The holiday season is getting underway, and for many Americans, traveling home to gather with family and friends at the Thanksgiving table is an annual rite of passage this time of year. Amid all the joyous hustle and bustle, it’s important for folks, including Globe Aware volunteers to take steps to remain healthy when you’re hitting the road. Here are some expert tips to ensure you don’t spread sickness to vulnerable family members and you feel at your best for this year’s festivities.
Thanksgiving Travel: Tips to Stay Healthy
The holiday season is getting under way, and for many Americans, traveling home to gather with family and friends at the Thanksgiving table is an annual rite of passage this time of year. Amid all the joyous (and sometimes stressful) hustle and bustle, it’s important to take steps to remain healthy when you’re hitting the road. Here are some expert tips to ensure you don’t spread sickness to vulnerable family members and you feel at your best for this year’s festivities.
Before Thanksgiving: travel checklist
Schedule a doctor’s appointment
Even before you walk out the door, there are a variety of steps you can take to increase your odds of feeling well when the turkey comes out of the oven. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least a month before you leave, make an appointment with your doctor. They can give you a check-up and help ensure that you are up to date on all of your routine vaccinations, such as COVID-19 and flu shots, as well as any destination-specific vaccinations you may need.
Make healthy choices
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, certain illnesses, such as colds, flu, and other respiratory conditions, are more common in the colder months. Fortunately, there are preventive measures you can take to increase your chances of avoiding bugs, including eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep (between 7 and 9 hours a night for most adults, according to the National Institutes of Health), and washing your hands with soap and water frequently.
Pack healthy travel essentials
As you’re packing your bags to hit the road, include items such as hand sanitizer or wipes to use when soap and water aren’t available (alcohol based with at least 60% alcohol is best, according to the CDC), face masks (particularly for areas that are crowded or have poor ventilation), an empty water bottle that can be filled and refilled at filling stations or water fountains (be sure to keep the bottle off the spout to avoid germs), your medications, and a basic first-aid kit (visit the Cleveland Clinic for tips on what to include).
Thanksgiving travel: healthy choices on the road
You’re on your way! Once your trip is in motion, there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure you’ll reach your destination feeling healthy and well.
Eat a balanced diet
Although hitting fast-food joints and chowing down on greasy fare may be tempting with everything else you have to keep track of, it’s important to maintain a healthful eating pattern while you’re on the road. In some situations, bringing your own nutritious snacks may be a good option. If you have a cooler, items such as fruits, veggies, string cheese, and hard-boiled eggs can be good choices. Healthy non-perishable selections include whole-grain crackers, granola bars, and plain, air-popped popcorn. In other cases, you may have no choice but to select restaurant items. In this scenario, it’s important to watch your portion sizes, stick with low-calorie beverages, eat plenty of vegetables, avoid high-calorie toppings and salad fixings, and, if possible, ask that your food be prepared without butter, oil, sugar, or salt, according to Piedmont Health. Avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol and continuing to stay hydrated can also help ensure you arrive at your destination feeling well.
Work in some movement
Being on a long car ride or flight can make working in physical activity challenging, but it’s not impossible. For road trips, experts recommend pulling over in a safe spot and stopping for 15 minutes every two hours to walk around and get some fresh air. On flights, go for regular walks around the cabin to keep your blood pumping or try some of these seated movement options.
Maintain good hygiene
Crowded areas can be a breeding place for germs. To avoid catching a bug, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water frequently. When soap and water aren’t available, use the hand sanitizer or wipes that you packed to disinfect your hands and clean off areas like airplane tray tables. And be sure to avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
Time to dine: healthy choices for Thanksgiving dinner
You’ve arrived at last! As you gather with loved ones, the choices you make can help ensure you round out your Thanksgiving trip feeling as well as when you started.
Make smart food choices
Although it can be tempting to overindulge, it’s wise to take a balanced approach to your Thanksgiving feast. Keep a careful eye on portion sizes and focus on healthier food options, such as vegetables and lean protein. According to Medical West, mindfully eating your meal by slowly savoring the food and putting your fork down between bites can help you feel satisfied with less. And try to skip the seconds — not only will this help keep the calorie count lower, but it will leave more food for leftovers the next day!
Make smart beverage choices
It’s also important to avoid overindulging in alcohol. If you will be consuming alcoholic beverages, drink only in moderation — 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women, according to the CDC — and stay well-hydrated with water between alcoholic beverages. And remember that plain water (or water infused with flavor from fruits or vegetables) is always the best beverage choice.
Protect your mental health
While visiting family and friends who you haven’t seen in ages can be fun, it can also be downright stressful. Be sure to take time out for yourself to read, meditate, walk, do breathing exercises, or participate in other activities that you find calming and relaxing.
Should you go to Thanksgiving if you’re sick?
As the season for flu and other transmittable illnesses ramps up, many people are wondering whether they should make the trek to Thanksgiving dinner if they’re sick. According to experts, it’s best to avoid visiting until everyone is healthy. “If you are sick or a family member or friend you are planning on having Thanksgiving with is sick with the flu or influenza-like illnesses, you should avoid contact, says Libby Richards, PhD, Associate Professor at the School of Nursing in Purdue University. “Give everyone space, get rest, and celebrate when everyone is feeling better. Don’t visit until the symptoms have resolved.” Babies, older adults, and people who are immunocompromised can be at especially high risk from illnesses such as flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), notes North Carolina Health News.
If you are feeling even slightly sick (even if you think it’s “just allergies”), including symptoms such as cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, or sneezing, or if you feel all right but test positive for a condition such as COVID-19, you should stay home, the experts say. (You can consider taking a rapid at-home COVID-19 test shortly prior to the gathering to ensure you don’t have an asymptomatic infection.) Instead, join the gathering virtually, send store-bought treats in your absence, or delay the celebration until everyone is well.
Have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving
The holidays can be lots of fun, and they can be even more fun when everyone is feeling their best. Prioritize your health and the health of your loved ones this year and give thanks for all the steps you can take to stay well. Have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!