Ask a Top Doctor: How Do I Stay Healthy When Traveling This Season?

Top Doctor Michael Cirigliano shares six smart ways to avoid catching a cold on germ-infested airplanes

Q: I’m flying over the holidays and I almost always pick up a cold whenever I step foot on a plane. What can do I do to stay healthy?

A: Getting sick when you travel is one of the biggest bummers of the holiday season. Not only are you far from the comforts of home, but you’ve paid money and taken time off to enjoy wherever you’re going—not to be holed up is a guest bedroom or hotel somewhere stockpiling Kleenex. Unfortunately, it’s entirely too easy to pick up festive bugs when you’re flying.

“When you’re on a plane in an enclosed area with several hundred people, proximity is the issue,” says Mike Cirigliano, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “If there’s a person coughing or sneezing in the row in front of you or two rows behind you, there’s a good chance you’ll be exposed to viral particles.” That said, there are a few things you can do to outfit yourself to stay healthy this season—and no, mask-wearing people, you don’t have to go that far. See Dr. Cirigliano’s tips below.

1. Make friends with a bottle of Purell.
Or any other hand sanitizer for that matter. “The most important thing is to avoid contact with viruses, and the best thing you can do is wipe down the armrests and the table in front of you the second you get on the plane,” says Dr. Cirigliano. “Bring a pack of towlettes, and then use hand sanitizer when you come out of the bathroom. Airplane bathrooms are notorious for germs.”

2. Stay hydrated. Dehydration can compromise your immune system, warns Dr. Cirigliano, so make sure to drink a lot of water the day before, during, and after your travel. Also, limit alcohol, as it acts as a diuretic.

3. Get your rest and try not to stress. Sleep depravation and stress suppresses the immune system, says Dr. Cirigliano. “Especially if you’re traveling a long distance, slowly try to rearrange your sleep pattern to sync up with the time change before you go away. Try and do it by an hour each day.” And even if you’re not afraid of flying, busy schedules and dealing with airport delays (ahem, PHL), can also cause stress. “Try to go with the flow, and don’t allow yourself to get into air rage,” says Dr. Cirigliano. “You’ll feel much better.”

4. Move around. Sitting for hours can lead to a deadly blood clot in your leg, warns Dr. Cirigliano. “I tell people to get up and move around every half hour to an hour, and if you can afford to go business class, do it. You’ll have more leg room.”

5. Ditch the mask. “Oh, please,” says Dr. Cirigliano. “Masks are ludicrous. The only way I’d ever wear one was if I was just diagnosed with H1N1 and I wanted to do the right thing. But even then, it has to be the right mask. The M95 mask, the kind you’d find at Home Depot to keep out sawdust, is your best bet, but even then it has to be fastened properly to work. It’s far better to simply keep your hands clean and keep them away from your nose, eyes, and mouth.”

6. Say adios to Airborne. “There’s very little to support that this, or any other vitamins, really work to boost the immune system,” says Dr. Cirigliano. “You’re way better off bringing along some healthy snacks like fruit so you don’t eat junk while you’re traveling, stay hydrated, get your rest, and keep that bottle of Purell on hand.”