Change is hard
Taking ourselves outside of our normal routine can be stressful, according to Howard Tinsley, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at Southern Illinois University. “All of those things that fit into our daily routine are disrupted when we’re on vacation,” said Tinsley, who specializes in the effects of leisure behavior. “We may sleep in, we may get up earlier, we may eat differently, we may do different things that create stresses that we are not equipped to handle.” And stress from change can increase production of the chemical cortisol that leads to a weakening of our immune system. Some easy activities you can do while on vacation to lower your cortisol levels include exercising, meditating, and listening to your favorite music. Try relaxing activities like a walking tour, a concert, or just peacing out on your hotel balcony with your morning coffee. Don’t miss these subtle signs that stress is making you sick.
You treat vacation like a job
Too much planning and the structuring of activities as things that you “gotta do” while on vacation can turn your leisure time into a job, according to Tinsley—and a rigid schedule doesn’t bode well for stress levels. “On vacation, a person can become goal-oriented,” adds Tinsley. Focus on one main goal a day you’d like to accomplish, instead of a lot of little activities to check off the list. If something doesn’t work out, stay flexible. If you’d like to stay at one activity longer and that means not making it to something else, that’s okay. “It’s important to maintain a sense of freedom of choice,” said Tinsley. “That’s one of the critical elements of leisure.” Over-planning is just one of many travel mistakes that make you more stressed.
For you, vacation is like a scavenger hunt
Sometimes vacations become a scavenger hunt where you seek to collect experiences; those activities don’t necessarily reflect quality, but rather quantity. Some people, “want to get a wide variety of experiences so they have great stories to tell when they get back,” said Tinsley. “The individual's personal interests get really lost in that approach.” And that can lead to immunity-busting stress. Instead, choose activities that have an intrinsic value to you. Something you find to be compelling or interesting or that you’ve always wanted to do will be more enjoyable in the long-run than a string of more mediocre activities you did just to say you did it.
That plane is a germy place
Airplanes are notorious for being breeding grounds for germs that can get you sick. The shared public spaces combined with the low-humidity and low-pressure of an airplane’s cabin is the perfect storm for sickness. To prevent catching a cold while airborne, bring your own disinfecting wipes, wash your hands often, and stay hydrated. Here are more things to avoid on a plane to prevent getting sick.
Boats, cars, buses (you name it!) make you queasy
Traveling can cause nausea, vomiting, and headaches when the balance center of your brain sense that you’re moving when your body is not. To avoid motion sickness, try moving your head as little as possible and staring straight ahead during travel. Also, try not to eat a big meal or drink too excessively before a long trip. Preventive medications such as antiemetics, which reduce nausea, and antihistamines, which may make you drowsy, can help. If you already have motion sickness, eating crackers, drinking fizzy beverages like ginger ale, and getting fresh air are all known tricks to help relieve any discomfort.
You've got a case of jet lag
Your body has its own circadian rhythms, which operate like an internal clock and helps to keep you up during the day and asleep at night. When you travel, your circadian rhythm becomes altered from the changing time zones; the farther you travel, the more you’re going to feel it. Symptoms of jet lag include disturbed sleep patterns, mood changes, stomach problems such as constipation or diarrhea, and a general feeling of malaise. If you're a frequent traveler, certain medications or light therapy might be helpful for you to get rid of jet lag. You can also consider these natural remedies for insomnia if you're struggling to fall asleep because of jet lag.
You're sleeping way less
Vacation is the perfect time for jammed-packed days. That means waking up early as well as staying out late. Even a short-term lack of sleep can further depress your immunity and make you more vulnerable to getting sick on vacation. Incorporate some downtime into your day. Taking a nap for 30 minutes or less is a good way to re-energize your body and not feel groggy. Check out these tricks for the perfect nap.
Ick! Your hotel room is a petri dish
Some of the dirtiest parts of a hotel room are commonly shared—but rarely cleaned—items like the remotr control or phone. If you're a real germaphobe, put your remote in a plastic bag instead of touching it with your bare hands. Disinfectant wipes also come in handy when swiping over a hotel’s mini fridge’s handle, telephone, or hair dryer. Never leave your toothbrush on the bathroom counter, but instead opt to keep it propped up in a disposable cup. Take these surprising steps to protect your valuables in your hotel room.
You overdid it in the sun
While getting a little vitamin D can be good for the body, getting too much sun can lead to sun poisoning, or intense cases of sunburn from UV light exposure. Just 15 minutes outside can lead to sunburn, though it could take a few hours for you to notice symptoms. Try not to get burnt in the first place by thoroughly applying sunscreen (preferably at least 30 SPF or higher), and reapplying every two hours. Don't make these sunscreen application mistakes! Drink plenty of fluids and stay in the shade. Try to limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when its rays are strongest.
Mental stress! There are too many choices
Some people choose not to plan or structure their vacations not all. But this doesn’t mean less stress than a packed schedule. “Sometimes, there’s less structure built in, it's more unpredictable for you,” said Frank Farley, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and former president of the American Psychological Association. “What are you going to do? That’s stressful. Uncertainty is one of the most paramount forces of human fear.” Farley explains that stress occurs when you deviate too far from what you are used to. Strike a balance between structure and flexibility. If you are someone that doesn’t do well leaving your comfort zone, opt for vacations close to home or filling your time with an activity you’re already familiar with such as cooking or playing a sport. These will provide familiar touch points for you.