I spend more time in airports and hotel rooms than I do at home, and there’s one thing I dread almost more than any other: getting sick while traveling. As a business owner, company leader, husband, and father of two, I can’t afford to succumb to illness and lose a whole day – or several days – on a business trip.
The global economy can’t afford it either. One major study found that health-related time off work cost U.S. employers $225.8 billion per year, while 8 percent of travelers around the world report becoming ill enough to seek health care during or after travel. When you’re the boss and employees or prospective clients have moved their schedules around to accommodate your visit, giving in to a cold or flu is just not an option.
You may think I’m a germophobe when I tell you my No. 1 tip, but in my experience, flying is where the real risks are. With all that dry, decompressed air that people are coughing into and recirculating for eight or ten hours, it’s a good bet that’s where you’re going to pick something up. Yes, airlines vacuum and clean everything between flights, but they don’t disinfect the plane.
When I fly, I travel with disinfectant wipes and clean my whole seat area. That’s right. I swab all the handles, all the screens – everything in the vicinity. It’s the first thing I do, before I buckle my seat belt, plug in my earphones, or arrange my reading material. The last time I was on a flight, the plane seemed dirty to me. So I actually took alcohol-based liquid hand sanitizer and started swabbing the whole area around me.
It looks a bit odd and might give a brief odor that prompts other passengers to give me the side eye, but most simply say, ‘That’s a great idea. I’m doing that next time.’
If you’re not willing to whip out the disinfectant in public, there are some other things you can do to keep the sniffles at bay. As I mentioned in a recent piece on business travel, getting good sleep on long flights is important – not just a few minutes of nodding off between in-flight movies.
From the first time I wore them, noise-canceling headphones have been nothing short of a game changer for me. I can listen to music and peacefully pass out, sleeping so much deeper and waking up feeling genuinely rested. That’s key if you want your immune system to do its job. If you don’t have these wonderful gizmos, at a minimum, bring earplugs. Not only do they block out noise, they also mitigate the cabin pressure, which can otherwise disturb your comfort and sleep. Exhaustion never leads to good health.
Also, drink water, just water, and lots of it — and not just once you’re on board. I usually start a couple of days before my flight to make sure I’m hydrated, especially for flights that are longer than 10 hours. I also steer clear of alcohol when I’m on a plane. That might sound counterintuitive when you’re trying to settle your mind and catch some zzz’s, but alcohol dehydrates you. I can tell you –from the hundreds of thousands of miles I fly across time zones each year– drinking water makes a huge difference in beating a bug.
Finally, I always travel with a strong anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen, the kind a doctor can prescribe. That’s because I have a fear of getting a toothache while I’m far from home. That happened to me once while in the Galapagos Islands, where the local dentist was not equipped to ease my aches. With throbbing pain and desperate for relief, I was forced to fly to Miami to get proper medical attention. Do yourself a favor and slip some prescription-grade painkillers in your travel kit, just in case.
As a travel professional, I’m happy to see more people taking to the skies, roads and seas to do business and enjoy vacation, especially since travel can be a powerful form of wealth distribution to underserved countries. But with international tourist arrivals exceeding one billion in 2012 and projected to increase to almost two billion by 2030, the likelihood of travel-related illness is bound to rise, say the Centers for Disease Control.
So be proactive about your health while on the road, and take vaccine and preventive measures seriously. You may look a little weird, wiping down your seat with disinfectant, but you won’t be of service to any of your customers or employees if you’re stuck in a hotel room, too sick to deliver.
Originally published at www.inc.com