Four tips to keep you healthy on your summer vacation

Good, old-fashioned hand-washing with plain soap and water is the best approach to fighting germs in your day-to-day life. But it isn’t nearly enough to kill the viruses commonly spread on cruise ships and airplanes.

If you plan to travel this summer, follow my four commonsense tips to avoid even the nastiest of viruses — including those found on some cruise ships. I’ll reveal these in just a moment.

Last month I joined Sir Michael Burton, former U.K. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, and a judge in the High Court of England and Wales, and other distinguished speakers on a cruise tour of Alaska. Admittedly, before we set sail, I definitely worried about sanitation measures on the ship. And I could just see myself confined to my room suffering from a stomach bug or other outbreak…

But I was pleasantly surprised to find the crew kept everything “ship shape” in terms of hygiene and sanitation.

In fact, the crew actively implemented several key sanitation measures — many of which I’ve talked about before.

Isolation works — and dates back centuries

Shipborne illnesses have been around for a very long time. Ship captains and port cities took effective, common-sense measures to control infections…even before they fully understood about how germs spread disease.

For centuries, whenever there was an outbreak of illness on board, captains would keep their ships at sea, away from port to isolate the infected persons. It was called “quarantine” from the Italian quaranta, meaning the number 40 — which was typically the number of days it took to get passed any infection period.

Major ports also kept a “lazaretto” — an isolation hospital — if people came on shore during an outbreak.

In the U.S., on Ellis Island and other ports of entry, sanitation officers screened for illnesses. And they kept travelers in isolation on the island, until the infection cleared to keep the rest of the population safe. (Of course, the U.S. government set aside all these effective, commonsense measures for protecting the public during the AIDS epidemic for fear of interfering with “civil rights.”)

The hospital on Ellis Island was the largest and most extensive building in the complex. And approximately one in every 10 immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island received medical attention there.

I visited the hospital several times in connection with the restoration of the entire complex. (Most people are familiar with the historic restoration of the grand entry hall — which is only one small part of the entire complex.)

On October 1, 1989, I visited Ellis Island for the grand opening of a public health exhibition with U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop — my boss at the time.

Since he was stepping down as U.S. Surgeon General later that same day, I took the opportunity there to ask if he would serve as chair of our new foundation for the National Museum of Health and Medicine. He said yes — and the rest was (almost) history.

Without further ado, let me share with you some of the sensible and effective measures I experienced during my recent Alaskan cruise. Whether you’re taking a ship, plane, or train, these four tips for healthy traveling are easy to follow wherever your next adventure takes you:

  1. Limit handshaking

As I often advise, when you’re in a crowded place, avoid direct contact with strangers.

This commonsense approach was employed on my cruise ship while boarding the gangplank. The staff and Captain lined up to greet us. But nobody shook hands.

Queen Elizabeth II seems to employ this same method and it’s served her well all these years. Like the Queen, I find carrying something in my hand, like a wine glass, deters handshaking. Instead, tap glasses to say cheers and hello. Or simply stand with your hands clasped behind your back like Prince Phillip — who has stayed healthy until he just “retired” from public functions in his late 90s.

  1. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers

As I mentioned above, hand-washing with plain, old soap and water works best to prevent the spread of germs. But sometimes, that’s just not possible. In those cases, hand sanitizer is a good option. But skip the sanitizers with toxic ingredients, such as benzalkonium chloride and triclosan.

Instead, opt for an ethyl-alcohol hand sanitizer. Ethyl-alcohol is a safe, antimicrobial agent that’s been proven safe and effective. But it can dry out your skin since it dissolves skin oils. So, look for products that also contain aloe vera and/or vitamin E.

During meals on my recent cruise, friendly crew members were stationed outside the dining room reminding us to put our hands through an ethyl-alcohol hand sanitizer spray before we entered.

  1. Use paper towels or cloth towels to dry hands

For years, I’ve been advising you to use paper towels instead of hot-air hand dryers, which blow and spread bacteria all over you and the small, enclosed spaces of public bathrooms. Plus, all that hot air can leave your hands feeling dry and chapped.

But on the cruise ship, there were no hand dryers. I dried my hands with actual cloth hand towels with instructions to drop them into a hamper after use.

  1. Avoid touching contaminated surfaces

When out and about, I always advise you to avoid touching high-traffic surfaces. But on a ship, that’s hard to do.

Thankfully, on the door handles of ship’s public bathrooms, there are microbe-resistant sleeves. And next to the entrances, there are dispensers with disposable tissues, which you can use to open the door.

On other parts of the ship, I saw the staff continuously cleaning other high-traffic surfaces, including the ubiquitous brass handrails.

Despite the grueling schedule, time changes, and tasty but not always strictly healthy meals, I avoided coming down with anything infectious thanks to these simple precautions.

Following them can go a long way in keeping you healthy while you’re on vacation, too — whether you’re at sea or on land.

For more details about what to do (and not do) when it comes to your personal hygiene, check out the July 2018 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter.

Of course, sanitation is still key as we go into the annual flu season. Unfortunately, the brand-new method for preparing the vaccine is no better than before. I’ll give you all those details in the September 2018 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now’s the perfect time to get started.