If you’re heading out of town this holiday season to gather with loved ones, hit the slopes or chill at the beach, join the crowd and pack your patience.
The busiest time of the year for travel is upon us, and according to a AAA year-end holiday forecast, this year is going to be a record-breaker. Around 7.5 million Americans are expected to take to the skies and 104 million will hit the roads during the 10-day Christmas and New Year’s travel period.
Amid the coordinating, planning and frenzy that comes with holiday travel, don’t let your health take a back seat. A little planning can ensure your journey is healthy and merry.
What are this year’s biggest holiday travel health risks?
Holiday cheer isn’t the only thing in the air. Cases of influenza, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and COVID are rising ahead of the holidays. In the U.S., emergency room visits for the viruses collectively recently reached their highest levels since February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Large holiday gatherings, crowded travel conditions and more time indoors can increase the chance of viruses spreading.
Holiday travel is also associated with a higher risk of automobile accidents. And with more people expected to travel by car this year, that increases the likelihood of more distracted, drowsy or impaired drivers on the roads.
How do I stay safe and healthy while traveling?
Whether you travel by plane, train or automobile this holiday season, there are steps you can take to keep yourself – and those around you – safe and healthy.
1. Make sure you’re up to date on vaccinations. Vaccines are the most effective way you can protect yourself against infectious respiratory illness, including flu, COVID and RSV. The CDC offers the following vaccine guidance:
- Certain individuals should get the RSV vaccine to protect against severe cases of the virus, including adults 60 and older, infants and young children, and people who are pregnant.
- As of Sept. 12, 2023, the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an update COVID-19 vaccine.
- If you haven’t gotten your flu shot, it’s not too late. Flu activity typically peaks between December and February.
2. Keep washing your hands. Proper hand washing is still one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from getting sick. Need a primer? The CDC offers guidelines on how and when to wash your hands. For times when you don’t have access to soap and water, pack a bottle of hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
3. Stay hydrated, especially if you’re flying or visiting a warm climate. Low humidity levels and oxygen pressure on airplanes can leave you dehydrated. A few simple tips can help ensure you get enough fluids:
- Avoid alcohol and sugary drinks, which increase urine production and lead to additional fluid loss.
- Bring a refillable water bottle to the airport to fill for your flight.
- Add dissolvable electrolytes to water to extend hydration.
- Never skip liquids to avoid going to the bathroom on a plane.
4. Get your Zzz’s. Good sleep is key to a strong immune system. Pack a sleep mask or noise-cancelling headphones for the flight and try to stick to a regular sleep schedule once you reach your destination.
5. Watch what you eat and drink. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is key to maintaining your health year-round, but especially during cold and flu season. That doesn’t mean you need to steer clear of grandma’s fudge and other seasonal treats. Moderation is the key.
6. Make time to move. Sidelining regular exercise can make you more likely to catch something. Don’t worry if you don’t have the time (or motivation) to fit in a HIIT workout. Even light physical activity each day of your vacay can help your immune system fight infection.
7. Make mental health a priority. Travel-related stress and the added hubbub of the holidays can cause mood changes, depression and anxiety. Travel can also worsen symptoms for people who have an existing mental illness. Plan ahead to avoid (or prepare for) triggers and travel mishaps and avoid overscheduling your days. It’s also important to take prescribed medication as directed, and practice healthy habits, like eating well and exercising regularly. This time of year can be difficult. Learn more about how to manage stress during the holidays.
8. Pack a travel health kit that includes all your prescription medications, including extras in case of travel delays. Consider bringing along other essentials, such as a first-aid kit, COVID tests, cold medicine and aspirin. Don’t forget your health insurance card.
9. Prepare for a safe drive. Don’t let a bump in the road sideline your holidays. A few precautions will help ensure a safe arrival at your destination.
- Before you leave, check your car’s tires, battery, headlights and windshield wipers. Make sure you have the safety essentials, like a spare tire or inflation kit, jumper cables and a flashlight.
- Always wear your seatbelt to reduce the risk of injury in case of an accident.
- Take regular breaks and share the wheel to avoid drowsy driving.
10. Stay home if you’re sick. No one wants to cancel their travel plans, especially during the holidays. But if you’re not feeling well, or those you’re planning to visit are sick, it’s best to postpone your plans.
Indigo is here for the holidays, even when you’re not
This holiday season, if you’re travelling within Washington or Idaho and need care for a minor illness or injury, Indigo Virtual Care is as close as your phone or favorite device. Simply schedule a time that works for you.
If an in-person visit is a better option, stop in or book an appointment at one of Indigo’s 40+ clinics across the Pacific and Inland Northwest. We even offer on-site lab tests (and fast results) for COVID, flu, strep, UTI, flu and more.
In person or virtually, our friendly clinicians are here 8 am to 8pm every day, even holidays.