I was flying back from a five-day tour of Iceland when I felt the beginning of a red-hot pimple on my jawline. Then I noticed my back muscles seizing up, and by the time I landed, I also had a tickle in my throat. Acne, pain, and a cold were not the souvenirs I’d planned to bring home—but unfortunately they’re all too common.
“My patients frequently complain that travel, especially on airplanes, makes them sick,” says Holly Phillips, MD, a general internist in New York City and the author of The Exhaustion Breakthrough.
Research backs Phillips up: A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that as many as 21 percent of airline passengers reported developing a cold within a week of traveling. Two-thirds of the respondents to a Harvard Business Review survey said trip prep—figuring out transportation, lodging, sightseeing—caused them the most stress, which can suppress the immune system.
And a 2015 study found that missing out on sleep, whether it’s the result of taking a red-eye or tossing and turning on an unfamiliar mattress, makes you four times more likely to catch a cold. To help you avoid using a sick day to recover, I asked the experts for their best advice.