there are a few things that are always good to have on hand.

  1. Travel Size Tissues: You never know when you will need a tissue. A runny or stuffy nose can develop at any time and no one wants to be wiping their nose on their sleeve or frantically trying to find a tissue while mucus is running down your face.
  2. Hand Sanitizer: Soap and water are not always easily accessible when you are traveling. But that doesn't mean germs aren't just as prevalent. In fact, you are probably more likely to be touching surfaces that are covered with germs, such as airplane seats and armrests, hotel doorknobs, and remote controls, than you are at home.
    1. Carrying small hand sanitizer gel with you will ensure you have some way to clean your hands after touching all of these contaminated surfaces before you do things like eat or touch your face, which are the primary ways that germs enter your body. Hand sanitizing wipes can be used to wipe down seat handles, doorknobs, and other high touch surfaces that you may come into contact with while you are away from home.
  3. Saline Spray: Saline is safe for nearly everyone and is a medication-free way to clean out your nose and sinuses. It keeps your nasal passages moist and flushes out germs and mucus without any side effects.
  1. Lip Balm: If you are exposed to very dry air, your mucous membranes are more likely to dry out. Dry air and dry skin/mouth are ideal environments for germs to spread and make you sick. Keeping lip balm on hand will at least ensure you don't have dry and cracked lips while you are traveling.
  2. Water: You obviously can't carry multiple bottles of water on an airplane with you, but dehydration while traveling is a real issue and it can weaken your body's defenses. For this reason, you may want to head to the nearest convenience store and stock up on bottled water. The air in hotel rooms tends to be very dry and most people don't drink enough while they are traveling. Ensuring you drink even more water than normal will help prevent dehydration and allow your body to function as well as it can so you can stay healthy.
  3. OTC Medications: Individualize your travel bag to meet your needs. I suggest keeping a small supply of the cold medicines that you use most often on hand when you travel. That way you won't find yourself searching for a pharmacy in a different town if you get sick. This is even more important when you are traveling internationally. The medicines you are used to taking at home probably won't be available if you are in a different country. Popular cold medicines include:​
    1. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
    2. Guaifenesin (Mucinex)
    3. Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
    4. NeilMed's Sinus Rinse
  1. Throat Lozenges or Hard Candies: If a sore throat strikes while you are out of town, a piece of hard candy or throat lozenge can soothe it quickly. Sore throats can develop any time from dry air, allergies, or a cold and the pain can be annoying. Pain relievers helpful but may take up to an hour to bring relief. A throat lozenge can bring immediate relief while you are waiting for the pain reliever to kick in.

Preparing for Travel During Cold and Flu Season

All of these supplies are relatively small and can easily be kept in a gallon size Ziploc bag so you don't have to go search for them all every time you travel. If you keep your travel kit together, you only need to toss it into your suitcase when you are ready to go. It's also a good idea to throw in a few band-aids and antibiotic ointment. Although these don't technically fall into the cold and flu category, you never know when you might need them.

Make sure you get enough sleep and do your best to prepare if you will be traveling to a different time zone. Allow your body time to adjust if at all possible and eat as healthy as you can to keep your immune system in good shape. As mentioned above, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

If you think you are getting sick prior to traveling, contact your health care provider and discuss your symptoms and any precautions you may need to take.

If you have any type of chronic illness that might make you more susceptible to catching a cold, the flu, or other viral illnesses, be sure you are managing it as well as you can and take any other precautions your health care provider has recommended to avoid getting sick.

Lastly, get your flu vaccine. The flu peaks in different parts of the country and world at different times. If you will be traveling outside of your local area, be sure you have the flu vaccine at least two weeks prior to your travel date because it takes that long to provide immunity. It's also important to note that flu season in the Southern Hemisphere is April to September, the opposite of typical flu season in the Northern Hemisphere. Pay attention to diseases that occur in the location where you will be traveling and get any necessary immunizations.

A Word From Verywell

Traveling during cold and flu season is always going to carry a higher risk that you will get sick. But if you are prepared, you won't be caught quite as off guard if it happens.

Although there is no consistent data on any particular natural or herbal remedy preventing colds and flu for everyone, some products work for some people and most of them don't cause harm as long as you don't have any chronic medical conditions.

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