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How to Stay Healthy Before, During, and After Your Holiday Travel

Many people will soon travel to visit family and friends or take a much-needed vacation this holiday season. But staying healthy before, during, and after your trip isn’t always an easy task, especially as several respiratory illnesses—including COVID-19—continue to circulate.

Traveling can knock you off your routine of healthy eating, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Experts say there are precautions and steps you can take to feel your best throughout your travels, ensuring you make the most of your time away and return feeling refreshed and in tip-top shape.

Before Your Trip

families shopping at a store

Verywell / Tara Anand

According to family physician Brad Wasson, DO, the choice about whether or not it’s safe to travel in the first place depends on your personal health risks and comfort level. 

Young children, pregnant people, older adults, and those who are immunocompromised are at the highest risk of complications from the flu or COVID-19. If you’ve recently had a surgery, you might also be at higher risk of health complications. It’s a good idea to talk to your provider about any health concerns you may have before going on your trip, Wasson said.

“It’s important to take this into consideration if you are personally at higher risk or plan to visit people who are,” he said.

Get your vaccinations up-to-date

Wasson said it’s extremely important to get your COVID-19 bivalent booster shot and your flu shot before your trip. According to the CDC, U.S. flu hospitalizations are already the highest they’ve been in more than 10 years.

“Flu vaccines can be co-administered with COVID-19 vaccines and COVID-19 booster shots on the same day, which can help you avoid multiple appointments and multiple trips to the doctor or pharmacy,” he said. “Keep in mind that it takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu vaccine, so it’s important to plan ahead of any upcoming travel.”

Have a mini quarantine before your trip

Epidemiologist Eyal Oren, PhD, MS, told Verywell that it’s also important to limit potential exposure to COVID-19 and other viruses as much as possible for a week or so before your travel plan.

“While not meeting or seeing other people is unrealistic, using a good mask, particularly in crowded indoor settings, ensures that you won’t miss the special trip,” Oren said.

Keep COVID-19 rapid tests handy

Using rapid COVID-19 antigen tests two or three days prior to your trip and again on the day of is another good precaution, he said. Though antigen tests aren’t perfect, they're very good at indicating when you're not infectious anymore, so they’re particularly helpful if you’ve recently been sick with COVID-19 and want to know if it’s safe to travel now.

Check the local vaccination and masking requirements

It’s wise to check your destination’s local requirements for masking and vaccinations, too. This is less of an issue when traveling within the U.S. since no states currently have COVID-19 restrictions in place. Most countries around the world have also loosened or lifted pandemic precautions, but it’s always a good idea to double-check before you go.

Pack enough face masks and personal medications

When it comes to packing, although masks are no longer mandatory in some places, Oren suggests packing some regardless. He said masking is still particularly helpful in certain circumstances such as in crowded indoor environments like the airport, or when planes are taxiing and filtration systems are not turned on.

Disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer are also good things to have on hand during your travels, Oren added.

The CDC meanwhile recommends packing more than enough of your prescriptions, diarrhea medicine (Imodium or Pepto-Bismol), motion sickness medicine, cough drops, water purification tablets, decongestant, pain and fever medicine, antihistamine, good quality sunscreen, and insect repellant.

During Your Trip

people relax by the pool

Verywell / Tara Anand

Once you’ve officially made it to your destination, it can be difficult to maintain healthy lifestyle practices such as eating well and exercising. 

How to keep up with your diet and exercise routine

Kristi Ruth, RD, CNSC, LDN, a registered dietitian and well-traveled mom of three, said one of the best ways to eat well while traveling is to get enough sleep and don’t skip breakfast. It’s easy to skip the first meal of the day if you sleep in, but Ruth said this could make you too hungry later in the day.

“It’s hard to make wise food choices when you’re hungry and tired,” Ruth told Verywell.

Traveling with a few snacks on hand, such as granola, trail mix, or dried fruit, is a great way to ensure you have healthy options no matter where you are, she said. They can also be combined with yogurt—which is usually easy to find—for a nourishing breakfast.

As for making healthy choices when eating in restaurants, Ruth said you should aim to eat fruit and/or vegetables with every meal. But it’s also important not to stress too much about what you eat while you travel, since eating delicious food is an integral part of exploring in a new place.

“Don’t forget to enjoy the food you eat,” she said. “There are so many incredible flavors to experience in different parts of the world, including here in the US, and you wouldn’t want to be so preoccupied with being out of your routine that you forget to take a minute to actually enjoy the food.”

The same goes for exercising. While some people may worry about getting out of their typical exercise routine during a trip, travel usually includes some type of movement, whether it’s walking around and sightseeing or hiking in nature. These are valuable forms of exercise, Ruth said, and they’re more than enough to keep you active while you’re away.

How to deal with minor health issues like constipation and dehydration

There are also a few common health-related hiccups that just may arise during your trip, such as constipation and dehydration—which often go hand-in-hand. But there are ways to avoid these pesky health issues.

Making sure you eat plenty of fruits and veggies, which are filled with fibre, will help to keep things moving through your digestive tract, Ruth said. Drinking plenty of water will help do the same, and it will keep you healthy and hydrated in hot and dry climates.

“Consider traveling with a reusable water bottle,” she said. “Make sure it’s empty before you go through security. Then, once you pass through security, fill it at a water bottle station so you have it with you for the day.”

Consider whether tap water is safe to drink at your destination. Ruth said it’s always a good idea to ask your hotel whether the water is safe to drink, and you can then decide whether to consume ice or street food as well.

But whether it’s tap or bottled water, staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water is extremely important, and it can even help you recover from jet lag. Drinking lots of fluids can help you manage jet lag symptoms and limit fatigue, particularly since you will be spending time in dry environments such as airplane cabins, Oren said.

How to get over jet lag quickly

To minimize the effects of jet lag, try and adapt to your new time zone as quickly as possible, Oren said, which means sleeping when it’s nighttime.

“This helps you realign your circadian rhythm with your destination,” he said. “When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, the timing of melatonin production can be thrown off.”

Going outside in the sunshine can wake up your body and reduce the release of melatonin hormones that make you sleepy. Some studies have also found that taking melatonin supplements at the right time may help realign your internal clock.

“Above all, try to relax and know that jet lag is normal and will soon pass,” Oren said.

Returning Home

A family at home, unpacking and taking a COVID test

Verywell / Tara Anand

While traveling is an activity many of us enjoy, it can also be exhausting, which is why it’s important to ensure you give yourself time to rest and unwind before jumping right back in to your daily tasks. Heading right back to work the day after getting home can be a shock to the system, so you might want to give yourself a vacation after your vacation.

Once you’ve returned from your travels, it’s also important to closely monitor yourself for any possible symptoms of illness. Oren recommends taking a rapid COVID-19 test between three and five days after you get home.

“Testing after coming back home ensures that you didn’t bring back an infection and can safely resume your day-to-day activities,” he said.

And if you do develop symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu once you’re back, you should stay home, get tested, and seek any appropriate care.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Costello RB, Lentino CV, Boyd CC, et al. The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literatureNutr J. 2014;13:106.doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-106

By Mira Miller
Mira Miller is a freelance writer specializing in mental health, women's health, and culture.