According to Dr Deb Mills, medical director of the Travel Medicine Alliance, around half of all travellers get some sort of sickness while away. Almost half of these people will experience gastrointestinal problems, while nearly one quarter will experience cold and flu or other respiratory problems. When you’re travelling for business - sickness can spell disaster.
No matter where you are headed in the world, sickness can strike in even the shortest of trips. Destination has little to do with it - even in the cleanest of cities, air conditioning, changes in temperature, and fellow passengers can mean bugs are everywhere.
So in order to avoid getting sick whilst travelling for business, a little pre-trip preparation and self-care can ensure that your presentations and pitches aren’t going to come to a sneezing, coughing halt.
Before you go
The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that all travellers should consult a doctor at least four to eight weeks before a trip, but as a business traveller, you don’t always have that option as things can pop up last minute. Ideally, pay a quick visit to your GP a few days before you go. Use the time to have a quick checkup and ask questions about any potential health risks linked to your destination. If you plan on travelling frequently, you may wish to discuss having a flu and Hepatitis A vaccination, and ensure all childhood vaccinations are up-to-date.
As a frequent traveller, it will also pay to ensure you eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of sleep in order for your body to function at its best. The stronger your immune system, the less likely you are to be affected by common germs.
When booking a flight, book a window or middle seat rather than an aisle seat. Some scientists say that sitting on the aisle seat leaves you at more risk of being exposed to germs as it puts you closer to passengers who are regularly coming and going from the restroom. As some people tend to touch or hold aisle seats when walking down the plane, the risk of contamination on the aisle seats is greater.
Loading a few precautions into your travel bag is a smart move for any business traveller. Not only can these items keep the bugs at bay, they can help you swat them down if you feel early symptoms taking hold. Things to pack include:
- Saline nasal decongestant: carry this with you and use before, during and after your flight. Lack of humidity in the cabin means the mucous membranes in your nostrils can dry out, losing their effectiveness to filter out airborne germs.
- Frequent Flyer Health Boost: packed with healthy nutrients to maintain immune function and hydration, one tablet contains 1000mg of vitamin C, plus echinacea and essential vitamins and minerals.
- Betadine Sore Throat Gargle: a concentrated anti-bacterial formula used in the aid of sore throats. Gargle immediately after a plane ride and in the days following to wipe out bacterial and viral assaults on the throat.
- Sanitising wipes: turnaround times in commuter planes, trains and buses is fast, leaving the crew barely enough time to clean. By packing sanitising wipes or a mist spray, you can clean all the areas you’re likely to touch whilst travelling.
- A first aid kit: think about the area you are visiting and what may or may not be available there. While you will be able to get almost everything in Sydney and Brisbane, you may wish to pack pain relief medicine (paracetamol or aspirin), antihistamine tablets, motion sickness tablets, throat lozenges, sting relief, sunscreen, imodium, eye lubricant drops, a digital thermometer etc in case of an emergency.
- Regular prescription medicines: keep medicines clearly labelled and take more than you need in case you need to stay longer.
On the plane
The surfaces you touch on a plane have come into contact with a lot of people, and some of these people may have been ill and carrying germs. As a result, how you behave on the plane can ultimately affect your exposed risk of illness. Behave smartly and you can travel relatively unscathed.
- Wear your glasses: if you generally wear contacts for vision correctness, consider wearing glasses when travelling on the plane. With contacts, your eyes are naturally more prone to drying out. When that happens, it becomes easier for germs to make their way into your system.
- Clean your hands regularly: wash with warm soapy water whenever possible and carry a hand sanitiser with at least 50 percent alcohol content.
- Know the dirtiest spots: a 2015 study found that tray tables, overhead air vents, lavatory flush buttons and set belt buckles are among the most germ-ridden spots on an airplane.
- Avoid tap water: in a 2007 study, almost all samples of water studied contained high bacteria levels of everything from Salmonella to tiny insect eggs.
- Avoid blankets and pillows: freshly washed blankets and pillows are often only laid out for the first flight of the day. On some flights, blankets and pillows haven’t been washed for 30 days!
- Order a hot meal: While airline companies are working to improve their food handling policies, the safest bet is to consume hot foods in which the heat has killed off unwanted germs.
- Avoid placing items in the seat pocket: your seat pocket could be filled with anything (including dirty tissues) and bacteria like E.coli can survive in pockets for days.
- Stay hydrated: drinking enough water will help prevent dehydration, which can cause headaches, cramps and fatigue.
- Get some sleep: lack of sleep weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Although sleeping on planes can be hard, do your best to try and get a little shut-eye.
While you’re away
When you’re away from your normal routine, it’s easy to get carried away with different behaviours. Unfortunately, this can often lead to an upset stomach, fatigue, or a dreaded hangover.
- Don’t rely on coffee: relying on coffee to see you through your busy days is only okay if you normally drink a lot of coffee. If not, the sudden surge in caffeine can wreak havoc on your digestive system.
- Don’t eat food if you’re not sure what it is: a business trip is not the time to get adventurous with what you eat. If you’re unsure what something is or you find your food is unusually spicy, it’s best to avoid it.
- Don’t alter your diet drastically: try to stick to your normal routine of eating. Don’t have a three course dinner just because you can if you’re used to eating only small meals.
- Drink bottled water: while tap water is generally fine throughout Australia, bacteria found in tap water varies considerably around the world. Locals are accustomed to the water, but your own belly biome might not stand up well to the local bacteria. For this same reason, avoid food washed in tap water and ice in drinks.
- Get enough sleep: the better rested you are, the better equipped you are to fight off any bacteria you’ve come into contact with.
- Be careful in the sun: too much sun can bring on all kinds of symptoms, ranging from sunburn and itchy skin to fairly serious stomach problems. Always apply sunscreen and avoid being in the sun between 11am and 2pm.
- Avoid too much alcohol: simply put, too much alcohol is never a good idea when away on business.