the science of nutrition

Boost Your Family's Immune System While Traveling This Summer

Paula James-Martinez

Boost Your Family's Immune System While Traveling This Summer

Summer break in full swing is the perfect time for family vacations, road trips, and beach getaways. However, along with all the excitement, there is also crowded transportation, messed-up sleep, and let’s be honest, a little bit of stress involved in getting everyone to your destination. If you are like me and a pretty seasoned traveling parent, you will likely have also had to deal with your fair share of vacation illnesses, which are never fun for anyone involved, though I have had some interesting badly translated conversations at foreign pharmacies.

So as my 7-year-old and I head off to visit family in Europe, I'm sharing a few things on my to-do list that I have learned help us stay happy and healthy even after a long transatlantic flight or two.

  1. Stay Hydrated

Hydration is key to a robust immune system. I know, I know, it’s not easy to do all the things and drink enough water. We have all seen and, in my case, been those memes. Travel can easily disrupt your usual drinking habits, and flying in particular can really dehydrate you, so make a conscious effort to drink plenty of water. Carry reusable water bottles for each family member and refill them regularly. Adding a slice of lemon or cucumber can make it more enticing, especially for kids who are more likely to be running around in hot sunshine and less likely to prioritize their liquid needs.

  1. Prioritize Sleep

I know, this is much easier said than done. Travel can often mean irregular sleep schedules, but prioritizing rest is crucial for immune health. Try to maintain a consistent bedtime routine, even on the road. Pack travel-friendly items like sleep masks, earplugs, and white noise apps to create a restful environment no matter where you are. Needed’s sleep support is a lifesaver for me when suffering jet-lag as well as resisting all attempts to see what time it is back home.

  1. Eat Immune-Boosting Foods

Fuel your family's bodies with nutrient-rich foods that support immune function. Incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables, such as citrus fruits, berries, and leafy greens - I’ve found the easiest way while traveling is to start everyone's day with a smoothie. Snacks like nuts, yogurt, and granola bars are easy to carry and provide essential vitamins and minerals. When dining out, I know vacation is often a time for treats and that is wonderful, but opting for balanced meals with a variety of nutrients at least once a day will help your body combat illness.

  1. Practice Good Hygiene

Good hygiene practices are vital, especially when traveling. Encourage frequent hand washing with soap and water, and carry hand sanitizer for situations where washing isn't possible. Disinfect high-touch surfaces like airplane trays, door handles, and electronic devices with antibacterial wipes.

  1. Stay Active

As much as trips away are a time to relax, try and incorporate physical activity into your travel plans. Exercise boosts the immune system and keeps everyone feeling their best. I’ve found it also helps with jet lag to physically exhaust kids during the day in the hopes they then fall asleep at a decent hour. Explore local parks, take walking tours, or simply play a game of frisbee on the beach. Keeping active as a family not only supports health but also creates fun memories.

  1. Manage Stress

Travel can be stressful, which can weaken the immune system. Practice stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga - my personal favorite is pink noise in my AirPods while on public transport. Ensure downtime in your itinerary for relaxation and leisure, allowing everyone to unwind and recharge. Because as much as there might be so much to see, activity burnout and overstimulation are going to put pressure on everyone both physically and emotionally.

  1. Supplement Wisely

While a balanced diet is the best way to get necessary nutrients, travel can make it challenging to eat perfectly all the time. Consider bringing along multivitamins or supplements like Needed’s Immune support as a backup. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best options for your family.

  1. Listen to Your Body

Encourage everyone to listen to their bodies and speak up if they’re feeling unwell. Early intervention can prevent a minor issue from becoming a major problem. Carry a basic first aid kit with essentials like band-aids, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any prescription medications your family might need and do a little prior research on how to seek medical help at your destination if needed.

The Bottom Line

Traveling is a wonderful way to bond as a family and create lifelong memories. It can also be exhausting and hard to navigate at times, but by giving yourself and your family a little grace and taking these steps to support your immune system, you can help to ensure that your adventures are filled with fun. Stay healthy, stay safe, and enjoy every moment of your summer travels!

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Paula James-Martinez, Filmmaker and Editorial Director

Paula James Martinez is a writer, filmmaker, and women's health advocate. She is the director and producer of the documentary Born Free, which investigates the truth about birth and maternal health America. Sits on the boards of non-profit organization "The Mother Lovers" and "4Kira4Moms" to raise awareness of the US maternal health crisis, and co-hosts the parenting podcast "Scruunchy."