I'm a passionate traveller. There are few things I'd rather do than fill up a suitcase (only halfway, gotta leave room for the gifts!) and board a flight to some far-flung destination. But, admittedly, I'm also a delicate flower. That means even the most serene and uncrowded trans-atlantic flight is likely to put my body and brain out of whack in nearly every imaginable way.
It's well known that air travel can do a number on your health. I somehow manage to experience nearly every single woe — from dry skin and breakouts to stomach upset and extreme fatigue. (Flying can also make me very cranky, though that may simply be because I'm an underpaid journalist, so I never have the chance to take first class.)
This is why every time I travel, I marvel at how flight attendants always look so rested and happy. How exactly does that person opening your can of tomato juice manage to stay calm, fresh-faced, and presumably healthy while the airbus makes a mad dash across the friendly skies?
I decided to inquire whether there's a magic elixir flight attendants aren't sharing with their passengers. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. However, the ones I spoke with did have a few suggestions to make air travel a little less punishing. Here are their helpful tips.
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Then do it some more, said Tracye Tipps, a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines. "You must stay hydrated, not just for your skin, but for the good of your body."
One way to tell if you're getting enough water is to look at your pee. Yellow urine indicates that you're dehydrated, so get drinking. It's also wise not to get on a plane without a bottle of water. Yes, it's true, water is overpriced in airport terminals and you can't take full bottles through security. However, you can put a reusable water bottle in your carry-on and fill it up by the gate so you're able to pound some before getting on the plane. If you're willing to pay for water once through security, flight attendant Whitlie Irving from Delta Airlines recommends purchasing more than one. "When travelling through different regions of the world, I always bring two bottles of water with me: one to drink, and one to wash my face with. It can help prevent breakouts that happen due to [the] constantly changing consistency of the tap water used to wash my face with."
2. Keep it clean
While commercial air travel has revolutionised the world, it has also made people far more vulnerable to infectious diseases and less life-threatening ailments such as the common cold. Some research suggests that air travel increases one's risk for getting sick by more than 100 times. One study found that antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA can thrive in an airline cabin for as much as 168 hours. That's alarming enough to compel Irving to never leave home without her antibacterial hand sanitiser. It's also not overkill to take a shower and change your clothes promptly after checking into your hotel. In fact, it's probably more crazy not to do that.
3. Move around, but also know when to rest
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. Unfortunately, walking up and down the aisle of a plane during your flight doesn't count for either, so you'll have to do the math and deal with that when you disembark.
Flight attendants know this. They have to find a comfortable balance between resting after long trips and moving around to stay healthy. When Tipps has overnights, she likes to go for long walks and explore the unfamiliar city she finds herself in, if the weather permits (one of the perks of travelling the world for work!). Though most hotels she stays at have gyms, it's far more enjoyable to be out and about.
However, for some people, keeping exercise a little casual provides too much temptation to cheat oneself out of a workout, so Irving suggests finding ways to prepare so you won't skip it. She plans for exercise in her hotel room. That can mean travelling with a resistance band — easy, cheap, and light to take anywhere with you — or a yoga mat. A yoga mat may be a little more bulky, though it can double as a place to sleep if you end up camping out under the stars. "If you have a workout routine, make sure it accommodates a flexible lifestyle," she said. "Download your favourite workout programs ahead of time, or make sure they're streamable to a laptop."
Additionally, Tipps adds that it's important to know when to rest. "I also enjoy my quiet time in my hotel room with the TV off," she said. "We have so much noise in our lives as flight attendants . . . airplane noise, airport noise. Just having a quiet room to slow your heart rate and pace of life down is something I enjoy."
4. Watch what you eat
A buildup of gas in the body is common while cruising at high altitudes. And it seems the higher you go, the worse the discomfort may get. Though "jet bloat" can't be avoided completely, there are ways to minimise discomfort so that after an eight-hour trip you can still wear your skinny jeans with confidence. Tipp recommends staying away from gas-producing foods such as beans and broccoli. It's also probably best to skip foods that are binding, such as dairy products and red meat. Being a frequent traveller also exposes a person to a number of different bacterium that can upset the gut, which is why most doctors (and many flight attendants) encourage probiotics. These "good bacteria" keep the digestive system in check.
But eating regular (and healthy) meals can be a challenge for anyone while traveling. "The biggest thing for eating on the go is packing our meals, since it can be easy to fall into the trap of convenient, unhealthy airport fast food," said Joshua Barber, a flight attendant with Southwest. "And stopping to eat at the airport or hotel can easily cut into your sleep time." Which is to say, packing healthy foods and snacks is the best way to avoid asking Barber for another bag of pretzels.