My 3 Tips To Conquer The Travel Cold (And The Real Reason Why You Get Sick On Airplanes)

My 3 Tips To Conquer The Travel Cold (And The Real Reason Why You Get Sick On Airplanes)

Inhaling the recycled breath of 200 other passengers is probably the only thing I don’t like about being on an airplane. Otherwise, sipping on a can of ginger ale with a book and marvelling over the formation of mountains en route a new adventure is right up my alley.


Whether I’m flying for pleasure or business, I usually keep a bottle of liposomal vitamin C in a holster. I’m not a germaphobe, by any means. I’ll eat pretty much anything that falls on the ground. But it’s just that long commutes when travelling can really burn me out. I find that if I fly while I’m exhausted, I’ll end up touching down on the other side with the seeds of a cold that throws off my whole trip.

I’m sure we’ve all had those “vacations” where you set some money aside, book the time off work, handpick your seats and accommodations months in advance, circle the dates in your calendar, draft a hit-list of activities and restaurants, and when you finally get there you can’t even enjoy most of it because you feel like a zombie. Sickness and exhaustion ruins important work trips just as well.

It turns out that colds may be 100 times more likely to be transmitted on a plane than in daily life on the ground, according to a study by The Journal of Environmental Health Research. But they say that it’s probably not because of the recycled air. The most likely cause is actually low-humidity due to high elevation.

The mucus in our sinuses and throats acts like a natural defense system against airborne germs. Low humidity environments cause that mucus to dry up, which leaves you much more susceptible to bugs like the common cold. At standard commercial cruising altitude, just over 30,000 feet, humidity typically runs at 10% or lower, which is less than a quarter of average humidity on the ground.

Factor in the mental of stress of pulling all the details together before departure and the physical stress of the odd, long hours often involved in air travel, and you’ve got the perfect storm. When the body is stressed, the first cuts to the energy budget are the immune and digestive systems. This leaves you even more vulnerable to whatever airborne illnesses other passengers are fighting at the time.

I’ve had to sit out on plenty of highly-anticipated plans like scuba dives because of simple congestion. When your nose is stuffed up, you can’t equalize the pressure in your ear and nasal cavities, so you risk bursting an eardrum or getting vertigo. Most of us don’t get the chance to pass through places like Zanzibar or The Great Barrier Reef more than once, so it sucks to have to miss out on those rare opportunities.

Last month was a classic example. I flew down to Phoenix with my brother to escape Vancouver’s third wave of snow. It was my one of my few trips for this year and the winter blues had been weighing on me in a big way (check out my other article on non-travel trips to deal with that). I was looking forward to mountain biking, hikes, poolside drinks and hitting the town. I also bought us a few day-passes to a music festival downtown where his all-time favourite band, The Shins, were headlining.

I was already a little run down when we were heading to the airport at dawn. I was up late packing the night before (standard) and I had also just started dating someone around that time. The excitement of fresh romance can make you do some questionable things, like rationalizing how you’ll be totally fine on a couple hours of sleep.

The kindling was stacked. All the viral fire needed to ignite was a spark. Since another round of cold and flu bugs had also been sweeping through the town at the time, I didn’t stand a chance.

I held tightly to the hopes that I would fall into a deep, regenerative sleep, despite the fact that I’ve never been able to get much rest in airplane seats. I find them awkwardly upright. So my sleep mask and silicon earplugs could only do so much. Instead of gasping awake from a coma, I was gently prodded out of what was basically a long meditation by an attendant wheeling a drink cart down the aisle.

There was an unmistakable tickle in the back of my throat, which I noticed was as dry as sawdust. It felt like my head was getting heavier by the minute. A cold was now well on its way. Usually when I feel that coming on, or am simply low on sleep, I down a double dose of liposomal vitamin C and I can feel it turn around that very same day, if not the next. But with my rushed late-night packing session, I forgot to note to grab it out of the fridge the next morning before heading off to the airport.

When we arrived, I hit the local pharmacy to stock up on what immune boosters I could find. I was stuck with the single-serving packets of powdered vitamin C (ascorbic acid), throat lozenges and some oil of oregano. It’s no liposomal C, but the oregano has worked pretty decently for me in the past. The vitamin C powders are pretty much useless since they have such poor absorption rates. And the throat lozenges were just an attempt to make it only mildly painful to swallow.

I did my best to participate in what little I could while bearing the pain and crippling fatigue. Naturally, I was finally feeling active and able to enjoy meals on the day we had to fly out. I’m generally able to stay positive and make the best of any situation, but there’s no denying that the trip was way, way less enjoyable, to say the least, than it would have been if I had rest and the right supplements.

After a little research and hopefully the last botched trip behind me, here is a simple, threefold approach to beat the travel cold:

  1. Liposomal Vitamin C

If you’re not into supplementing high-doses of Vitamin C regularly, at least start taking some the day before you fly and throughout your trip.

There is a huge difference between a liposomal and conventional supplement. Those single serving pouches of “Vitamin C” ascorbic acid powder are found beside chocolate bars and chewing gum at every grocery store checkstand for a reason: they’re useless, sugary crap.

Once stirred into water, the vast majority of the vitamin contents begin to degrade. Then your stomach acid finishes the job. Whatever scraps remain then have to try and pass through the gut lining and into the bloodstream where they can be absorbed by your cells.

And if you’re taking high doses of that ascorbic acid, it actually draws water into the bowels, causing even further dehydration than what you’re already experiencing with travel at high altitudes, which, hilariously, makes you even more susceptible to getting sick.

But when quality Vitamin C molecules are encapsulated in lipid shells (liposomes), they are not only protected from digestion but also slip through the gut and into the bloodstream with greater ease. That fatty shell is also made up of the same stuff as the membranes of your cells, so the liposomes are easily soaked up on arrival.

Something like NanoNutra’s high quality liposomal formula will give you radically better results than pills and powders. And since it’s naturally sweetened with a bit of stevia leaf extract, it gets the job done cleaner as well.

It might sound a bit over the top, but this stuff makes me feel virally bulletproof.

  1. Water, water, water

Since the body gets dehydrated quickly at high elevations, sipping on water will help combat the headaches, stomach problems, fatigue, cramps and other problems that come with dehydration. Staying hydrated also keeps your natural immune system performing at optimal levels.

  1. SLEEP

Why is it that the most obvious and simple things are sometimes the hardest to honour? For the week leading up to your trip, make sure you’re getting solid rest each night, and doing things that calm your nerves and keep your immune system firing on all cylinders. For me, that’s yoga, float tanks and foam rolling/massage.

And If you’re a last minute packer, like I am, take just 5-10 minutes before bed every night to chip away at the to-do list and set things aside. With the extra lead time on your prep, you’ll do away with the mad scramble that leaves you worked up and often realizing halfway to your destination that you forgot the god damn charging cable for your phone.

Doing these three simple things is your surest way to stay in top shape for your travels, whether you’re rocking business meetings or just enjoying a hard earned margarita in the Mexican sun.