How to Stay Healthy While Traveling the World (Part I)
As much as I LOVE traveling, it can take a toll on your body. Jet lag, exposure to sick people (i.e. bacteria circulating through the plane's A/C), environmental toxins, even breaking out of your normal routine - all can mess with your health and ruin your precious vacation. Unfortunately, I have been sick while abroad more times that I would like, from recurring flu-like symptoms when I was studying in South Africa to stomach viruses in Thailand, and a few things in between. Fortunately, from being sick so many times, I've learned essential strategies to help you stay healthy during your travels (things that I've gotten better at over the years). I'll go over these strategies in a 3-part series in the upcoming weeks.
Fun Fact: I got my Master of Public Health in Health Behavior, which is just a fancy way to say that I'm ALL ABOUT disease prevention and health promotion. The key to staying well while traveling isn't just about washing your hands with soap and overloading yourself with hand sanitizer (which is great), but focusing on what needs to happen before you depart.
Before you book your ticket:
Check for current health issues in the places you intend to visit. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has a Traveler's Health section that provides three notice levels:
- Level 1 (Watch): Practice usual precaution
- Level 2 (Alert): Practice enhanced precaution
- Level 3 (Warning): Avoid nonessential travel
Being aware of the health issues in a country will allow you to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself before, during, and after your trip.
There is also an option on the CDC website to look up health information specific to your destination. This is a great one-stop shop to look up necessary vaccines and medicines as well as a healthy travel packing list. I like how you can get customized information based on what kind of traveler you are (i.e. traveling with a chronic disease, on an extended stay/study abroad, pregnant, etc).
When you book your ticket:
I know sometimes as young people we tend to feel invincible. Well, we aren't. I learned that quickly when I had an ATV accident in Thailand a couple of years ago. I ended up not going to the doctor in Thailand and resorted to a few days of pain killers and bed rest with my leg elevated and iced. However, on my flight back home, my leg swelled up badly. Luckily, I had a stopover in London, where I went to their urgent care. Because the UK operates on a single payer system, x-rays, a blood thinner shot, and Codine cost me just $8 (I only had to pay for my medicine!). While I was blessed to receive healthcare services at so little cost, there are many countries I could have been in where the cost for these same services would have been astronomical. Spending a few extra dollars on travel insurance is well worth the peace of mind in case you get sick and require care. Get travel insurance that includes emergency medical coverage and transportation.
After you book your ticket:
Before you travel, you must prep your immune system, which is your body's first line defense against infection and illness. The way your immune system works is it destroys any unfamiliar things like bacteria and viruses that enter your body. If your immune system is weak, germs and parasites are easily able to take hold and make you ill. Building a strong immune system can't be done overnight. For the most part you should aim to nurture a healthy immune system and keep your stress levels in check most of the time. Trust me when I say I know this is easier said than done!
But, if you can't focus on strengthening your immune system all the time, it should be a priority at least two weeks before you travel. This can be done by:
- Maintaining a healthy diet. Eat a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.
- Exercise regularly. Try to get in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.
- Get good quality sleep. The recommendation for adults is for 7-9 hours a night.
- Don't smoke. The adverse effects of smoking are well known and secondhand smoke can be just as harmful.
- Minimize your stress. The negative effects of stress on our health is well studied. When possible, try to remove stressors from your life.
- Natural Remedies. I'm a big proponent of natural remedies! My go-to immune boosting tonic contains ginger, lemon, Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar, and honey. I take Echinacea, vitamin C, and raw garlic closer to my travel date.
What are some things you do before you travel to stay healthy? Let me know in the comment box below!
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. The suggestions I've provided above are all things that have worked for me. It's always a good idea to consult with your doctor before traveling if you have a medical condition or are otherwise concerned about your health.