University of Sourthern California


How to Stay Healthy While Traveling

A crowded airport terminal

There are many reasons to travel. Some people travel for work to expand business opportunities and meet with clients around the world. Others travel to visit distant family or to expose themselves to new experiences and cultures. Travel can help lower stress, improve mental well-being and even help boost creativity.

However, travel isn’t without health risks. While the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted these risks, catching an illness or having an unexpected health issue while far from home has always been a possibility. Fortunately, there are many methods for how to stay healthy while traveling that are easy to incorporate into their travel plans and can mitigate these risks.

Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling

Before your journey even begins, taking these steps for staying healthy while traveling can minimize the odds of losing travel time to illness and help make your trip memorable and fulfilling.

1. Schedule a Doctor’s Appointment

Allow plenty of time for both a medical and dental checkup before traveling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you schedule an appointment with your physician at least one month before your trip. If you’re traveling abroad, you may also need vaccinations before entering a particular country. Additionally, you should address potential dental problems before heading out of the country. It’s also important to get your medications filled and bring along any other prescriptions that may need to be refilled for medical, dental or vision concerns. Finally, it’s advisable to check with your insurance provider for information about coverage while you’re away.

2. Be Prepared

A good proactive step to stay healthy while traveling is doing your research before leaving home. Check travel warnings with the U.S. Department of State, and sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive travel warnings and alerts. You’ll be made aware of issues such as medical outbreaks; severe weather including hurricanes, earthquakes and flooding; and other natural occurrences that may affect the health and safety of travelers. Knowing what lies ahead before flying or cruising to your locale allows you to prepare ahead of time.

3. Pack Health Items

Pack a mini-health kit of essential first-aid items before your trip. This should include pain relievers, cold packs, bandages, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, a thermometer and tweezers. It should also include extra doses of allergy or prescribed medication. It’s also wise to pack essentials for dealing with personal issues, such as antacids for upset stomachs and extra feminine hygiene products.

If you anticipate the need for a prescription refill on an extended trip, bring a note from your doctor (translated into the language of your destination if necessary) on letterhead validating your need for specific medicines. Include documents for medical equipment you may need for airport security. Pack a list containing the names, addresses and contact numbers of family or friends in case of an emergency; your insurance company with a policy or identification number; and the number and location of the local embassy.

4. Take a Walk

When you’re going to be on an airplane for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to walk around the airport for 30 minutes before boarding the plane. This will keep your blood circulation normal for as long as possible before you’re required to sit in cramped conditions. Drinking water during your walk can help prepare for a plane’s dehydrating effects.

5. Be Active During Your Flight

Whether traveling by plane or switching to train travel upon arrival, being active and keeping your body in motion during long stationary periods is important to your health. When flying for long periods, to keep the blood flowing and prevent leg cramps, periodically rotate your ankles and lift your feet. For extended train travel, stay active and move around as much as possible.

6. Stay Hydrated

Flying naturally dehydrates the body, so it’s important to make staying hydrated a top priority. Dehydration can lead to light-headedness, headaches and a sense of abnormality when you deplane. Drinking water consistently during the trip will help you ward off dehydration and keep you feeling centered. It’s also advisable to refrain from alcohol during your flight, as it can promote dehydration.

7. Watch What You Eat and Drink

Traveling abroad can pose heightened risks involving contaminated food and drink, leading to a condition called traveler’s diarrhea. To stay healthy while traveling and minimize this risk, be mindful of what you consume during your trip. Be cautious about eating raw foods or food from street vendors, particularly if the food isn’t served hot. Avoid drinking tap water in countries where contaminants have been known to cause illness or infection. This includes avoiding anything made with water straight from the tap, such as ice or fountain drinks.

8. Post-Travel Follow-Up

When you return home from your trip, continue good health practices by scheduling an appointment with your primary doctor as soon as possible to make sure all is well. If your doctor detects an issue, be sure to share details of any activity that may have put you at risk. If you haven’t experienced illness while traveling but begin to feel ill once you return home, seek medical help immediately.

Why Is Staying Healthy Important?

Staying healthy is important because illness can seriously affect travel. Becoming ill can disrupt a vacation or other trip, and being sick away from your usual caregivers can make the experience even more stressful. Also, travel can expose you to different illnesses that you don’t have a natural resistance to. Finally, illness can have ramifications beyond your personal health. Contracting COVID-19 while overseas, for example, may mean having to extend your stay to obey the country’s guidelines, sometimes for weeks.

Help Promote Healthy Travel

A healthy traveler is a happy traveler. By ensuring healthy habits before, during and after a trip, people can fully experience the benefits of travel. Public health professionals promote strategies like these to maintain communities’ health. By providing useful and practical information on navigating the ever-shifting travel landscape, they make it easier for people to experience the joys of travel.

USC’s online Master of Public Health program and its six concentrations can help prepare you to excel in this essential and rewarding role. The program can help you curate the knowledge and skills needed to understand the nuances of public health and how they apply to the travel environment. Learn how USC can help you become a leader in public health.

Recommended Readings

Choosing a Public Health Concentration: What You Need to Know

Choosing the Right Diet for Your Health

Important Vaccines in History


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Choose Safe Food and Drinks When Traveling

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Traveler’s Diarrhea

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Your Survival Guide to Safe and Healthy Travel

Cleveland Clinic, Dehydration

National Blood Clot Alliance, In-Flight Fitness

Time, “What to Do If You Test Positive for COVID-19 While Traveling”

U.S. Department of State, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

U.S. Department of State, Travel Advisories

WebMD, How Travel Affects Mental Health