Travel Healthy

A road warrior's guide to preventing or overcoming out-of-town illness

A road warrior's guide to preventing or overcoming out-of-town illness

sick on airplane women holding tissue to nose
Anyone who travels frequently has had the misfortune of getting sick while flying or on the road. AirportParkingReservations.com
washing hands with soap
A physician Facebook friend believes that travelers’ best weapon against illness is washing hands frequently. KnoxvilleCPR.com
medicine packed for travel
Prepare. Pack as if you might get sick. Greyeyedwanderer.com
sick on airplane women holding tissue to nose
washing hands with soap
medicine packed for travel

Editor’s note: CultureMap Houston contributor Jane Howze flies weekly for business and offers some good advice for staying healthy while traveling — or getting care away from home — whether you’re out of town for business or pleasure. In addition to her own experiences, she solicited advice from her fellow road warriors.

For 30 years of weekly business travel, I have rarely gotten sick on a business trip, and those few times have created an indelible memory. But I’m writing this column now with more than a casual interest.

A recent combination vacation and business trip to Hawaii and Tokyo has left me with chills, fever, sore throat — the symptoms seemed endless. Looking back, I made several mistakes that may not have prevented my becoming sick but could have mitigated it.  

Posting a casual question about getting sick on the road on my Facebook page led to tons of responses: stories of hives, food poisoning, influenza and trying to get out of China during the bird flu epidemic while being sick (though not with bird flu).

One marketing executive with a global financial institution contracted pleurisy on a trip to London and was forbidden to fly until he improved. Fortunately, he was in a five-star hotel with a physician on call. The doctor visited him three times a day until he could fly again, and all charges were added to the hotel bill, which his employer happily paid.

Another client broke her leg in Kyoto only to have the hotel send her to the hospital with a translator and envelope filled with yen — and no, she didn’t break her leg on the grounds of the hotel.

The managing partner of an executive search firm that recruits healthcare executives reported being so sick while she was pregnant that she had to ask her hospital clients to borrow a hospital bed until she was able to stand up without being sick. She laughingly said, “It pays to have healthcare clients.”

Not surprisingly, most of the people who shared stories also had advice. Here is the collective wisdom of my wonderful Facebook community:

Prepare
Pack as if you might get sick. Most physicians will prescribe antibiotics for long-time patients. Don’t be caught without them, especially if you are traveling outside of the United States. If you get occasional migraine headaches, don’t leave home without your medication. If you travel frequently, there is no reason not to get a flu shot.

A pound of prevention
A physician Facebook friend believes that travelers’ best weapon against illness is washing their hands frequently. As for people who wear masks, my friend commented that they look like kooks, and the masks offer no proven benefit unless the it contains a micro filter and seals around your face.

Other travelers believe that germs are spread by airplane tray tables and are quick to use Purell and sanitizing sprays. One friend who rarely gets sick refuses to touch the seat back pockets or use the airplane restrooms.

Safety in numbers
It is frightening to be out of town in a weakened state and wondering how you will get to your business meeting, deposition or presentation. Many years ago, my partner and I were heading to Atlanta for a “beauty contest” to compete for a new client. Midway through the flight, he turned a peculiar shade of green and became dizzy.

When we landed, we knew he would not be able to get through a new client presentation, and he got back on the plane and returned to Houston. If he had been by himself, I’m not sure what would have happened. Similarly, if you do become ill, it is nice to have a co-worker who is available to get you to a doctor, pick up a prescription or otherwise help.

Stay in hotels with resources
The further away from home you are, the more important it is to stay in a hotel that has access to doctors or healthcare facilities. Most major hotels that cater to business travelers have doctors available. Some will even make house calls — for a price.

Pace yourself
Many of my friends who travel internationally advise knowing your body and respecting its limits. An international trade executive recently traveled to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait before returning to Nashville four days later.

He said that after two days of nonstop activity where he ran on adrenaline, he listened to his body shouting “enough” and took off the next day, sleeping 10 hours and working at a slower pace. My friend also commented that it is important to eat healthily and drink alcohol minimally until your body has adjusted to the new time zone.

Be willing to improvise
If you find yourself sick on the road, do not wait to get help. If you don’t want to see a hotel doctor, perhaps a friend or business associate in that city could recommend a doctor. Those with today’s typical social media contacts should be able to mine them for medical resources.

One colleague wrote about taking her young children to Disneyland, where she became violently ill. She hired a nanny through the hotel who took her kids to the attractions. Another friend paid restaurants to deliver chicken soup.

Don’t be cheap
If you can’t get home immediately, don’t avoid seeing a doctor merely because the physician is not in your healthcare network. Although you might not want to spring for a house call (which was going to be more than $1,000 at my hotel in Japan), get medical care.

Similarly, don’t rush home just to avoid the cost of extra nights in a hotel. Many friends wrote of riding out their illness in hotels while others talked about the psychological value of getting home to recover in their own beds. 

Don’t beat yourself up
When I get sick, I tend to wonder where I slipped up. Was it failure to get a flu shot, not wiping down the tray table or working too hard?

Although working too hard, flying too much and not taking precautions can cause you to catch a bug, you can also come down with something if you are home, get eight hours of sleep, take vitamins, etc. Sooner or later everyone will get sick.

And, like everything else, your illness, too, shall pass. With a little rest and luck you will recover to work another day and enjoy another trip.