10 essential travel health tips
After endless hours of planning and months of saving up, you finally get to go on your dream vacation. Then suddenly, BOOM, you end up coming down with a terrible cold, travelers’ diarrhea, weight gain, or worse. All of which put a massive damper on your vacation time, and unfortunately, are extremely common. This is because traveling can expose you to numerous germs and viruses, while also disrupting your healthy diet and exercise routine. As a Family Nurse Practitioner and an avid world traveler, I am here to tell you that there are small travel health steps you can take to decrease your risk of illness while traveling. I have put together a list of the top 10 essential travel tips to prevent travel-related diseases and ensure that you come away from your travels with nothing but fond memories!
1. SEE YOUR DOCTOR PRIMARY CARE DOC FOR A TRAVEL HEALTH VISIT
Prior to international travel it is vital to book a consultation with your doctor to make sure you are well-protected and prepared for your trip. During the consultation your provider will guide you through any necessary travel vaccinations, provide medication to help keep you from getting certain diseases, prepare you with antibiotics in case of traveler’s diarrhea, and more. Many countries have health entry requirements that must be completed through your doctor prior to arrival. I recommend checking the CDC’s Travel Health website at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel to verify country-specific health requirements.
2. PACK A FIRST-AID KIT
Always be prepared for unexpected health hiccups, especially to foreign countries! Colds, stomachaches and allergies aren’t fun, but they’re part of life, even when you’re on vacation. Remember that typical over-the-counter medications may not be available in foreign countries, so be sure to pack everything you might need. Important items to remember include:
Bandages of varying sizes
Aloe Vera gel for sunburns or irritated skin
Fever reducer (Tylenol)
Pain reducer (Ibuprofen)
Baby Aspirin (81mg): important to take prior to long flights to prevent blood clots
Cold and flu medications
Motion sickness medication
Antihistamines for allergic reactions
Rehydration tablets in case of diarrhea or hangovers
Sleep medication if needed for jet lag
Tums for heartburn
Laxative or stool softener
Decongestant for ear issues while flying
3. STAY HYDRATED
This is crucial for healthy travel, especially when you are flying! The air in the average airplane cabin contains less water than the Sahara desert, leaving you extremely dehydrated after a long flight. To counter this, make sure to drink a minimum of 8 ounces of water each hour while flying. This simple tip helps with everything from dehydration to constipation to overcoming jet lag. I always recommend bringing a refillable water bottle with you and keeping track of how many bottles you consume each day. The average adult needs 2-3 liters of water a day. If you’re traveling to a third-world country it’s also extremely important to consider the source of your water. Be sure to drink only water that you know has been treated to US standards, which is usually bottled water.
While this may not be on the top of your priority list after a long flight, a workout can do wonders for your body and is one of the most important travel health tips! Studies consistently show that moving your body is one of the most scientifically sound ways to overcome travel fatigue by aiding in sleep, reducing stress, restoring energy levels, and allowing your circadian clock to adjust to the new time zone quickly. And there are plenty of ways to stay active on vacation without having to go to a gym! Head out for a long walk on the beach, go on a beautiful hike, bring booty bands down to the pool, or even do a quick HIIT workout in your hotel room.
5. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
It is scientifically undeniable that lack of sleep increases your risk of getting sick, so don’t skimp on sleep while you’re traveling! Between long flights, changes in time zones, and associated jet lag, being on the road is physically exhausting! That’s why is it vital to take steps to keep your body well rested to have the healthiest trip possible!
First of all, try to get a good night of sleep the day before you travel. While on long flights I recommend using a neck pillow that keeps your head properly aligned, an eye mask, and earplugs to ensure a sounder sleep. Once at your destination, jet lag will likely set in, which can derail your best intentions of staying healthy abroad. To avoid this, it is important to regulate your body as quickly as possible to the local time. If you arrive during the day take a quick nap if you need to, but don’t sleep the day away. Rather, go on a walk in the sunlight and try your best to stay awake until nighttime. If you have difficulty falling asleep, try using melatonin, Benadryl, or drinking chamomile tea for the first few evenings. Once your body adjusts to the time change, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule while on your trip, and always listen to your body and rest when you need to.
Eating a balanced diet, with a focus on whole and immune-boosting foods, goes a long way toward supporting your immune system and fighting off infection. As avid travelers, we know how tempting it can be to go into ‘vacation mode’ and want to eat every delicacy in sight. But the key to staying healthy is balance! It is perfectly okay to enjoy yourself and splurge here and there, but the majority of your meals should be nutritious and well balanced. Focus on eating fresh fruits and veggies, simple salads, healthy grains, and lean meats – all foods that are proven to keep you feeling good. Its also a great idea to stock up on healthy snacks at the local grocery store like fruits, nuts, yogurts, etc.
7. GUARD AGAINST GERMS
After a long 2 years of a global pandemic, we are all familiar with the drill – wash your hands often, sanitize after touching surfaces, mask up when in public, stay 6 feet away from anyone who appears ill, avoid crowds, and avoid touching your face as much as possible. As redundant as these small tasks may be, there is no better time to put them into action than when you are traveling abroad, where medical practices are unknown. Remember, we are surrounded by bacteria and viruses all the time, and your exposure only increases when you’re traveling. Getting sick while traveling is not only a damper on a vacation, but can pose a real threat to your health.
8. SKIN SAFETY
Spending time outside is a great way to be physically active, reduce stress, and get vitamin D, but it is important to be mindful about the risks of skin cancer. No matter where you are traveling you should protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays at all times by wearing broad spectrum titanium- or zinc-based sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. Remember that UV rays can reach you even on cloudy and cool days, they reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow, and they tend to be the strongest between 10am – 4pm.
9. FLYING SAFETY
Anytime you sit in a confined space for long periods of time (4+ hours), you are at a higher risk of developing blood clots in your legs – which can be life threatening. The longer you are immobile, the greater your risk is of developing a blood clot. The good news is there are things you can do to protect your health and reduce your risk of blood clots during a long-distance trip. Prior to your flight I recommend taking a baby aspirin (81mg), and going on a long, brisk walk. While flying, wear compression socks to encourage blood flow, stay hydrated, and be sure to get up from your seat for walks down the aisle when you can. Its also important to note that those who are over age 50, overweight, or on certain birth control pills are at greater risk for clots.
10. VITAMINS & SUPPLEMENTS
Our bodies need a daily dose of vitamins, minerals and enzymes that help us maintain our overall health and boost our immunity to prevent getting sick. We typically get these vitamins through a balanced, whole-food diet and sunshine, but this isn’t always the case when traveling. Therefore, traveling with vitamin supplements and giving your body the boost it needs is one of my top recommendations for staying healthy abroad! It is always important to take a daily over-the-counter multivitamin, which you can find at any drug store or vitamin shop. Additionally, I recommend traveling with the following:
Vitamin D: This vitamin supports bone, blood, and immune system health. It allows your body to absorb calcium to build strong bones, as well as helps maintain phosphorus levels in the blood. Additionally, Vitamin D helps your immune system fight off diseases.
Vitamin C: An essential nutrient that helps your immune system by giving your white blood cells the boost they need to fight off disease. It’s also important for maintaining your blood pressure, which could increase with the stress that comes from traveling.
Melatonin: This hormone produced in the brain promotes natural sleep functions and aids in eliminating travel fatigue or jet lag.
Magnesium: Well known for its potential to improve sleep quality by naturally relaxing muscles. This is a great supplement to help when you’re crammed onto a tiny plane and need to help your muscles relieve tension and aid with overall soreness.
We hope you have enjoy our blog on the 10 essential travel health tips, and hope are able to put them to action during your next adventure! Please leave any comments and questions below. And don’t forget to head over to our Tips & Tricks page for further travel health information, as well as our destination page!