How to Boost Your Immune System Before Traveling

Your immune system is a critical layer of protection keeping you healthy, happy, and active. It's the way your body fights off everything from bacteria to viruses to fungi to allergens. While the immune system doesn't always work exactly as it should, it's constantly working to keep environmental germs and low-grade exposure to pathogens out of your systems.

Can You Boost Your Immune System?

Before we go into talking about ways you might boost your immune system, let's first talk about if it's even possible. So, is it? Can you boost your immune system?

The idea of boosting your immune system is certainly an attractive one. It's also something that has circulated throughout history, and many of the "remedies" and "supplements" that are recommended to help the immune system really do have some beneficial effects, so what's the truth?

The truth is, your immune system is a bodily process that reflects your overall health. When you're healthy, when you're happy, and when you're relaxed, you have a better immune response. Conversely, when you're stressed, unhappy, or otherwise suffering, you're a lot more likely to end up with an illness of some kind. This is why people in stressful situations tend to end up sick more often.

There's no one way to "boost" your immune system. Your immune system works as well as it can, given the health and overall fitness and wellbeing of the individual. It's a reflection of your health, so anything that makes your overall health better will make your immune system function better.

What you'll see as you read the tips we'll give you is that pretty much everything we recommend for boosting your immune system is also a way of boosting your general overall health. "Get and stay healthy" is the core premise behind maintaining a powerful immune system.

One thing to mention here is that too much of an immune response is actually a bad thing. Many conditions, ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to allergies to asthma to type I diabetes are all cases where the immune system is over-active in attacking parts of the body, not just the diseases it intends to fight off. If you could actually boost your immune system into overdrive with just a few pieces of fruit and a couple of pills, you'd run the risk of doing permanent damage to your body. Thankfully, it doesn't quite work that way.

Why You Get Sick When Traveling

The focus of this post is on ways to protect yourself from illness when you travel, so it will help to understand why you get sick when traveling in the first place.

There are generally three reasons why you'll get sick when you're taking a vacation trip.

  1. Travel is stressful, from planning to driving or flying to experiencing life in a different city. Stress has a negative effect on your body, and among those effects is a suppression of your immune system.
  2. Transportation such as airlines or trains, and public venues such as tourist destinations and hotels, are havens for a lot of germs. You're packed in with a lot of people and you're exposed to a lot of germs you could pick up.
  3. Your body gets used to the pathogens where you live, but it isn't familiar with pathogens in foreign locations. Even something like the local food or water can be contaminated with germs the locals fight off easily, but which run rampant in an unprepared body.

There's only so much you can do to mitigate these issues. For example, you can wear a mask while traveling, or you can keep hand sanitizer on hand and sanitize your hands after touching various surfaces. You can also use alcohol wipes to sanitize things like armrests on a plane where you'll be spending several hours.

Now, let's get started with the immune system tips.

Get Plenty of Rest

One of the best things you can do to keep your health up, both in general on an ongoing basis and when you're traveling on vacation or for business, is to make sure you're getting plenty of sleep. It can be very tempting to get a ton of extra events, visits, and general stuff in your schedule while you're on a trip, but cutting out hours of sleep makes it harder for your body to process and heal.

Sleep is when your body is most active at healing and protecting itself. Sleep is restorative and curative. If you're not getting enough sleep, you're opening yourself up to all manner of problems.

Additionally, you want to make sure your quality of sleep is as high as possible. Both before your trip and during it, you can make some changes to improve the quality of your sleep.

  • Reduce exposure to blue light in the evening. This means turning off the electronics before you go to bed, don't play around on your phone for hours in bed, and consider an app like f.lux to help.
  • Don't consume caffeine later in the day. In fact, try to avoid it entirely after about 3 pm, if you're on a normal schedule. It takes a while to exit your system.
  • Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and getting up at consistent times helps your body adapt and adjust to your schedule.
  • Routinely clean your bedding so you aren't irritated throughout the night by dirt, allergens, or dust mites.

There are a bunch of other more situational tips and tricks as well. Do everything you can to improve the quality of your sleep and your body will thank you for it.

Eat Healthier

There are a lot of articles out there about the various kinds of foods you can eat to boost your immune system, and they all have a few things in common. All of the foods they recommend are natural, healthy, and full of vitamins and minerals your body can use to heal and fuel itself. More importantly, they are not full of sugar, processed corn syrup, and other ingredients that are bad for your body.

This article, for example, lists citrus, peppers, broccoli, garlic, ginger, spinach, yogurt, almonds, turmeric, tea, papaya, kiwi, poultry, sunflower seeds, and shellfish. All of these are healthy options with a lot of vitamins and minerals, and another health option, tea, is another way to get water into your system without the dehydrating effects of alcohol or soft drinks.

Eating healthier is a journey that starts long before your vacation, ideally. You want to start and maintain a healthy lifestyle as much as possible while you're preparing for a trip, and indeed, pretty much all the time. There's nothing better you can do for your body than adjust your diet to cut out all of the processed foods, the sugars, the candies, the soft drinks, and other unhealthy junk food.

We aren't saying you need to transition entirely to some kind of strict Atkins or Keto or whatever kind of diet, but you should strive to eliminate unhealthy foods and replace them with healthy alternatives on an ongoing basis. Dieting is had, so go at it slowly.

Stay Hydrated at All Times

Your body can live for days or weeks without food, but you can only survive about three days without water. Water fuels everything in your body. Water is essential for life. It's how your body ferries nutrients to your cells, it enables your body to purge toxins, and it even fills you up and helps you snack less.

Staying hydrated is important for daily life, but it's even more important when you're traveling. In addition to drinking throughout the day, you need to drink plenty of water when you're on your flight or on your drive, even if it's inconvenient to need to get up to use the restroom a couple of times, or make pit stops along the way.

You can't bring a bottle of water through the gate in an airport, but you can bring an empty bottle and use the water bottle filling stations on the other side. It's generally recommended that you drink around 8 oz. of water per hour you're on a flight, because of how dry airplane air is and how dehydrated you can get. You should also make sure to carry a water bottle and stay hydrated when you're at your destination. If local water isn't great, you can buy bottled water and refill your own bottle with that, or bring/buy a filter.

Stay Active

Keeping yourself active in the weeks and months before your vacation is important, and it's important to stay active while on your trip and when you return home as well.

Activity – even if it's as simple as going on a mile or two walk each day – has a huge range of benefits. You can build muscle and lose weight, you can shed fat, you can boost your cardiovascular system, and a whole lot more. There are innumerable benefits to exercise.

It doesn't entirely matter what kind of exercise you do or how vigorous it is; do what suits you and your body. The only thing we would caution is that you be careful for the week or so leading up to your trip because you don't want to injure yourself right before you leave. Other than that, anything that gets your heart rate up and helps you burn calories is good.

If you can start this as preparation for travel, and then carry it through after you return from your vacation, you may be able to build some healthy activity habits, and that's always a good thing.

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Both caffeine and alcohol can do a number on your body and can depress the immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.

For caffeine, we recommend cutting it out a few weeks before your trip if you can. Caffeine takes a while to work its way out of your system, and while it's doing so, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, including headaches. You don't want to go cold turkey on the day of your trip and suffer the whole way.

Caffeine also dehydrates you, so it's a good idea to avoid it while you're on your trip, unless you plan to be drinking even more water, which you probably aren't because you rationalize that the caffeinated beverages have water in them. 

As for alcohol, if you're prone to drinking enough that you get hangovers, they're obviously not something you want to experience on your flight or drive. If you don't, well, alcohol can still make your sleep quality worse, and it dehydrates you quite a bit. While there may be some benefits to drinking a glass of red wine each day, any more than that is probably too much.

Consider a Multivitamin

A lot of ways you might find to boost your immune system are basically vitamin and mineral supplements. Things like Zicam, for example, are just zinc supplements. Emergen-C is a vitamin C supplement. Other pills and supplements you might look for include B vitamins, vitamin D, and even microflora for your gut biome.

A single multivitamin can take care of all of these quickly and easily. There are just two downsides to this. The first is that a vitamin might not address any specific deficiencies you may have, though you would want to see a doctor to learn about those. The other is that the vitamins and minerals in a multivitamin are not quite as bioavailable as the same nutrients you get when you each healthy foods. Still, it can be a good supplement to help you maintain your health while on a trip, particularly if you're not sure you'll be able to eat healthy along the way.

So there you have it; a bunch of different ways you can boost your general health and, consequently, your immune system. What have you tried, and how has it worked for you?

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