Healthy Travel Part I Flying & Cruising
There’s a love-hate side to travel. Being there is great but getting there not so much. Long distance flights are usually no fun at all, especially if you are like us and fly coach. With a price difference on international flights as high as ten times we feel the pain is worth the price.
The first area of increased risk encountered by the traveler is usually the airplane. Packing a few hundred strangers into a compact environment for one and a half to seventeen hours is an invitation to spread disease. One study discovered that, on average, 20% of your fellow passengers are probably sick. Here are steps you can take to reduce your risk while flying:
1. This is the big rule number one. Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth – The primary entry points for disease agents are your body’s mucus membranes (those moist areas) and the best way to avoid infection is to avoid transferring them from your hands. So, wash or disinfect your hands often and DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE. I have a serious eye problem with medications that seriously irritate my eyes, leaving them itchy, burning and feeling like there’s something in them – if I can stop touching my face, so can you.
2. Select the right seats – The most likely people that will infect you are those sitting next to you, in the row ahead of you and behind you. For that reason, the safest seat is the window and the least desirable seat is on the aisle.
3. Disinfect your space – Armrests, tray tables and those seat-back screens and controls have been found to be a serious source of infectious agents and the airlines do almost nothing to them during the cleaning of a plane. Get in the habit of carrying TSA sized bottles of disinfectant spray and/or wipes. Purell, Clorox and GermX are a few effective brands. Disinfecting wipes will usually kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria, including staph, E. coli, MRSA, norovirus, salmonella, strep and even the new threat of coronavirus.
4. Watch out for surfaces in lavatories – Another study found airplane lavatory surfaces, especially door handles, are a major hotspot for pathogens. Sadly, too many people don’t wash their hands. For that reason, avoid touching surfaces with a bare hand – use a paper towel to open doors and wash your hands thoroughly.
5. Nose Filters and Masks – Another problem with flying is getting trapped in that enclosed environment that recirculates the air with a number of people sneezing and coughing. I know we’ve come down with a flu or cold within a few days of a flight on a number of occasions.
Now in the age of corona virus it is becoming much more acceptable to wear a face mask and for the near future many airlines are requiring passengers to wear them which is probably a good thing. It used to seem odd to see an entire group exiting a plane wearing surgical masks but probably not any more and it does have a practical side. Before masks and the recent pandemic we discovered this item a few years ago, ordered them and have used them often on long flights. They’re discreet little adhesive pads with true HEPA filters that you stick to each nostril. Our discovery was called First Defense and today there are a number of competitors out there including 3M and WoodyKnows. Amazon
Another concern with flying is circulation. We’re often advised to get up and walk around to help our circulation but that is often just not practical on night flights where you are stuck between two or three people on a wide body jet. The cabin crew isn’t pleased either with isle walkers getting in their way.
You can find some relief if you plan ahead on those long flights, especially if your cramped in coach. One area of particular concern is the toll it can take on your circulation. It isn’t unusual to discover that your ankles swell and maybe even hurt on and after a long flight. While the risk of developing blood clots on a flight is pretty low, it goes up with age and as travel length increases.
A lot of athletes and seniors already know the solution. Ask you doctor and he’ll tell you to wear compression socks. These stockings help increase circulation and reduce the risk of swelling or worse, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and clotting on long flights.
An excerpt from the Mayo Clinic explains, “Compression stockings steadily squeeze your legs, helping your veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently. They offer a safe, simple and inexpensive way to keep blood from stagnating.”
Another item recently discovered is a travel pillow that isn’t that half donut. I’ve been traveling with my inflatable half-donut for a number of years and the only thing I have to recommend it is everyone else is using one too. My experience has been that while it provides some help at supporting my neck and head it really doesn’t provide support for keeping your head up straight and that seems to be where the strain is.
Recently I found a straight line, bendable pillow that has a rigid center. It allows you to bend it so there is a higher point on one end that does seem to support your head when wrapped behind the neck. The negative is that it takes up more room and often won’t survive the cut when packing. Available HERE.
It’s not just airplanes that provide an environment that allows for the easy spread of disease. Any public space that brings large numbers of people together in close quarters offers an increased chance of getting sick. Anyone who has had young children go off to school knows about those years of viral and bacterial infections brought home and spread through the entire family. It’s just one of life’s cycles and, while there is little you can do about those episodes, you can take action to reduce your risks while traveling.
After over twenty years and fifty cruises we are getting ill less often by following some simple rules we’ve adopted
These are similar steps to air travel precautions that you can take to avoid getting sick while on a cruise ship. The risk on a ship is very similar to that on an airplane. While you do have a lot more space that allows you to try and stay away from people that are ill, you will be exposed to that cruise environment for much longer periods, increasing the risk. The basic steps to avoid picking up an infection are the same:
1. Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. This is a hygiene practice that would be good to adopt everywhere in life.
2. Disinfect your hands often – most cruise ships are now reasonably aggressive with hand sanitizers, usually providing Purell dispensers all over their ships often with crew popping up everywhere to squirt your hands (washy, washy).
3. Avoid touching surfaces in lavatories and, again, wash your hands often. It is recommended to use a paper towel to open the door when exiting.
4. Avoid contact with obviously ill people – Unfortunately we have gotten sick on a cruise a number of times because some people that are sick make no real effort to isolate themselves from other passengers. We believe this is an area where cruise ships should become more aggressive and probably will. On several occasions we’ve had seriously ill people that kept coming back to the dinner table each night. Our new policy leans toward “would we rather be thought rude or would we prefer getting sick?” If they won’t leave the table – we do.
5. Avoid elevators if at all possible. The small enclosed spaces are a breeding ground for germs even though the ship’s crew work hard at keeping the spaces clean and sanitized.
6. Don’t hesitate to consult the ships doctor. Too many people avoid the clinics because they’re afraid of the costs involved. We expect the cruise industry to start offering free doctors visits for people coming down with flu, colds, etcetera as this could represent a serious cost saving for them after the recent pandemic and its impact on cruise lines.
Carry your own emergency medicine cabinet – Part II. Avoid Jet Lag Part III.