How to Stay Healthy While Traveling This Holiday Season, According to a Doctor

Does it really matter what seat you choose on an airplane? Or if you take vitamin C? Find out.

Illustration of a person in an airplane window seat with a healthy meal and wearing a mask

Josh Seong/Travel+Leisure

With temperatures plummeting across the country it's safe to say winter has arrived, and with it; the inevitable cold and Flu season.

However, that hasn't stopped Americans from taking to the skies or roads for holiday travel in record numbers this year. Still, taking precautions to safeguard your health while boarding a plane or visiting a loved one is paramount, especially on the heels of COVID-19, which can show similar symptoms of a cold.

Whether you're still preparing for your holiday travels or in the midst of celebrating in a different location, Dr. Chris McStay, the vice chair for clinical operations in the department of emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center explains everything to know about staying healthy while traveling for the holidays this year to Travel + Leisure.

This year's cold and Flu season is a bit different

This year, cold and Flu season is being deemed a ‘tripledemic’ with the confluence of COVID-19, the Flu, and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) all converging at once, McStay explained.

“By objective measurements, this season is worse than prior seasons," he said. "Nationally we see widespread activity and New York State is experiencing its worst influenza since 2009."

5 Illustrations showing the tips to stay healthy while traveling in winter, food, vitamins, window seats, vaccines and wearing a mask

Josh Seong/Travel+Leisure

Stay up to date on your vaccinations

Dr. McStay says the same advice applies every year, despite this year’s cold and Flu season being “objectively worse than previous years.”

The first way travelers can keep themselves feeling good on the road is through vaccination.

“Vaccines, particularly with influenza and COVID, are a mainstay of prevention and have meaningful impacts both on a population and individual level,” he said.

In addition to vaccination passengers should perform good hygiene, practice hand washing, and mask-wearing, which McStay pointed out is no longer enforced but strongly recommended according to the CDC.

Does where I sit on an airplane affect my chance of getting sick?

While you won’t get the benefit of opening a window during your flight, McStay does recommend sitting in the window seat for a slightly lower chance of contracting an airborne virus.

“There is some data to suggest that a window seat may present less chance of exposure to certain viruses given the lower number of people that would “walk by” a passenger sitting in that seat,” he said, but added that “given the close and complex interactions travelers face (going through security, boarding, etc.) placing a high emphasis on obtaining such a seat may not be worth it.”

Does travel lower your immune system?

While travel may not inherently lower our immunity, or make us sick, stress can, according to McStay.

He recommends maintaining a regular sleep cycle and eating a full balanced meal which can help travelers to feel less stress and in return keep their immune system firing on all cylinders.

Would taking multivitamins or vitamin C drinks to help?

McStay makes note that while his advice pertains to general vitamins and supplements, and he cannot vouch for a particular brand, however, he says there is data to support vitamins can help play a role in keeping travelers healthy.

He also adds “in general, rather than focusing on specific vitamin supplementation, a balanced diet would be preferred.”

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