Everyday, people are either heading off or planning to head off on a vacation or trip, from skiing to hiking to family holidays. And just as many of them will get sick or end up not feeling 100 percent, thus not properly enjoying the trip. Why? Because in the pursuit of fun, travelers often toss taking care of themselves into the bottom of the luggage with the dirty socks.

It doesn’t have to be that way if you will follow a few tips for staying healthy while traveling.

Tips for staying healthy while traveling

You don’t have to get ill on vacation if you follow a few tips for staying healthy while traveling. There’s no guarantee of course, but following these tips sure stacks the odds in your favor.

Staying Healthy While Traveling: Sleep and travel rituals

Insomnia as a result of jet lag can become a very exhausting problem because of disrupted sleep patterns from, for example, the excitement of preparation and packing, or just changing time zones. There are ways, however, to minimize or even eliminate the discomfort of jet lag and resulting insomnia:

  • Drink plenty of water during flights. Long flights lead to dehydration because of the dehumidified air being re-circulated through the plane.
  • If you are traveling to a dramatically different time zone, immediately change the time on your watch upon boarding, and start thinking as if you are in that time zone. Do not attempt to stay on the time you have left.
  • Although overdosing on coffee isn’t a good thing, a well-planned cup of coffee or tea “in the morning” at your destination won’t hurt you if you normally consume caffeine.
  • When you are traveling eastward since you gain time, a nap or short sleep on the way can help. When traveling westward, you may want to only indulge in a short nap, if at all, so you can sleep upon returning home.
  • If you arrive at your destination in the morning or mid-day, try to avoid taking a nap once there. That will complicate the resetting of your inner clock. You WANT to be tired so you CAN go to sleep at a somewhat regular time.
  • If you really have sleeping problems, your doctor may be able to prescribe short-acting sleeping pills to assist you through the most difficult period of adjustment. Or, as some travelers do, you can try over-the-counter night medications such as Tylenol or Benadryl. Before taking any medications, however, do consult with your physician.

Staying Healthy While Traveling: Relax and don’t neglect personal routines

Yes, you are on vacation, but too many people in an insane quest for fun or the attempt to not miss a single sight forget the real reason for a vacation is to let the body and mind rest a little — you don’t have to ski from dawn to dusk and then party till dawn in the name of sucking every last ounce out of your “investment.”

  • Increased physical stress can lower your immunity so you are more likely to catch a bug or infection. That “stress” can be an innocent one such as not getting enough sleep, over-tiring yourself with daily activities, or eating at odd intervals. When your body is under stress, it releases hormones that suppress the immune system and you are less able to fight off viruses.
  • Do not throw your own rituals out the window: Everyone has their own mechanisms to “de-stress” during “normal” life — meditation, exercise, yoga, sleep, reading, eating right, to name a few. Do not throw all that to the wind while on vacation.
  • Speaking of over-tiring yourself, be kind to yourself the first day or two of your trip – and upon your return — since your body is still adjusting.
  • If you take vitamins at home, take them while you are traveling too. And although studies have not been conclusive about the effects of high doses of vitamin C or other vitamins (found in, for example, Airborne or Emergen-C), if they make you feel good/better, they won’t hurt you. So don’t neglect packing those too.

Staying Healthy While Traveling: Water and avoiding dehydration

Fatigue and mild headaches are a couple of signs that you may be dehydrated – not uncommon while traveling since you are out of your normal routine or may need to avoid local water sources.

  • Carry a water bottle with you and drink periodically throughout the day. Try to drink at least 8-12 cups during the day.
  • If the water where you are is questionable, carry a personal water filter or one of the many personal filter bottles.

Staying Healthy While Traveling: Wipe it, wash it, clean it

You can’t travel in biohazard-protected suit so try to be smart – without being obsessed.

  • Carry disposable cleansing wipes and wipe down tray tables, arms and control buttons at your plane or train seat before use. The tray table can be the most bacteria-ridden thing there.
  • Use paper towels — or even your sleeve! – to open and close doors to bathrooms and public places or turn faucet handles.
  • Carry hand sanitizer. In many countries, shaking hands is considered a polite must. But you want to make sure you don’t touch your nose, face or eyes with your hands and that you “hand-san” your hands after all that politeness.
  • Wipe down faucets, tables and handles in hotel rooms. In testing for germs, researchers have found the TV remote and the coffee pot handle to be teeming with the bag bugs. Use those disposable wipes or just hot water and soup to clean them prior to use.

Traveling is a grand adventure so don’t avoid it due to fear of bugs. But be smart not only about your destination but how you treat yourself and what you do along the way. You can stay healthy and have fun while traveling too!

HITT Tip: Do as we do when booking accommodations: At hotels or inns, inquire about and request rooms that are not facing busy streets, not near elevators and are generally in quieter areas of the hotel. Same goes for vacation rentals: Inquire what the bedroom faces. And use Google Earth to your advantage to check out how busy a street is or what the location of a hotel looks like. We have avoided many sleeping nightmare while traveling (e.g. room window over a busy bar!) with a few minutes spent emailing with a hotel, reading reviews, and checking out Google maps!
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Therese Iknoian

Traveler at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist before launching a freelance writing career specializing in outdoor, fitness and training. All the while trotting the globe, her focus finally turned to travel. Fluent in German, Therese runs a translation business (www.ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. Also a French speaker, she loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication and the search for great travel discoveries.
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