One thing is for sure: in today’s modern world, and as we recover from the impact of a pandemic, we are busier than ever. Another certainty is just how many of us are constantly on the move, with over 900 million people traveling internationally every year. Whether you’re traveling for pleasure or business, many do so without ever considering the health risks and security concerns to which we are exposed. Unless you’re someone like me, who contracted an illness while on a business trip in 2017 and also had a sketchy encounter with a rideshare driver. At some point in our lives, it’s likely safe to say that most of us have been to an airport, flown on an airplane, stayed in a hotel, arranged for rideshares, rented a car, visited overseas, or perhaps even experienced environmentally associated issues during your travels. But just how safe is all of this?
I have traveled significantly for both tourism and business throughout my life. However, it wasn’t until several years ago that I became educated about all the potential risks associated with traveling. Sometimes, it’s the lessons we are forced to learn from the cards we were dealt that provide an opportunity to move forward in life with a different mindset after obtaining the whole “live and learn” idiom. I became my own best researcher because I wanted to minimize my future risks in the journeys I’d be taking. I also wanted to learn what I could possibly do to lessen the overall impact they may have.
You might wake up one day with your airline check-in completed and luggage ready to go before opening your rideshare app to arrange a pick-up. Maybe this is routine travel, or maybe you’re going on vacation. Regardless, you’re headed for the airport. Sounds pretty normal, right? Maybe the majority of us are aware of the security process, rules, and regulations, but just how aware are you of the radiation associated with backscatter machines and the potential ambient pollution? Some travelers may be anxious or nervous about their upcoming flight, but for some, like me, it’s knowing the hit to my health I am about to face. In my arrivals at airports across the globe, I’ve also experienced an array of concerns, especially with mold. I’ve seen visible mold in several airports, and inhaling mycotoxins from mold is something that really upsets me when this should not be an ongoing issue. We’re all paying high prices for everything at airports, yet those high prices can’t seem to cover the maintenance these facilities obviously need. They emphasize security processes, but how about helping protect the health of your customers?
You’re at your gate, ready to board your plane. Sounds pretty normal too, right? Unless you think about potential neurotoxins, toxic fumes from engine oil and pushback from the gate, significant levels of EMFs, low levels of cosmic radiation, potential blood clots, ear issues from air pressure, dehydration, and chemicals from cabin cleaning. The one thing I dread (besides a long taxi on the runway) is the horrid fumes I smell when the plane is preparing to leave the gate. It’s downright nauseating and can’t possibly be doing my health any favors. Some will argue that cabin air is unhealthy, yet some will disagree. I have my own opinions on that. One thing I do know for sure is that if someone is coughing and sneezing throughout the flight within close proximity to me, I’ll probably end up sick days later. So when it comes to cabin air, if it were so healthy, why is that? Germs should be the more obvious risk to us all.
If you’re traveling overseas, there’s a much larger health risk, like serious diseases such as Malaria or Hepatitis. We need to be more aware of what we are eating and drinking too, as there are more food and waterborne illnesses in other countries, like parasites. Insects can also be more problematic. Besides health risks, there are security factors too. We have acts of terrorism, plus natural disasters that can happen, like the hurricane I experienced while onboard a cruise ship. I can remember the swaying in my steps and the dresser drawers rolling out and slamming back in as I tried to sleep through the intense motion of the raging seas. I also remember seeing my spaghetti Alfredo I ate for dinner in the trash can sometime during the night from motion sickness.
You arrive safely at the airport. Maybe you’re like me, already feeling like a Petri dish, with brain fog, semi-clogged ears, and ready for a shower. Or maybe you’ve never really felt that way and haven’t thought much about your flight other than you’ve arrived somewhere a lot faster. You’ve picked up your luggage from baggage claim and are ready for the next leg of your trip. Maybe that’s a shuttle to your hotel, grabbing a rideshare, or perhaps renting a car. A rideshare can definitely have risks, especially for women. There have been numerous headlines and articles written about the topic. Like I mentioned earlier, I had my own sketchy experience that has left me looking for alternative and safer ways to commute. I even came up with a make-believe story to tell my rideshare driver once that I had just come from a hospital where I was chipped for a study being conducted, and I was being tracked, plus would be until the completion of the study. I just had a bad feeling about my safety and needed to think fast. Luckily, I made it home safe, but not without numerous curious questions that made me uneasy from my driver, and one reason for creating my story. If you’re renting a car, you’re in better control, though, just how well-maintained is the vehicle you’re renting, and has it been smoke-free?
Once travelers arrive at their destination, many often have accommodations made to stay at an Airbnb or hotel. Perhaps having a background in home inspection gives me knowledge that some travelers overlook, but I’m well aware of the risks associated. Mold is not only an issue at airports, but I’ve seen it in severe circumstances in hotels. The window AC units are infamous for housing mold, you’ll notice mold in bathrooms on occasion, as well as see it on ceilings. Again, we’re paying high prices for some of the nicest hotels there are, yet why do I see this ongoing problem? Areas where there have been floods that led to hotels taking in high floodwater levels are more prone to mold damage too, especially if they weren’t properly remediated. Certainly, we’ve seen headlines about carbon monoxide killing guests and Legionella being discovered too. Let’s not forget bed bugs. Surely we all have known for a while those blood-sucking critters were a higher risk. There are also more common health concerns like deodorizers being used, potential poor air quality, and certain allergens, especially if your hotel allows pets who may leave dander behind. Another area of concern is security, especially for women traveling alone. Certain female guests have been targeted, and it’s been proven before how easy entering another guest’s room can actually be, as Inside Edition produced a story on that very topic.
After you’ve screened your room and accepted it for your stay, the risks associated with your travels don’t stop there. For me, the illness I contracted was traced to a hotel shower where my medical team and I believe contaminated water found entry into my breast ducts. Never again have I viewed taking a shower the same way. The bacteria I contracted not only led me to develop granulomatous mastitis but also led me to write a successful book, Diagnosis Detective: Curing Granulomatous Mastitis, in hopes of helping other patients, travelers, and health care professionals across the globe. However, there are also flesh-eating bacteria, brain-eating amoebas, fungal infections like Valley Fever, chemicals in water (like PFAS), air pollution, and even shark attacks, to name a few. For some, health insurance and traveler’s insurance can be overlooked and lead to troubles in someone’s journey.
This information isn’t meant to deter anyone from going on a business trip or taking their next dream vacation but rather to make you more self-aware so you can better protect yourself. An ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.
When it comes to better protecting yourself during your travels, you can:
- Don’t travel when you’re sick. Not only can you infect others, but your immune system is likely already under stress.
- Travel with a companion when you can.
- Consider alternative modes of transportation like buses, trains, or cars if you’d rather not fly.
- Determine your health insurance and traveler’s insurance coverage before leaving or booking.
- Consult with your doctor for any suggestions or special instructions ahead of time.
- Consider using an Airtag for your luggage and/or the soles of your shoes.
- Pack a portable door lock for your hotel room for added safety.
- Use a nasal spray to add moisture to your mucosal membranes.
- Wear a mask.
- Book a seat on an airplane with extra legroom to potentially reduce the risk of blood clots.
- Consume less salt, stay hydrated, and consume electrolytes.
- Boost your immune system with vitamin C shots or supplements like Juice Plus, which can be beneficial for travelers.
- Combine trips and reduce flight/airport times when possible.
- Use hard luggage that can be easily disinfected between trips.
- Inspect your hotel room for potential health hazards before unpacking, and read online reviews before booking.
- Consider booking a hotel room with a veranda or a window that opens to improve ventilation.
- Research the history of the hotel; has it experienced floods before?
- Bring healthy snacks with you.
- Pack a portable water bottle with a filter, like a Berkey Sport.
I have a gene mutation known as MTHFR, which can impair the body’s natural detoxification process. It’s no wonder I never feel my best after traveling. I know, among the other 1 in 3 people in the U.S. who have at least one variant of the gene, need to support their detoxification. In addition to the things we can do to better protect ourselves, we can also implement ways to support our bodies better after our travels:
- Drink warm lemon water.
- Hydrate and consume electrolytes (consider using packets).
- Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Consume antioxidant-rich foods.
- Focus on obtaining high-quality sleep.
- Consider supplements like modified citrus pectin.
- Some people find that juicing helps them recover from feeling overburdened with toxins.
- Try dry brushing.
- Take an Epsom salts bath upon your return home.
- Consider using saunas (consult with your doctor).
- Engage in regular exercise.
- Explore the use of certain herbs.
There’s obviously a lot that goes on behind closed doors, but hopefully, I’ve helped open the door to all the ways you can better protect yourself and your family in the years to come as you continue your travel journeys. Safe travels, everyone!
Tami Burdick is a patient advocate and author of Diagnosis Detective: Curing Granulomatous Mastitis.