8 Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling

Whether embarking on a week-long getaway to Hawaii, or trekking for months in India, people often get sick while traveling. This happens for a variety of reasons, from changes in sleep patterns to changes in bacteria patterns. If you travel often, you are bound to fall prey to phlegm-inducing colds or get some not-so-friendly bugs swimming around in your stomach at some point, but there are steps you can take to keep those suckers at bay.

Keeping your immune system – which has to work twice as hard as you change times zones – in good working order will not only make your trip better, but may keep you from spending too many hours laying in a hotel bed or stuck in the shared hostel bathroom. Here are eight ways to stay healthy on the road:

Bring plenty of EmergenC or comparable vitamin C/electrolyte packets

Dehydration is common while traveling, whether from a long plane flight, a new climate, or being scared of the local water and imbibing too many Cokes to make up for it. You can also become easily dehydrated after eating local food that leaves the contents of your stomach in the toilet. Bring along plenty of electrolyte packets, which you can easily stuff into a backpack or suitcase, to keep your system fully functioning minus headaches, nausea, and energy depletion. EmergenC is sold in most US stores nowadays, but there are also other good choices at health food stores around the world.

Take a homeopathic remedy like No Jet Lag before and during each flight, especially long ones

Whether or not you believe in homeopathy, I recommend trying a jet lag remedy at least once. Homeopathy works to trigger your body’s immune response to fight what ails you, and this can include doing a number on your internal clock. No Jet Lag was a god-send to me for my flight between Sydney and San Francisco, followed by another flight six hours later between San Francisco and London. I felt great when I woke up in my London hostel the next morning, after putting in some serious flight time the two days prior.

Stay away from any known or suspected allergenic foods

It’s easy to get caught up eating new food concoctions when arriving in a foreign land – who doesn’t want to try street food in Bangkok or an Ethiopian platter in the actual country? But allergies to foods have become commonplace for most Westerners, partly due to a fast-food-based diet that wreaks havoc on digestion, and partly because of foods that are genetically engineered and filled with additives. Even if you don’t have an immediate external reaction to a food doesn’t mean there’s not an internal reaction happening. Some people don’t necessarily notice that creamy soups will bother them right away, but a few hours later, their intestines are in shambles.

The more you eat a variety of foods your body is not used to, combined with eating foods that your body already doesn’t like, you set yourself up for some serious stomach issues for at least the latter half of your trip. And probably for a week once you return home. Not worth it.

Two drink maximum per night, with some days of no drinking

Drinking alcohol in some form or another is a ritual in almost every country. It’s not just ordering a stein of Hefeweizen in Germany; it’s sipping absinthe in Prague, downing a caipirinha in Brazil, or trying a local South African brew. It’s hard to find your way out of it, and most of us don’t necessarily want to. But there is a difference between having one or two drinks every couple of nights vs. downing a minimum of nine pints an evening and closing down the pub. Your body will have it in for you after a few days, even if you are 18 and burn through beer like quarters in a slot machine.

The point of traveling is to see all parts of a place and its culture, and if you’re hungover everyday, you’re going to miss out on gorgeous hikes, biking in the country, or the ability to notice massive historical inaccuracies on guided tours. And you’re certainly not gonna enjoy the afternoon Tuscan wine tasting after pounding bottles of Chianti the night before.

Less is more: Eat less food than you want to

Going on vacation, or any kind of a getaway, often leads to excesses of all kinds, including some serious over-consuming of food. It’s hard not to partake in all the available cuisine under the guise, “Well, I’m only here once. Gotta try it all” (I’ve certainly uttered this sentiment more than once). But the time it is most important to not eat too much is when you are on the road. Over-eating hurts the digestive system, which can magically appear in many ways, including indigestion, nausea, and the ever-popular bouts of diarrhea. Plus, it makes you sluggish and less apt to get through everything you want to do while on your getaway to Greece or South American tour. Eating too much also overworks your pancreas, which in turn can hurt your immunity. Take small bites of everything if you want to try a plethora of options, then go walk it off on the streets of London that like to change without any notice.

Take naps whenever you can

Sleep is the single most important part of staying healthy, and it’s usually the first thing to go when we are having a good time. Travel takes up more mind and body energy than the daily routine of working in an office and coming home to eat dinner, so sleep is even more necessary to replenish the system. You’re going to have a lot of late nights on the road, I guarantee it, so it is best to try and schedule some kind of down time everyday. Around 3 or 4 o’clock corresponds nicely with your body’s natural rhythms and calls for less energy output (why do you think so many European countries take siestas?). If you can get enough sleep, you will undoubtedly have a leg up on protecting yourself from the many germs flying around on buses, trains, planes, and hostel rooms.

Take advantage of cheap health enhancers

Health care in countries outside of the US is usually cheap and relatively reliable, even in many developing countries. Beyond this, though, is the availability of what I like to call “health enhancers” in certain parts of the world, such as acupuncture in Asia, massage in Thailand and Africa, and hot springs throughout the world. These “health enhancers” should be used before you get sick to keep you from falling ill. Besides the fact that they increase your immune system’s ability to fight off crazy bacteria, they also generally feel really, really good. Acupuncture and acupressure calm the mind and body from the stress of constantly shuttling here and there, and massage works out those tired muscles from lugging around a backpack for weeks on end. Lounging in natural hot springs is worth the hike in that many require, and bringing a picnic and some blankets to relax on can make a day of it. Don’t forget the many soaking tubs available throughout Japan, or even the hot tub next to the pool in almost any hotel.

Meditate

Although is some ways meditation has become a buzz word that seems to be prescribed for just about everything, it really does positively impact your health. A recent study found that practicing mindfulness meditation for eight weeks changed the brain structure, improving memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. With travel, stress just comes with the territory, even if it feels like the good stress that gets the adrenaline pumping. Too much adrenaline coursing through your veins means fluctuations in blood sugar, leading to fatigue, irritability, and ravenousness. Calming the mind, even if it’s ten minutes a day first thing in the morning, can have a long-lasting positive impact on your health. Plus, you might feel a little less irritated waiting for that next train out of Paris because you just missed the last one.

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Photos: Thirteen of Clubs, josemurilo, palindrome6996, Ian Wilson,  Tom MascardoKerry VaughanNick J Webbvaticanus

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Older comments on 8 Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling

Brandy Sullivan
22 February 2011

Love the 2 drink/day tip! I think it makes a big difference and doesn’t take your “giddy up” out of your workout the next day!

maxschnell
22 February 2011

This is an excellent illustration of how important the brain is and how placebos work. This article is bogus. Making you think a homeopathic remedy is going to work is just such an example. Only thing of value is replacement of electrolytes but can be done without this writer’s suggestion. Don’t agree with 75% of this article but then I am sure I will be in the minority. Science again loses out.

Andy Mesa
23 February 2011

Most of this article is a crock of shhh.

There is absolutely zero benefit from vitamin C packets or homeopathy remedies. Zero. Any benefit you think you’re getting is purely a placebo.

Definitely pack rehydration packets, but don’t mix that other crap along with it.

Tristan Cano
23 February 2011

I feel sorry for the guy that inadvertently became the poster boy for jet-lag …

Christine Garvin
24 February 2011

@maxschnell and @Andy, thanks for your comments. It is very typical for people to say that homeopathy is bunk – I got plenty of that feedback during my four years of working on a Masters in Holistic Health Education and 2 years of becoming a certified Nutritionist, even as I poured over the many European studies conducted on it over the years (here’s just a snippet: http://knol.google.com/k/dr-nancy-malik-bhms/scientific-research-in-homeopathy/pocy7w49ru14/2# – look, science doesn’t lose out again) – so I leave you to your opinion. As for the vitamin C/electrolyte benefits, considering if you are dehydrated and go to a hospital, they feed you electrolytes through an IV (electrolytes are the important part – most electrolyte packets on the market contain high amounts of vitamin C and are marketed that way, which is why I recommended it this way – for ease of finding it in a store), it’s simple enough to deduce that this is true outside of the hospital, too (plus, I’ve seen it work for many clients).

When it comes to the rest of the article, I’m not sure how sleeping, eating and drinking less, meditating, and staying away from foods that don’t agree with you is “bogus.” These are all commonly-known and accepted ways to stay healthy on and off the road. It’s mostly common sense, but there is also plenty of science to back it up, and you don’t have to look far for it. Good luck.

@Tristan, he marked it as his jet-lag shot on his Flickr account, so hopefully he wouldn’t feel too bad…:)

Chris Bryant
03 March 2011

That’s a lot of self-denial Woo Woo. But we live in Asheville so I expect that type of advice. But come on folks. YOUR ON A JOURNEY. Live life to the fullest. Take risks. Burn the candle at both ends. The next day isn’t going to be a school day throughout the duration of your trip.

My partner and I travel a lot, to a lot of challenging places. We rarely pass up street food from busy vendors. But I do take a great deal of stock in regular afternoon naps while traveling. Here’s how we have it all….

When we’re traveling in cities—foreign or domestic—start the day by piddling around the house in the morning, drinking coffee/tea, having fruit and toast (we try to rent apartments or efficiencies). Head out to a pre-planned sightseeing spot, museum, ruin, beach. Then head for a sumptuous lunch with adult beverages—beers, wine, bloodies, or Micheladas depending on locale. Now you’re fueled for a fun and buzzed romp through a cool neighborhood, site-seeing area, or market. The buzz will fade and tiredness leads you back home for quality napping, reading, grooming, sex.

Evening advances and the cocktail hour approaches. Take a circuitous site-seeing journey toward a people-watching bistro or bar to have appetizers and cocktails. Along the way, dip into possible dinner spots and look at menus (note locations on smartphone.). Dusk is the best time to take pictures in cities, so walk around with and take lots of photos. Shops are reopening, night vendors are open. Relish in it.

Next it’s dinner time, then after dinner nightcaps at a bar or back in your room.

Clearly a food & libation focused itinerary. City travel is the prefect setting for such. But if you travel with a fear of food and drink and letting go when it’s safe to do so, I’m sorry for you. I hope self-denial is as soul satisfying and fulfilling as diving directly into the deep end and shedding yourself of self-limitations and routines from back home.

But if you want to jump in and travel full-throttle and fearless, here are three travel secrets to provide moderate protection from spending interminable time near a toilet. Your doctor should give you prescriptions to the first two meds if they know you are going to a non 1st World destination.

Cipro. Go ahead. Eat that ceviche at the municipal market, or that shrimp salad by the beach, or the cream soup, or even the steak tartar. And ask for all the ice you want in your drinks. If you have any suspicion at all of the origin or quality of what you want to consume, take a Cipro with the first few mouthfuls. If later you continue to feel suspicious or remorseful, or physically affected in any way, take another Cipro 3 hours later.

(Then eat lots of yogurt for the next couple of days to replenish some of your internal flora.)

Lomotil. It’s a tiny pill with a bit of Demoral tempered with atropine to prevent you from enjoying the Demoral too much. It’s a zillion times more effective than Immodium. When you first feel the rumbling and heat from a stormy belly and bowels, take a Lomotil. If still unsettled an hour later take a half pill more. You can take immodium along with Lomotil for extra force. But immodium is NOT going to protect you alone. Lomotil is THE MAGIC BULLET, best friend of all who travel to crazy places.

Peroxide. Buy some wherever you can’t drink the tap water. Set a half-glassful by the sink and keep your toothbrushes immersed in it. That way you can rinse your brush under water. And you’ll be amazed by how WHITE your bristles become.

Know the woo-woos are spinning by the white man solutions I recommend. That’s cool. Have a jolly time contemplating the efficacy of your conceptual potions and nostrums as you writhe and splunk in that third world bathroom. Or take the high and safe road by denying yourself the lobster cooked by the squatting lobster ladies on the beach of Nha Trang. You can always take a picture of someone else enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Was that a rant? Yes. I think it was. I feel better now. Travel on, my friends!

Chris & Skip in Asheville