Spring Break season is upon us, but it’s also still flu season, and now we have the COVID-19 coronavirus causing worry all over the world. Families with plans to travel are understandably concerned about how to avoid germs and illness while traveling.
And while there’s no way to completely prevent catching something, there are a number of things you can do to avoid germs and bringing them home where you might pass them to someone else.
1. Wash Your Hands Frequently
We’re always touching things with our hands. Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly is the number one thing you can do to help avoid germs. Bacteria and viruses can live on surfaces for days, and we can pick them up whenever we touch something.
So the best practice is to wash your hands under warm water with plenty of soap for at least 20 seconds. Water alone won’t do it. Soap is the key because it binds to both the germ molecules AND the water molecules. So as the water washes the soap away, the germs go with it. The longer you wash, the more germs the soap can collect. Sing a song to yourself to help keep you washing at least 20 seconds.
If you can’t get to a bathroom while on the go, carrying a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is recommended as a substitute for washing your hands. But we typically don’t use enough hand sanitizer to kill everything, so be thorough and get between the fingers and under your nails. Because, whatever isn’t killed will still be there until you can wash it away.
2. Don’t Touch Your Face
Getting germs on our hands doesn’t make us sick by itself. Those germs have to get inside our bodies somehow. Most germs enter our bodies through through our eyes, nose, and mouth. So touching our faces with germy hands is the last thing we want to do.
Many of us have no idea how often we touch our face. One study estimated that we touch our faces 23 times every hour. But making a conscious effort to reduce that touching can help prevent getting sick.
3. Clean Surfaces
When you travel, you often find yourself in public places that are used by many other people. So chances are good that surfaces in places like airports, gas stations, and theme parks aren’t being sanitized after each time a person touched them. So carrying wipes or a travel-sized disinfectant spray can help.
It’s probably a bit much to spray or wipe every surface before you touch it. But pulling out a wipe or spray when you settle in one place for a while is a smart habit to get into. This is especially important in your hotel room. Someone we know recommends wrapping the remote control in the ice bag, and covering the pillow with your own pillow case.
Lastly, you also want to be mindful of surfaces on things like drink cans, bottles, and cups, etc. These are things that sit around potentially collecting germs while waiting to be put to your mouth. And just like your hands, rinsing is probably not enough. Soap or alcohol is needed to make sure the germs are handled.
4. Keep Your Distance
If you know someone is sick, it’s a good idea to give them space so that they cannot pass their germs to you, especially when they cough or sneeze. In more general public settings, trying to keep a buffer zone of at least three to six feet is a good habit to get into to avoid germs from others.
If you are heading to popular tourist spots, this can be difficult. But lingering in the back on tours, taking the stairs instead of the crowded elevator, and leaving space between you and others in lines are a few things you can do to protect yourself from someone else’s germs ending up on you.
5. Drink Bottled Water
Water is a notorious source of germs for travelers. So it’s always a good practice when you are away from home to stick to the bottled stuff and to avoid ice in your beverages. Make sure the seal on the caps of the bottles is good. You don’t want a re-filled bottle.
6. Don’t Get Bit
Another way we get illnesses is from insect bites. So making sure you are protected from mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects is a good idea. This means wearing proper clothing and using an insect repellent to ward off any pests.
7. Watch What You Eat
Food is not just a necessity, but also a big part of experiencing the places we travel. But it can also contribute to making us feel discomfort or even making us sick. And it’s not always the food’s fault, because we might touch the food with our hands and then eat it. So wash those hands before you eat!
Also make sure the food you eat is properly cleaned and prepared. Avoid fresh fruits and vegetables unless you clean/peel them yourself. Look at the cleanliness of the establishments you visit. Check that meats are cooked properly before you eat them.
Aside from germs, some foods screw with our systems because we’re not used to them. Pick your spots to try new things if there’s a chance it may not agree with you. Nobody enjoys those moments, but they are worse when you are in a car or on a plane.
And if you really want to be cautious, avoid buffets. Like many people, we love a good buffet. But the whole setup of food sitting out for long periods of time wth many people using shared utensils to serve themselves can increase the risk of spreading illnesses.
8. Boost Your Defenses
Unfortunately, we can’t completely avoid germs. Even if we follow all the steps above, we will still come into contact with many germs on a daily basis. Thankfully, our bodies do a great job of fighting them off. But we become more susceptible when our immune systems are not operating at full power.
Making sure we are well-rested can go a long way in making sure our immune system is doing its job. So getting a good night’s sleep is important. That can be hard when you are traveling, but try not to overlook the importance of getting decent sleep.
At the same time, exercise and being active also helps keep our bodies running efficiently. So while a vacation is a great excuse to be a bit lazy, don’t completely forget about getting some physical activity. Balancing rest and exercise can help you fight off illnesses.
9. Pack Vitamins
It’s always best to get our vitamins and nutrients naturally when we can. But eating healthy while traveling can be a challenge. Making sure your body has all the nutrients it needs to go battle any uninvited guests can be achieved by taking vitamins and supplements.
Ideally, we get these nutrients from foods by eating healthy on a consistent basis. But in a pinch, a good multi-vitamin is a great option. We can also concentrate on vitamin C, E, A, and D, as well as folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc to boost our immune systems on the go.
10. Get Vaccinated
Vaccinations are a way we can boost our body’s immunity to specific infectious diseases. We receive many of these vaccinations as kids, which is why illnesses like measles, mumps, and whooping cough are so rare these days.
But there are some illnesses like the flu that are constantly evolving and require new vaccines yearly. Now, the vaccine is a bit of a crapshoot because it usually just targets a few strains of the flu. And with so many varieties, you might still catch a different strain. But whether or not you are traveling, the annual flu vaccine can help you from getting and then spreading some of those strains.
Depending on your destination, there may also be recommended vaccinations for specific countries/regions that have viruses that you aren’t exposed to at home. Some are mandatory, such as the yellow fever vaccine for travelers visiting central Africa or South America. Others are just recommendations. You can check out the CDC’s guide to travel vaccines for more info.
When Should You Cancel A Trip?
We know you put a lot of time, effort, and money into planning experiences for your family. So making the decision to cancel a trip is never easy. And to be frank, known issues like the flu or being concerned about catching Norovirus on a cruise shouldn’t make you hesitant to book an amazing trip. Taking all the other precautions can go a long way to avoid germs and prevent illnesses.
But the unknown can be another matter. And with new illnesses like the COVID-19 coronavirus, a variety of factors come into play, such as any underlying health conditions. You also want to consider what impact you might have on others should you bring an unwanted souvenir home with you and inadvertently contributing to an epidemic.
Be sure to monitor any advisories being put out by the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, the State Department, or local government agencies. And consider getting trip insurance with “cancel for any reason” coverage, just in case you do have to cancel.