Tips for Road Trips and Air Travel

Packing and health tips for traveling on a plane or in a car

Car Travel Tips - Packing the Car

When you pack up the car, make sure to throw in:

Pack a Traveler’s Health Kit.

This will ensure you have the essentials to take care of minor health problems and help prevent the worsening of pre-existing medical conditions. The contents of the kit will depend on your destination, the length of the trip, type of travel and your family’s existing medical conditions.

  • A first aid kit
  • Healthful snack options such as nuts, dried fruit, granola bars and mini carrots to avoid the convenience of fast-food restaurants
  • A cooler with plenty of bottled water and juice
  • A car cell phone charger
  • Bug spray with DEET
  • Jumper cables, flares and other necessities to help you should your car break down

Make sure you:

  • Bring car-friendly games to keep everyone engaged and happy.
  • Schedule breaks to stretch and take in some fresh air.
  • Drive safely. Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of injury among travelers. If you are driving in another country, pay attention to local driving customs and road signs.
  • Don’t leave valuables in the car. If you must, make sure to lock them in the trunk where they aren’t visible to others.
Travel Safety

Airplane Travel Tips

Air travel can be stressful if you don’t plan ahead. The thought of security concerns, long lines, and missed, delayed or canceled flights can cause anxiety. Make sure to leave plenty of time to get to the airport and through the security checkpoint to avoid any added stress.

You may want to bring comforts from home like a pillow or a travel-size bottle of your favorite moisturizer to fight the dry cabin air, especially for long flights. Check with the airline ahead of time to find out whether there are items that are prohibited on the flight. Your carry-on bag should contain all the essentials, including any prescription medications you use, along with an information sheet about medical conditions you and/or family members have in the unlikely event that someone needs to be treated during your trip.

Be prepared for other concerns for air travelers, including jet lag, ear pain and the formation of blood clots on long journeys.

The Drag of Jet Lag

Crossing multiple time zones can disrupt your internal clock and lead to “ jet lag.” Common symptoms, which are temporary until your body adjusts, include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Muscle soreness
  • Upset stomach

Tips to combat jet lag:

  • Get plenty of rest before you leave.
  • Drink plenty of water and stay away from alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate you.
  • Once you arrive at your destination, try to adjust your sleeping and eating schedules to the new time zone. Push yourself to stay awake until bedtime.
  • Exercise when you can while you’re away.
  • Try to avoid relying on sleep medicines.

You may have heard that melatonin can help alleviate jet lag, but it is not well studied. Talk with your health care provider before using melatonin or any other sleep aids.

Oh, my ears!

Some people are especially sensitive to the rapid change in air pressure during takeoff and landing. Your ears may feel plugged; you usually feel a “ pop” once the pressure is balanced.

Tips to ease the pain in your ears:

  • Consider taking a decongestant before you fly
  • Chew gum, yawn or swallow frequently
  • Talk with your doctor about special earplugs
  • If you have a baby, you may want to breastfeed or encourage your baby to suck on a bottle or pacifier during takeoff and landing
Avoiding blood clots

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) refers to a blood clot in a vein, usually in the lower leg or thigh. It is likely due to prolonged inactivity, which can occur during longer flights with cramped seating. That’s why it’s been dubbed “ economy class syndrome.” In some cases, the clot can break off and move up into the lung, which can lead to pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal condition.

Symptoms usually include aches in your calf or thigh that worsen over several days and possible swelling in the area around or below the clot. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include rapid breathing, shortness of breath, pain when breathing, chest pain that travels up the shoulder, fever and fainting.

Tips to reduce your risk of DVT

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Go for a walk up and down the airplane aisle (follow flight attendant instructions about where you can or cannot go)
  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • Stretch your calf muscles and avoid crossing your legs while sitting
  • Ask your health care provider about support stockings

If you’re at risk for blood clots, you may want to ask your health care provider whether you should use a support stocking or take a baby aspirin (81 mg) before takeoff. People with cancer, heart disease and those who are obese or pregnant are at higher risk. Smoking and taking birth control pills also raise your risk.

Other flight concerns

The air inside the cabin is dry, so you should drink plenty of fluids, preferably bottled water. Children are especially prone to dehydration. Caffeinated or alcoholic beverages can dehydrate you. Staying hydrated, being well rested and having good hygiene will help you avoid airborne illnesses. Be sure to wash your hands and use sanitizing wipes to remove any germs you may have picked up from fellow passengers.

If you are pregnant, air travel is usually not permitted after 36 weeks. You should talk with your health care provider about travel plans during your pregnancy.

Some people with lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may need supplemental oxygen during the flight to offset the lower air pressure and oxygen levels. Check with the airline well in advance to find out their policies and the cost of renting equipment. Most airlines also require a doctor’s letter to confirm the need for oxygen and other information, such as oxygen flow rate.

© 2014. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.

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