Ultimate Guide to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

by Jeanne

Ready or not, people are starting to travel again. This pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, and now we’re trying to find ways to keep moving. We’re not quite ready to get on a plane with our young kids, but we’re starting to plan. We’ve created many resources over the years, so I’ve decided to put it all together into one guide for how to avoid getting sick while traveling. 

We know that not everyone agrees on how to handle this pandemic. In our family, the adults are fully vaccinated. It wasn’t a decision we made lightly, and we wouldn’t expect anything different from you. While we have an opinion, we don’t feel comfortable including this in our list of suggestions. Also, this goes without saying, but nothing is foolproof. You can do everything right and still get sick. Sigh. With all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at our tips for staying healthy while traveling! 

A Week Before Your Trip…

A lot of people say that they get sick just before going on vacation. We’ve been there! After dealing with this a couple of times, we made some changes that work for us. A week before your trip, consider the following:

  • Avoid hanging out with people or going to crowded places
  • Get enough sleep
  • Stay hydrated and eat well
  • Minimize stress by packing gradually over a few days
  • Make a list of things that need to get done before you leave and do a little bit every day (delegate tasks to others, if you can!)

The goal is to keep your stress down, stay away from germy people, and take care of your body. It’s really pretty simple if you can stick to it! 

How to Pack Like a Germaphobe

One of the most important things you can do is pack with hygiene in mind. It might seem like a bit of work at first, but it will make your life so much easier (and more sanitary) on vacation. 

Packing Cubes

Don’t knock it until you try it! For a long time, I resisted packing cubes but once I tried them I was hooked! There are so many reasons to love them. First, we use them to separate items (socks and underwear, sleepwear, shirts, or specific outfits each get one, for example!).

Carry on suitcase using packing cubes

Second, instead of unpacking at the hotel, we simply move our packing cubes from our suitcases and into the hotel drawers (which we wipe down first). Third, everything takes up a lot less space when it’s compressed into the cubes! 

Carry-On Backpack

We have several different backpacks that we use for traveling. If we’ve got checked bags, we will bring our Ogio Alpha Convoy backpack. We love that it’s bright orange (makes it easy to spot in an airport!) and has lots of storage and compartments. We use the outside pockets for things like hand sanitizer, wipes, supplements, earbuds/tech gear, and snacks. We try to keep these things separated from our other belongings and only reach into the main part of the bag with clean hands. 

Man standing at airport with carry-on backpack

If we don’t have checked luggage, we use the eBags Mother Lode Jr Travel Backpack. It’s great because it’s small enough to fit under a seat (if you’re traveling on a ticket that only allows a personal item), but can fit so much! We use the packing cubes with this (as pictured in the previous section above) and it’s enough for the two of us for the weekend! 

Exploring Daypack

We always like to carry a small exploring backpack. My younger daughter has an adorable leather cat backpack that she likes to wear on her front. Otherwise, we have one of these fantastic eagle creek packable daypacks. We love it so much because it’s ridiculously lightweight and can be rolled up and stored in the pack-in pocket. 

Tokyo Japan Rain

We always carry a daypack because, if we want to avoid getting sick while traveling, we never want to be without our essentials. We keep things like hand sanitizer and wipes in there, and it’s also perfect for masks, small water bottles, pain relievers, and motion sickness meds. 

Suitcase with Exterior Storage 

When we travel, we always bring flip-flops for our hotel room. There’s just no way I’m walking around barefoot! Since we often take adventurous trips, we usually need more than one pair of shoes. We don’t want to pack our footwear in with our clothing to avoid contamination, so we have a suitcase with exterior storage. 

OGIO ALPHA Convoy 526s Travel Bag Suitcase

While we love our regular hard-side suitcases, we bring this Ogio Alpha Convoy with us for international or long trips. Those outside pockets are perfect for storing flip flops, shoes, umbrellas, and other grungy stuff. We also use this space for dirty clothes (we also designate one suitcase as the “dirty laundry” vessel for our return trip, but we put the clothes in garbage bags!). 

Car Seat Bag

Three of our kids are still in car seats, so we have several car seat bags for when we fly somewhere. When they get checked at the counter or the gate, they are handled by so many hands. We want to keep our car seats clean and sanitary so that they are ready to go when we reach our destination! 

Man wheeling luggage carrying a red car seat travel bag cover

Get TSA Precheck

There are so many reasons why I think getting TSA Precheck can help you avoid getting sick while traveling. At airport security, the crowds can be so large (meaning you’ll be surrounded by a lot of people) and you may have to reach into your bags if you’ve got electronics or liquids.

  • Crowds are smaller. 
  • Wait times of five minutes or less.
  • Your liquids (like sanitizer) can stay in your bags!
  • You don’t have to remove shoes, belts, or hoodies/light jackets.
  • No need to remove laptops and electronics from luggage.

Unless there’s a problem, strangers won’t be touching your personal belongings with their germy hands and you won’t be walking around without shoes. Just those two things in themselves make TSA Precheck worth it to me. 

Avoid Getting Sick on Your Flight

Given that this site is written about travel anxiety from the perspective of people with OCD and underlying health conditions, it’s no surprise that we’ve written about staying healthy on flights. You can read more about what to pack in your carry-on to avoid getting sick while traveling (and long-haul flight essentials), but here are some quick tips to guard against germs on an airplane:

  • Wear a mask.
  • Wash and/or sanitize your hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Wipe down your tray table, armrests, seat belt, and seat back.
  • Sit in the window seat. It can help create a barrier (at least on one side!).
  • Turn away from people who are coughing, sneezing, and blowing their nose.
  • Stay hydrated and bring your own bottled water.
  • Skip the ice If you take a drink from the flight attendant.
  • Avoid the bathroom (and please wear shoes if you have to go!).

Of course, another tip is to try to travel during non-peak times when there is more space on a plane. That way, you might not have to sit right next to someone. Also, avoid traveling during cold & flu season, if you can! 

Jet Lag & Sleep 

One of the hardest things about traveling is getting enough rest. Going on an adventure can be exhausting! If you’re dealing with jet lag or insomnia, it only makes things worse. Fortunately, there are practical things you can do to feel better and prevent issues.

Travel Insomnia

Tossing and turning away from home? First, check out our ultimate guide to traveling with anxiety if you’re feeling stressed. Our tips could help you relax, especially before bedtime! 

Next, consider packing a small diffuser and using the best sleep blends and essential oils for travel anxiety. Then, focus on learning deep breathing techniques to help you drift off to sleep. You might be skeptical, but this can really work if you stick with it!

United Premium Plus Hayley Reclined with Blanket

Preventing Jet Lag

There are things you can do before you leave home and while you’re traveling to help reduce the symptoms of jet lag.

Here are some easy pre-travel tips:

  • Book a flight that allows you to sleep on the plane and wake up at the “right time” in your destination (like sleeping on a 12-hour flight to Tokyo and arriving at 7am). 
  • If that’s not possible, be sure to get a good night’s sleep before you hop on your flight. 
  • Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol.
  • Exercise right before you head to the airport (this may help you sleep on the plane)
  • Gradually adjust your sleep patterns before you leave to be closer to when you’ll sleep at your destination. We use the Timeshifter app (iOS |Android) to help with this! 

On your flight:

  • We take No Jet Lag pills as directed when we board our flight. It is amazing!
  • Set your watch to the time in your destination to get used to the new schedule.
  • Stay hydrated and avoid caffeine/alcohol.
  • Sleep as much as you can if you’re arriving in the morning
  • Take no more than a short nap if you’re landing later in the day
  • Dress comfortably

After you land

  • Stay awake until evening, if you can. 
  • Walk around outside and get natural light. 
  • HYDRATE! We can’t say this enough!

A quick note about taking sleep aids during flights. We avoid doing this because you never know when you’ll be dealing with an emergency. Just a word of caution!

Avoid Germs in Your Hotel Room

We’ve written a whole guide for cleaning and sanitizing your hotel room. We strongly encourage you to check it out, especially if you’re staying someplace post-COVID. You just can’t be too careful right now. 

The Ritz-Carlton Toronto Club Level Room

Definitely pack some flip flops, disinfectant wipes, Lysol spray, and hand sanitizer for your trip. We also bring our own pump soap so we can avoid dealing with a bar of soap on a dirty counter. Here’s a list of the things we clean first:

  • Door handles
  • Light switches
  • TV remote
  • Phone
  • Alarm clock
  • Hard surfaces
  • Insides of drawers
  • Faucet
  • Toilet Seat (just spray it down!)
  • Window covering wands
  • Air conditioning controls
  • Mini fridge/microwave

We use a fabric disinfectant on the bedspreads and pillowcases (remove the throw pillows and put them in a corner – so gross!), but you can bring your own light blanket and pillowcases if you want to be extra cautious. 

Natural Remedies for Staying Healthy

There are so many natural ways to stay healthy while traveling. Always get enough sleep, stay hydrated, avoid touching your face, and wash your hands before eating. It’s so simple, yet people really struggle with this! It’s worth the effort to avoid ruining your hard-earned vacation. 

Courtyard Marriott Layton Utah
Courtyard Marriott Layton Utah

On top of that, we are careful about what we pack. Check out our post about the natural remedies we take on every trip. In the meantime, here’s a quick recap:

  • Specific vitamins (read the post above for more)
  • doTerra OnGuard
  • Sambucol Black Elderberry syrup and tablets
  • Nutribiotic Grapeseed Extract (to help prevent stomach bugs)
  • Melatonin

We also enjoy certain foods that may help fight infection. These include garlic, colorful fruits and vegetables, and fermented foods. We love miso soup because it helps us feel healthy and strong! 

Avoid Getting Sick at Restaurants

Eating out at restaurants and fast food places can be stressful. I’m very vigilant about how my food is prepared and handled before putting it in my mouth. It should come as no surprise that we’ve written a whole guide about how to avoid getting sick at restaurants, so check it out for more comprehensive suggestions for fast food and casual dining.

Mother and son sitting in a booth at Zaxby's with hand sanitizer
Pick a booth and hand sanitizer on the table.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Skip the buffet
  • Avoid peak times and slow times
  • Clean your hands and your utensils
  • Say no to food that is the wrong temperature
  • Don’t share food
  • Pay attention to food handling (did the server’s thumb touch your fries?)
  • Get your food to go
  • Wipe the table if you eat at the restaurant

There are a lot more tips in our guide, but this is a good start. We know that eating out is fun, but it can also be dangerous, especially now that many places are short-staffed. Mistakes happen (and workers can be disgruntled). 

Cold & Flu Season Travel

We used to have a rule — stay home from November to May. Yes, it made for a short travel window, but this was one of the key ways we were able to avoid getting sick while traveling. Why? Because that’s cold and flu season! 

Airport Luggage Travel Anxiety SeaTac Airport

Now, with the pandemic, every travel day comes with a risk. So, we still rely on what we’ve previously shared in our guide to avoiding getting sick during cold and flu season travel, but we take it to the next level. Here are some of our favorite strategies:

  • Avoid traveling from November to May
  • Manage stress (including holiday travel anxiety!)
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Keep your hands clean
  • Pick the right seat on your flight (and wipe it down!)
  • Skip the airplane and drive instead!
  • Avoid staying with friends and family
  • Wear a mask (this has been our advice for years!)
  • Get enough sleep and stay hydrated
  • Stay away from people who are sick!

It’s pretty straightforward. You don’t, of course, have to try any of these suggestions. If you want to avoid getting sick while traveling during cold and flu season, though, some of that might help! 

Stay Healthy at Theme Parks

We love love love theme parks. We love everything about exploring a new amusement park and hopping on a new thrill ride. Unfortunately, these are very germy places. So many people have sat in those roller coaster seats (some have even vomited on them) and they rarely get cleaned. We want to enjoy ourselves, though, so we’ve come up with ways to stay healthy!

Universal Studios Japan Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogwarts

Check out our guide for avoiding germs at amusement parks and consider the following:

  • Always carry hand sanitizer and wipes in a backpack.
  • Keep an eye out for sick people in lines and avoid them.
  • Get in line during non-peak times.
  • Use sanitizer to clean shoulder harnesses that may touch your face. 
  • Inspect seat and lap bars for any nastiness before sitting down. 
  • Find ways to manage motion sickness.
  • Reduce stress by learning to overcome fear on roller coasters and thrill rides. 
  • Watch food handling if you eat at the park. 
  • Be super careful in the bathrooms. So yucky!

We know that planning a trip to a theme park is an investment. As such, a lot of people force themselves to keep going even if they (or their kids) are sick, exposing thousands of other people to their illness. Don’t ruin someone else’s vacation. Get travel insurance and stay away from crowds if you’re not feeling well!

Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling and Live Your Life!

We know. Nowadays there are so many articles on the internet about how to avoid getting sick while traveling. Don’t forget that we were talking about this before the pandemic! For us, it’s not about page views or clickbait — we really care about helping you stay healthy. We hope you enjoyed our tips and that you stay safe on your journeys!

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