Well on your way: Don’t let illness get you down when you’re working out of town

sick woman calling doctor urgently at the airport

By Bill Clevlen

As a professional travel writer, I find myself bouncing from city to city and hotel to hotel, all across the country. Becoming sick while away from home, especially during a trip where you’re expected to be productive, can be a real headache.

While even the most prepared traveler can get hit with germs, there are lots of things you can do to keep your risk of illness at a minimum. I am adamant about three main rules in keeping myself healthy on the road:

1) Good sleep;
2) Regular hand washing; and 3) Lots of water to drink.

Travel can be rough on your body and immune system, even if you have a healthy lifestyle. If you cross into another time zone, catch a late-night flight or embark on a longer-than-usual road trip, your body needs time to adjust, or your trip may spiral downward in a hurry.

We’re all tempted to hit the bars until the wee hours with new conference friends, or party with fellow employees when traveling away from the office. But remember, you do so at your own health risk.


You don’t have to be a party pooper to stay healthy on the road, but getting a good night’s rest during a work trip makes a huge difference in how your body responds to the pressures of traveling.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that if your trip is two days or fewer, you should try to keep to your “home time zone” schedule as much as possible. In other words, if you normally wake at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 9 p.m. when at home, do the same in the nearby time zone to which you’re traveling.

If you can, get plenty of sunshine upon arrival at any destination. Then shower and sneak in short naps when possible – no more than 20 to 30 minutes.


Washing your hands is always a great idea, but doing so while you travel is even more important. A lot of people from a lot of places put their hands on that gas pump, door knob, elevator button or hotel-room remote before you came along. Someone certainly sneezed on that airline ticket counter touch screen, or coughed on the desk in your hotel room.

Germs are everywhere. The key to combating them is soap-and-water hand washing before you leave the hotel room; before you eat; and after you’ve touched common surfaces. Also, get in the habit of not touching your face or rubbing your eyes while traveling. These tips will do wonders for you in terms of avoiding illness.

According to a recent study by TravelMath.com, the dirtiest places travelers encounter are airline tray tables, bathroom stall locks, and seatbelt buckles. To combat those ubiquitous germs, experts at Harvard Medical School recommend 30 seconds of thorough washing with plain soap and water. This simple practice can reduce bacteria on your hands by nearly 60 percent.


Just as important as “germ warfare” is the practice of staying hydrated. Everyone who has been to a conference or extended business meeting knows those events often include a lot of hustle, stressful deadlines… and bad choices in terms of food and drink. It may be easy and quick
to stop for a sugary soda while you’re on the road, but your body will thank you for choosing a healthier path.

When I travel, I pack my favorite water bottle in my luggage. I fill it with ice and water in the hotel, and it never leaves my side during the trip, especially during hot summer months. If you’re concerned about local tap water, you can use the bottled variety – but I find that bringing my personal water bottle increases the likelihood that I’ll actually use it, and not leave it behind.

My bottle has a handle that makes it easy to carry, and it is skinny enough to fit on the side of my backpack. As any health expert will tell you, once you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Be proactive and drink water during your entire trip, and you’ll definitely feel a difference. According to the National Institutes of Health, we often think we feel hungry when we’re actually just dehydrated – so try drinking water when you feel those between-meal pangs. Order it as your go-to business dinner beverage, too, and you’ll save money.


Of course, there are other things you can do to ensure healthy traveling. Health experts suggest making a habit of packing tennis shoes and comfortable clothes every time you travel. That way, you’re prepped to take advantage of nearby walking trails or downtown sidewalks at your meeting or conference destination. Even a short morning walk or 20 minutes in your hotel’s fitness room can be a huge boost to your immune system.

We often focus on germs as a major health fear, but they’re not the top culprit behind travelers’ emergency room and urgent care visits. According to the World Health Organization, injury is actually the trip-taker’s most common health concern. In some ways, that’s not surprising; I often notice travelers walking through hotels with eyes glued to their smartphones. Whether they are texting, e-mailing, or playing games, many are not paying close enough attention to where they are stepping. I’m tempted to ask how they
would feel about making this call to the boss: “I’m sorry, sir, but I’ve missed the conference you paid $2,000 for me to attend. I ended up in the emergency room after falling into a hotel lobby fountain because I was staring at my phone.” The same advice applies for walking outdoors, especially in unfamiliar cities: It’s best to put down the phone, and be aware of your surroundings.

“One’s own common sense is the best means to stay healthy while traveling,” says Matthew Kuhlmann, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“Avoid foods you wouldn’t eat at home. Staying away from alcohol also keeps your mind sharp and safe in unfamiliar circumstances.”

Traveling should be a fun and rewarding experience, whether you’re on a business trip or a vacation. Following healthy
practices will help ensure your next trip is a great one!

Bill Clevlen is a St. Louis freelance writer and host of the nationally syndicated radio travel show Bill on the Road (www.billontheroad.com).

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