Des Moines University Clinic Health Topics: Staying healthy while you travel

Travel tips: Staying healthy on the go

Vacations are meant to be relaxing and restorative—not spent worrying about how to prepare for and stay healthy during your travels. Read through a few of our healthy travel tips to help make your next trip a breeze.


Staying healthy while you travel

Avoid germs at the airport and on planes

Escaping germs at the airport and on airplanes is a monumental task, but you can significantly decrease your contact with them by following the most basic practices: Washing your hands often, avoiding escalator and hand rails, and using antibacterial wipes on any table surfaces or chairs you come into contact with will help you bypass some of these bacteria. On a typical airplane, the dirtiest areas are not the bathrooms, but the tray tables, arm rests and seat pockets. Wipe down those area to protect yourself from germs and use hand sanitizer throughout your flight, even at the risk of giving other passengers the impression you are a germophobe!

Drink enough water to keep yourself hydrated

When you board your plane, remember that the cabin and circulated air are very dry. The benefits of drinking water prior to boarding and during the flight will help keep your body hydrated and you feeling your best as you travel. For every 60-90 minutes of flight time, drink at least eight ounces of water (you almost always need more water than you think), and try not to get distracted from your goal of full hydration. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Try to avoid carbonated beverages, alcohol and coffee while on your flight.

Wear sunscreen—even in the winter

No matter what season you’re heading into, sunscreen is a must. The biggest mistake people make is not applying it correctly or consistently. It’s important to always use sunscreen—regardless of how sunny it is outside—on your face and other exposed areas to help protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The skin on your neck, ears, face and chest is especially vulnerable to prolonged exposure.

If you don’t like wearing sunscreen or find yourself without it, SPF clothing products are designed to protect wearers from the sun’s rays. These items are rated based on their ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). A rating of 20 is good; ratings of 40 and above are excellent. A UPF rating of 25 indicates that the garment fabric only allows roughly 4% of ultraviolet radiation to pass through it.

If you do get sunburned, cold compresses will help bring relief. Consider taking ibuprofen several times a day, and be extra cautious in the sun for the next several days.


Traveling with medication

Create a medical checklist for travel to help keep track of health issues

If you have a medical condition that requires occasional or constant care, make a master list to help you and others keep track of your treatment needs. The list should include the specific health issue, the name and phone number of the physician who regularly treats you for it, and the name and dosage of medication you take to manage your symptoms. You should list all of these details for each medical condition you feel should be included.

In addition, include all medications that you take regularly along with their dosage. Be sure to include over-the-counter medications, prescriptions and any supplements you may need.

Label and store your medications appropriately

Prescription medications should always be in marked bottles labeled with your name; if you are flying to your destination, these bottles should be in your carry-on luggage to avoid loss or extreme temperature changes. If you’re driving, remember to not leave medications in your vehicle for extended periods. If you have medications that need to be refrigerated, specialized bags, thermos containers and coolers work well to keep medication cold while traveling.

Make sure you’re prepared for the whole length of your trip

Plan ahead to make sure you have enough medication to last the entirety of your travels—it will be a lot easier and a lot less stressful than trying to find a physician last-minute for any missing medications. If you do happen to run out, it is generally possible for providers to write new prescriptions, but you  would most likely need to visit to an urgent care center; most primary care providers will not call in a prescription if you’ve traveled outside of your home state.

Additionally, most insurance plans may insist you be seen for an acute problem prior to getting your prescription refill, so save yourself time and money by taking all medications with you in a supply that will last you the full length of your trip. There are many steps you can take to stay healthy when you’re on the go; laying a foundation of basic good practices is the best way to keep you and your family healthy while you travel all year round!


The expert family medicine providers at the Des Moines University Clinic can help you and your loved ones stay healthy all year round. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit the DMU Clinic website or call 515-271-1710.

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Nancy Akins, D.O.

Dr. Akins is an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Internal Medicine at Des Moines University. Dr. Akins served on the family medicine faculty at Des Moines University from 1979 to 2002 before moving to an ambulatory urgent care facility on the Walt Disney World property in 2003. Dr. Akins was welcomed back to DMU in 2019 where she now focuses her time on seeing patients in the Family Medicine clinic and teaching in case-based learning and patient simulation labs.

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