Vacation is about relaxing, and you don't want to start it with the sniffles and sneezes-or worse, a full-blown cold. Yet that's what often happens to travel-weary vacationers, says Douglas Schar, DipPhyt, MCPP, MNIMH, a clinical herbalist based in Washington, DC. Here's how to protect yourself from illness, get a good night's sleep, and get out of the hotel without spending more on snack bar goodies than you do on the room:
Echinacea is an herb that boosts the immune system by stimulating the production of infection-fighting white blood cells. Start taking it 5 days before you leave for vacation, and continue for 5 days after your return. Dosage: 1 teaspoon of 1:5 tincture three times daily, or one 500-mg tablet three times daily.
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Before clearing TSA, you'll be asked to step out of your shoes. Trust us, that floor sees a lot of bare feet. "If your feet are sweaty, you can get a bacterial or fungal infection," says Michael Zimring, MD, director of the Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "The floor is dirty and people are walking all over it. Who knows what is on there?"
Pack chamomile tea bags
Chamomile can help take the edge off a stressful journey by relaxing a tense mind and sore muscles, according to Schar. It also has a sedative effect, so you'll be able to get a good night's sleep.
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Be diligent about hand washing
Washing hands (or using a 60 to 70% alcohol hand sanitizer) several times a day will kill germs acquired from contaminated surfaces like doorknobs, especially in highly populated areas like cruise ships. Before booking a cruise, check out the Vessel Sanitation Program at cdc.gov/travel for cleanliness reports for major cruise lines. On the plane, bring along hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes for your hands, tray tables and arm rests, which can be teeming with germs. Gross fact: 60% of airplane food trays carry MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria.
The humidity level on an airplane is usually very low, says Mark Gendreau, MD, vice chair of emergency medicine at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA. "Your nasal membranes become dehydrated, which makes you more susceptible to infection from passing germs." He suggests drinking lots of water, using saline nasal spray, and keeping your hands off your face.