Many readers have told me that the first thing that happens as soon as they go on vacation is that they get sick. Could be, of course, that when your body finally relaxes from being away from all the stresses at work and on the home front, it is finally able to let down its defenses and some nasty little bug takes advantage of that. Or simply that the anxiety of traveling itself can make you sick. A friend of mine who was deathly afraid to fly popped two Xanax and had a couple of glasses of wine at an airport bar before takeoff. Suffice it to say, she was feeling no pain when she boarded. How was she to know that the plane would develop some sort of engine problem and everyone had to eventually exit while still at the gate? So she ended up having to be carried off the aircraft by security, and was placed on a couch in the business class lounge, blabbering incoherently, until she was able to take the next flight. Not exactly the greatest start to her trip.
But making the flight may just be the start of your worries. Ultra-dry air and long periods spent in the same position can do their own forms of stressful damage. So to make life easier, I have consulted a top dermatologist, fitness trainer, and medical expert who share with us some must-do survival tips to avoid a not-so-happy holiday season.
Let’s begin with back, neck and shoulder problems the causes of which can range from arthritis to muscle strains. These areas can get further aggravated by having to lug around heavy luggage. And sitting still for an extended time during a flight– with or without a three-hundred- pound person next to you whose ‘flow’ takes up half of your seat – doesn’t help. “Most seats also encourage back rounding which puts additional pressure on your spine,” says Dr. Michael A. Gleiber, a South Florida Board-Certified Orthopedic Spine Surgeon. “So as soon as permission is given, tilt back your seat, place a small travel pillow behind your shoulders and another behind your lower back. Be sure, too, to get up and walk around the plane, or at least to the restroom, once every two hours.”
Okay, now we get to our destination. “Sleeping in an unfamiliar place, such as a hotel bed or guest room can also cause back pain,” continues Dr. Gleiber. “So ask for some extra pillows to ensure a more comfortable night’s sleep. If one isn’t available, try a rolled-up blanket or towel to cushion your body in the bed. When resting on your side, place a pillow between your legs and a small rolled towel at your neck. If you sleep on your back, slide a small pillow beneath your knees. And try to avoid sleeping on your belly.”
Since traveling also puts additional stress on your skin, I turned to San Diego board certified dermatologist Dr. Susan Stuart’s for a few beauty suggestions, starting with ones for frequent flyers.
“The re-circulated air on planes is five times drier than the desert, and the lack of humidity causes loss of moisturizer,” she tells me. “The air inside the cabin usually has a humidity level of 10 to 20 percent—much lower than a comfortable typical indoor humidity of 30 to 65 percent. All of this combines to equal skin desperately in need of moisture.” She further contends that while most people realize that flying can cause skin to dry out and breakout, they may not know why. “Whenever the environment is moisture-free, such as inflight,” she explains, “the air actually draws moisture from wherever it can. Dry skin will tend to get drier and oily skin will get even oilier to compensate for dehydration.”
Dr. Stuart recommends the following skin savers, whether you’re taking a quick weekend getaway or going for the long haul:
1) Un-Happy hour: Don’t drink alcohol on the plane. While it may help to relax you if you’re nervous about flying, it also dries out your skin. Opt for water, and read a magazine or book or bring along your iPod. Having something to distract you will help you as much, if not more, than a glass of wine. If you just can’t pass it up, drink lots of water afterward.
2) Bring a hydrating mist onboard: Regularly spraying a couple of pumps onto your face during the flight instantly hydrates it and also helps cool you down if the cabin is overheated.
3) Time to take off: Your makeup, that is. If you wear any, keep it to a minimum on the flight. The dry cabin air can also exacerbate your makeup’s drying-out effects and can lead to breakouts and your pores becoming clogged. Instead, opt for tinted moisturizer; and use lip balm in lieu of lipstick as your lips, too, feel dryer in the air.
Now let’s backtrack a bit and talk about airport food, either before you board or when you have to wait to change flights. Food courts can be considered a sub-category in the American cuisine food chain – and not a healthy one at that. Kiosks loaded with fatty hamburgers, doughnuts, and greasy Chinese food rival only those in malls, amusement parks, and rest stops off the highway. (The Lawyer, alas, considers Cinnabon outlets the portal to gastronomic heaven.)
“Carbs and sugar alleviate stress, and airports stress people out, especially during the holidays, “says Franci Cohen, a nutritionist, exercise physiologist and fitness instructor in New York City. “So, while it may feel good to inhale a day’s worth of calories in 10 minutes, the combination of a high-sodium meal and air travel equals a very bloated body from head to toe.” Franci feels, though, that it is possible to find healthy food options at airports – you just have to look beyond the hotdog and fries.
“Eat before you leave for the airport,” she recommends, “or pack your carry-on with fruit, vegetables, and granola bars. Also, avoid the beverage service on planes. Stick to water, you will have a happier flight and feel revived upon arriving at your destination.”
Finally, many fitness fanatics find it difficult to follow their normal exercise plan while on the road. Unfamiliar environments, tightly scheduled itineraries, or lack of equipment may hamper even your best intentions for staying fit. When planning your next trip, Mike Giliotti, certified personal trainer in New York City, offers the following tips for putting together an exercise program that travels with you.
“If you’ve worked hard to establish a good fitness routine, going on a trip doesn’t have to mean your healthy habits will be derailed,” he insists. “You can keep your momentum and endorphins flowing and maintain your fitness level when traveling.” To accomplish this, Mike suggests asking your travel agent about hotels that offer fully equipped gyms, pools, and/or other fitness facilities. And bring along a CD or iPod with your favorite music and work out in the privacy of your hotel room.” Finally, look into different exercise opportunities. “If you’re spending time at a ski mountain this holiday season, for example, check out the snowshoeing trails or take a cross-country ski lesson. If you’re headed towards warmer weather, most resorts offer outdoor activities like beach volleyball and snorkeling.”
Just try to stay away from the Cinnabons on the way home!