Surprising Ways You're Making Yourself Sick When You Travel

8 March 2016
Read Time: 3.2 mins

Words by Carlie Tucker

If you're a frequent traveller, you've probably finished a trip feeling a little under the weather more than once. And though it's common to blame those sniffles and sneezes on the dreaded airplane cold, it could be something else entirely that's making you poorly. Here are a few surprising habits that can spell out sickness for frequent business travellers. 

Drinking too much

Handling the stresses that come with business travel is no joke. From the toll of frequent flights to being away from the family, there are any number of pain points causing you stress. And though many like to unwind after a long day of travelling with an adult beverage or two, keep in mind that drinking too much alcohol can have a negative effect on the immune system.

Recent studies from the University of Maryland show that frequent alcohol intake can not only cut down the production of disease-fighting cells in the blood, it can also restrict their function to fight off infections. While the occasional glass of vino won't compromise the immune system, it's best to be sensible. Remember, everything in moderation.

Not enough sleep

Finding a comfortable sleeping position on a flight seems like the stuff myths are made of, and unfamiliar hotel beds can make it difficult to get a good night's rest. Most travellers simply deal with this lack of sleep knowing the comforts of home are just around the corner, but not maintaining a regular sleep schedule is a sure fire way to catch a bug.

Numerous studies have shown a link between lack of sleep and falling ill. Sleep deprivation prevents the immune system from releasing proteins called cytokines, which help the body stave off infections. This means you're more likely to pick up a virus and take longer to fight it off.  Prolonged sleep deprivation, along with leaving you exhausted, can lead to weight gain, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease to name a few.

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Altering Your Diet

It's no secret that proper nutrition does a body good. There are countless sources proving that a healthy diet means a healthy mind and body. Unfortunately, when dealing with frequent travel, maintaining nutrition can fall by the wayside. But, skipping meals, rushed eating and relying on fast food or takeaway restaurants can lead to the sniffles by the end of your business trip.

Despite the morning rush, make time for breakfast, and though you may be pressed for time at lunch, carve out a half an hour to sit down to eat. Opt for healthier options when you're eating out (even at fast food restaurants) and put some effort into planning meals. Throwing your nutrition out the window can not only lead to weight gain, it can weaken the immune system as your body struggles to function at optimal levels.   

Too Much Stress

As mentioned, business travel can be stressful. Being out of your element as you juggle the demands of a packed schedule is not for the faint of heart. Some of these stresses come with the territory, but if you find yourself getting too stressed out as you travel, you're more than likely making yourself sick. Stress boosts cortisol, which disrupts your body's immune system and makes it difficult to ward off bacteria and viruses. Prolonged stress can also lead to high blood pressure and heart disease as well as speed up the aging process.

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to getting sick while on the road, so it's best to take steps to cut back on things that trigger you. Ensure you get enough sleep (see above), maintain a healthy diet (again, see above) and set aside some time to relax every day to keep yourself sane and healthy.

Not Washing Your Hands

Another big contributor to sickness on the road is not washing your hands. Take a second to think about all the surfaces you touch on a daily basis. Even the most common surfaces – door knobs, keyboards, phone screens – are hotspots for germs. Now throw in bacteria traps like airplane seat pockets and tray tables. Most people touch them and touch their eyes, nose and mouths without a second thought. This is how it all starts.

The best way to stave off sickness is to be more mindful of hand washing when you're travelling. If possible, it's also a good idea to wipe down surfaces and avoid touching your face.