This post was updated on February 2, 2020. It was originally published in 2012.
There’s nothing worse than being sick, except for being sick away from home. And unfortunately, it has happened to me multiple times. The good news to come out of these nasty bugs is that I learned some valuable tips—the 11 below—that I can now pass on to you to help you minimize your own risk on the road this flu season.
- Get a flu shot: Every frequent traveler knows they should get a flu shot each flu season. Here are some places to get a flu shot.
- Use disinfecting wipes: When I travel I’m almost borderline Howard-Hughes-insane about germs. I constantly wash my hands, use hand sanitizer, make a conscious effort not to stick my fingers in my mouth/eyes/nose, and wipe down plane seats and hotel rooms with disinfecting wipes (I recommend Clorox or SONO). When I’ve been lazy, I’ve paid the price for it. Don’t make the same mistake.
- Pack a mini first aid kit: I always carry a mini first aid kit (a little plastic bag) in my carry-on (Tylenol in particular has brought me instant relief in the past). Here’s what I carry in mine: a thermometer, Band-Aids, Tylenol, nose drops, anti-diarrhea pills, decongestants, antacid tablets, allergy pills, antibiotics and an inhaler (I used to have asthma). You can get most of this on the road but why wait? And trust me: When you get sick you’re going to wish you packed this stuff before you left.
- See a doctor: The one thing I forgot to reload last time was my Amoxicillin, and that hurt because I got an upper respiratory infection within minutes. So I needed a doctor. All hotels can arrange for one, so call the front desk and inquire, or make plans to see one back home. Last time, I emailed my doctor from the road and saw him as soon as I arrived back in the United States. Some locations like where I live in L.A. offer Dr. house or hotel calls by using the Heal app. Search your location for similar apps.
- Travel insurance: Before you leave, check to see if your health insurance covers you during your travels (especially international). If not, buy travel insurance. It’s not expensive and provides great peace of mind. I use InsureMyTrip.com, which lets you call or book the best plan for a particular trip online using one of their 24 travel insurance brokers. However, I always go with Allianz since they’re the largest and I’m one of their brand ambassadors.
- Rest: I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I got sick last time was that I wasn’t getting my normal eight hours of sleep. I could feel my body wearing down. When I did get sick I was smart and canceled everything on my agenda to allow myself more rest.
- Don’t spread your germs and wash your hands: If you’re sick don’t go out. No one wants to be around a sick person. If the person who got me sick didn’t go to work that day, countless people would be…not miserable. Not only did I get sick last time but I then got Natalie sick, and then my sister who got her kids and husband sick. It’s a domino effect. So, STAY HOME! If you have to go to work or catch a flight then wash your hands more than usual, use hand sanitizer and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. According to the CDC this is the proper way to wash your hands:
- Wear a surgical mask: In Japan everyone wears a surgical mask when they’re sick. Why can’t we bring that tradition to America or, better yet, the rest of the world? Who cares if people think you look like a freak? As you can see from the photo above I put on my mask on a flight not because I was sick but because the passenger next to me was wearing one and coughing without covering his mouth. After I put on my mask and gave him my “crazy eyes” he got the hint.
- Use disinfecting wipes AGAIN: Yes, I’m repeating this for a reason. Everyone thinks to use them to clean surfaces before they touch them but they don’t think about using them to clean them after they’ve touched them. So if you fly sick, when you land give everything you touched (overhead compartment latch, seatbelt, in-flight entertainment screen and controls, tray table…) a quick wipe-down—and the same goes for everything in your hotel room if you’re sick there. Let’s stop the madness of passing germs on. (It’s better to wash your hands with hot water for twenty seconds but this is a good alternative when on the go.)
- Drink lots of liquid: When you’re sick, during flu season or any other time, you should be drinking lots of liquids, and I’m not talking about alcohol or caffeine. When you travel you should drink even more. I drink gallons of water when I’m sick on the road. I also carry those tiny packets of Emergen-C that I can pour into a bottle and shake or mix in a glass of water.
- Change your plane ticket: Unless you buy a refundable ticket (most people don’t, including me), it’s difficult to make changes to it without getting slapped with a fee (except with Southwest Airlines). I think airlines should make an exception for people who are sick because the metal tube just makes them sicker and spreads their germs to others. But for now they don’t, so we have to deal with it or figure out ways around it—and there are ways around it. Calling the airline won’t help (usually, but it’s worth a try and I think Delta is the most lenient). The best way to change your ticket without a fee is to go to the airport and speak to an agent or their supervisor. I know it’s a pain but it often works. Just tell the agent you aren’t feeling well and would like to see if you can fly another time. More often than not they will help you do it.
I hope you find these tips/tricks to be helpful. Let me know what works for you or if I missed anything, and here’s to happy, healthy and safe travels this flu season and beyond!
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