For as long as I can remember, I’ve always associated travel of any kind with an increased likelihood of some kind of illness. Particularly when I was a student and had a higher level of stress (or perhaps less of an ability to manage stress), I would consistently come down with something anytime I travelled anywhere. Varying from the seasonal cold/flu, to gastrointestinal distress, to severe jet lag, travellers suffer from a variety of maladies. Through both my practice and personal experience, I’ve discovered several ways of improving your chances of travelling in good health, and enjoying your holiday all the more. Here are six useful tips for staying healthy during your travel adventures:
1) Hydration – Staying well hydrated is probably the most important thing you can do leading up to your holiday, while you’re in transit, and once you’ve arrived at your destination (particularly if it’s a sunny one) to promote health. Air travel in particular is dehydrating to begin with, increasing your need for fluid replacement, and people are less likely to consume adequate amounts of water because of airline restrictions on liquids in carry-on, or simply because they want to avoid having to get up to use the washroom. Just yesterday I sat next to someone on an airplane for six hours and they didn’t use the washroom the whole time. That’s too long! If you can, drink enough water before leaving, bring water on the plane if it’s an option, and say yes to water every time it’s offered. Getting up to use the washroom also improves your circulation and reduces the risk of blood clots, particularly important for pregnant women or others with an increased risk of clotting.
2) Adequate Rest – Sleep (like hydration) is important for virtually every system in your body. While you’re asleep is when your body does the real work of cleaning up the events of the day. Nothing works properly when we’re not getting adequate rest. Personally, I can never sleep on airplanes, regardless of my bag of tricks, so I need to do what I can both prior to leaving and once I arrive at my destination to ensure my body gets back on track. This is especially important if you’re travelling across many time zones. Ideally, once you depart, assume the time of the zone you’re travelling to. Sleep on the plane if you can while it’s night wherever you’re headed. Once you arrive, ensure you get adequate sun exposure, particularly in the morning, to encourage appropriate cortisol secretion (the “awake” hormone), and do the opposite in the evening to encourage melatonin secretion (the “sleep” hormone). Melatonin can actually be supplemented in the evenings (1-3 mg to start) or to promote sleep while in transit. Other helpful sleep aids include “Calms Forte”, a combination homeopathic product that’s designed for children but works wonders for adults as well (and is safe for pregnant women). Take as directed. People will often consume alcohol while travelling to promote sleep, but I don’t recommend this, particularly during airplane travel. Alcohol does not promote good quality sleep, will promote dehydration (while making you use the washroom more!), and will leave you feeling dull and groggy upon arrival at your destination.
3) Boosted Immunity – Your immune system is often overburdened during travel, particularly if you’re not well hydrated or well rested. Again, this is especially true during airplane travel because of the circulated air, and the close proximity to hundreds of people (and their germs). I always take both echinacea and elderberry in the day or two prior to travel, during travel, and the day after to give my immune system the little boost it needs. These herbs are most effective in the prodromal phase of infection, which is usually the period before people even realize they’re sick. Additional vitamin C and vitamin D are also useful for boosting immunity.
4) Skin Protection – If your destination is a sunny one, you want to be aware of protecting your skin. Everyone has a different level of susceptibility, based on ethnic background among other things, but you want to be sure you don’t underestimate the strength of the sun wherever you’re going. Sunscreen is a must, as severe sunburns can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer down the line. When choosing a sunscreen, try to choose one that is biodegradable as the mainstream sunscreens are damaging to many ecosystems, particularly ocean reefs. In fact, some eco-resorts won’t allow the use of any sunscreen that’s not biodegradable. These sunscreens are of course better for our systems as well.
5) Gastrointestinal (GI) Support – An optimally functioning digestive system promotes all around good health and immunity yet while travelling it’s not uncommon to experience unpleasant symptoms ranging from constipation to diarrhea. Balancing the gut flora with healthy bacteria can discourage other organisms from colonizing. I recommend beginning with a mixed probiotic at least a week prior to travel, starting with a dose of ten billion units/day, and working up to 20 billion/day prior to travel. Maintain this dose through your vacation and for at least a few days upon your return home. Increase the dose if you’re experiencing symptoms of GI distress. I’d also recommend having grapeseed extract (antibiotic) and activated charcoal (absorbs toxins) on hand in case GI symptoms occur. Make sure you take the grapeseed extract away from the probiotics. If your doctor recommends taking an antibiotic prophylactically, I would still recommend taking the probiotics (again, away from the antibiotic), and be aware that many medications affect your sensitivity to sunlight.
6) Research/Awareness – Wherever your travels take you, it’s a good idea to check out the area to see if there are any travel advisories or warnings and to have an idea of what vaccines may be recommended. As always, I’d suggest assessing the need for each vaccine individually.
It may seem like a lot, but taking these few steps can help to ensure that while on your vacation, you’re able to concentrate on enjoying whatever adventure you’re having rather than on any discomfort you’re experiencing. Safe and happy travels!