These tips for flying germ-free this holiday season may save you weeks of sickness

Holiday airport travel
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Stick to Your Daily Regimen While Traveling

Sunset editor-in-chief Matt Bean takes more flights than anyone we know, bouncing between San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Seattle, Portland, Park City, and Jackson Hole. Besides finding the perfect luggage and refillable titanium water bottle, he’s got a few wellness tricks up his sleeve: cold-pressing lemon ginger cayenne shots, squeezing in 15-minute high-intensity interval training on the Peloton bike, and washing dirty gym clothes in hotel sinks when there’s no time for laundry service. He also power-hydrates daily: a bottle of water when he gets up, a bottle on the way to the airport, a bottle on the way to the plane, and an aisle seat, for obvious reasons. The result: not one single cold in a year. “Locking down my own personal regimen meant everything—packing, checking in, unpacking, and repacking—was that much less stressful. And among all of the factors behind illness you can’t control—the guy on the airplane seat you spraying spittle with every cough; the chill of the slopes; the feeble meals in coach—it’s stress that you alone can mostly control.”

Keep Moving Onboard

“The dangers of not moving during long-haul flights are increasingly well documented and can cause circulation problems, cramps, tension, and a sluggish lymphatic system,” Lauren Roxburgh, a Structural Integration practitioner based in Los Angeles, says. Roxburgh, who has a degree in Exercise Physiology, recommends standing regularly, stretching, and doing simple moves like seated twists, ankle rolls, and neck stretches every hour or two to keep circulation moving. Roxburgh recommends getting a Travel Roller or Infinity Roller and performing the deep shoulder blade massage move right before and after your flight.

Stay Hydrated and Prepare Meds

When you can’t bring your own electrolyte drinks into the airport, you’ve got to find another way. Seattle-based journalist Wudan Yan, who travels extensively across the West for work, tries to eat healthily before travel, but her on-the-go secret to staying hydrated is bringing along Gatorade powder packs that she can take on the plane and dissolve into her water bottle. Another trick up her sleeve? “Always stash backup antibiotics—for me, azithromycin—for possible stomach bugs.”

Keep Supplements Simple

Puerto Vallarta-based flight attendant Michael Garvey has seen it all, and he says there are few shortcuts to travel wellness. To boost his immunity, he sleeps eight hours or more, brings home-cooked meals in insulated coolers, and takes four supplements: a food-based multivitamin, a fish oil supplement, a probiotic, and most importantly, a mushroom supplement. “Mycelium-based mushroom supplements are absolutely incredible when it comes to building immunity or boosting it when you feel something coming on.”

Wipe It Clean

Being fastidious on planes is the key to staying healthy while traveling for USC doctoral student and corporate communications consultant Dahna M. Chandler. “I bring my own sanitizing products—organic spray and wipes— and my own blanket and pillow.” Chandler wipes down everything around her seat to sanitize it, especially her tray, remotes, and headsets (or she brings her own). When she gets home, she sanitizes everything again to be sure she’s not bringing germs back with her. 

Limit Contact

Busy Culver City mom of two Jessica Stebbins Bina has a two-year-old and a four-year-old in tow when her family travels for the holidays. With their frequent trips, she’s learned to prioritize naps and adequate sleep for her family before and after flights. And on the plane, it’s about contact: She keeps her two-year-old in the carseat on the plane so he’s not touching the germy surfaces around him. She seats her children in window seats so they are sitting next to parents, instead of strangers whose germs they would have to fight off. “So far, so good,” Stebbins Bina says. “Both rarely get sick and they usually get better very quickly too,” which may have something to do with all those naps.

Skip the Bathroom Sink

Recent studies show the water in plane bathrooms is contaminated with E. Coli and coliform. “It feels weird not to wash my hands with soap and water after I go to the bathroom, but now I wrap my hands in tissue when touching the door and sink, and use my own hand sanitizer right after,” says Simran Sethi, a fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy in Oakland who often travels to Rome, where she works as a Visiting Professor at John Cabot University.

Ditto for the Coffee and Tea Service

“Don’t get the ice in any in-flight beverages, and skip the coffee and tea,” Denver-based travel writer Priscilla Blossom says. Turns out, the water and ice on flights are often made with the water from the plane bathrooms.

Shorten Your Time in Line

Garvey says it’s chokepoints like TSA checkpoints and Customs and Immigration, not HEPA-filtered airplanes, that are the hot zones for germs. Getting TSA Pre-Check or Clear helps shorten your time in line and removes you from the hot zones faster.