Now that the laid-back days of summer are officially behind us, business travel is ramping back up again. In 2016, “weekly traveler volumes were higher from September through November than during the rest of the year,” according to a recent study, which also noted that “infrequent [business] travelers had a huge influence on the jump in travelers that make October and November the busiest travel months of the year”(Concur). Rental car company Hertz also noted that October was their busiest month, “credit[ing] the distinction to the busy stretch of conferences and conventions that begins in October” (Travel Market Report) Hitting the road to wrap up those last important tasks before the end of the year can take a toll on your physical well-being, leaving you prone to exhaustion and susceptible to germs.
As frequent business travelers ourselves, the team at Shep knows that staying healthy while traveling can be a challenge. We compiled our top seven tips to stay healthy while traveling on business.
1. Keep your hands clean
It’s all too easy to pick up germs when you’re in a crowded airport or on a packed flight. Washing your hands is one of the simplest things you can do to prevent that—as the CDC notes, it’s “one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to others.” If you won’t always have ready access to soap and water, pack a small bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your carry-on to use in a pinch. For extra protection, carry some disinfecting wipes to clean off your tray table, armrests, or other hard surfaces that may not have been thoroughly cleaned after the last passenger deplaned.
2. Drink plenty of water
Dehydration causes headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and takes a toll on memory, attention, and cognition—clearly not the state you want to be in when it’s time for that big meeting. Airplanes can exacerbate a tendency to dehydrate, since the relative humidity on board is typically 20%, much lower than we’re used to. Whether you prefer to sip throughout the day or track a certain number of ounces, make sure you keep your water intake up. Experts agree that the right amount can vary according to the individual, so pay attention to how you feel in addition to when you last had a glass of water.
3. Eat sensibly
It can be tempting to treat a business trip like a vacation, but eating high-sodium, high-fat, high-calorie foods for days on end can leave you feeling bloated and sluggish. On top of that, medical research indicates that constantly consuming foods full of sugar, salt, and fat can affect your immune system and “lead to health problems such as increased inflammation [and] reduced control of infection.” (Time) Pack healthy snacks for the plane, opt for fresh fruit and veggies when you can, eat reasonable portions, and steer clear of fried, heavily sauced, and outrageously rich foods. If you’re worried about getting all the proper micronutrients, pack a multivitamin to take daily to supplement your diet.
4. Get adequate sleep
Sleep isn’t just important for keeping you sharp for your presentation or panel discussion. Lack of rest can make you more susceptible to illness after you’ve been exposed to a virus. Make sure that your schedule allows you enough time to sleep and put a priority on maintaining healthy sleep habits while you’re away. If you need a little extra help drifting off, consider taking a melatonin supplement before bedtime.
5. Stay active
Business trips invariably involve a lot of sitting—in airplanes, in meetings, during presentations, etc. Unfortunately, a sedentary lifestyle is linked to lowered immune function, so it’s important to find opportunities to get active while you’re traveling for business. That doesn’t mean you have to carve out time for a full cardio workout in the hotel gym, although it’s not a bad idea to pack your workout clothes if you’re so inclined. You don’t need that much exercise to start seeing both physical and mental benefits, so take the stairs or walk around the block a couple of times a day. If you tend to get so absorbed in your work that you forget to move around, set your fitness tracker to remind you periodically, or use a fitness app on your phone to help you keep physical activity on your to-do list.
6. Avoid alcohol
Too much alcohol won’t just leave you feeling lousy the next day. Excessive consumption will dehydrate you and can weaken your immune system. Even low and moderate amounts of drinking can impair the quality of sleep you get, making you feel tired even if you think you’ve gotten enough sleep. Decide on your limit before you hit happy hour to discuss the day with your colleagues, and then stick to it. Your body will thank you.
7. Get a flu shot
Although flu activity tends to peak between December and February, according to the CDC, flu season traditionally kicks off in October. There are signs that the flu may already be circulating since some of the ill passengers on the flight from Dubai that was recently quarantined at JFK International Airport tested positive for the virus. If you want to avoid becoming an early adopter of this year’s version, get a flu shot two to three weeks before your trip, to give your body time to develop necessary antibodies.
Knowing how to stay healthy while traveling really boils down to taking the time to think about making your well-being as much of a priority as the objective of your trip. After all, if you’re under the weather, you won’t be nearly as effective as you might be when you’re feeling well. It’s worth planning ahead so that you can stay at the top of your game rather than falling victim to a cold, the flu, or whatever another germ is making the rounds.