This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something through this site I may earn a (dreadfully small but much appreciated) commission at no extra cost to you.
Jumping time zones, questionable food and water, and suffering through night flights can be treacherous trails leading to travel-related illnesses. If you’re not one of the enviable few who never get sick on the road, don’t despair. Here are some tips on how to stay healthy while travelling.
How to stay healthy while travelling
It’s just so hip to be super human, isn’t it? Sleep? It’s overrated! Vitamins? If you’d just eat healthy, you wouldn’t need them. Yeah, right. If I were one of those hearty travellers who sprang to life after a night flight, swore by the motto ‘you can sleep when you die’ and who never got sick on the road, I would hate myself.
It’s much more interesting to be a fretful insomniac with the stamina of a marshmallow. How else would you get to know the doctors and nurses at a Greek clinic when you stop in with inflamed sweat glands in the you-know-where area? (Tip: don’t wear a wet bathing suit all day.)
If you never got sick when travelling how would you end up drinking tea with your doctor in Paris after he’d treated you for infected spider bites?
How would you be treated for air sickness with a cup of coca leaf tea after flying over the famed Nazca Lines in Peru, a country where coca leaves are used for everything from suppressing hunger to curing altitude sickness? Talk about a unique way to connect with the culture.
You’d totally miss out on the fun of being driven to a one-nun clinic in Thailand by the owner of your budget bungalow after you’d thrown up all night from food poisoning.
How on earth would you spend your days? Sightseeing? Checking out local markets? Sun tanning? Boooorrring.
Those of you who are not super humans, the Charlie Browns of the travelling world, take heart. If I can travel – and travel well – so can you. I’ve spent years trying to hone the fine art of staying healthy while travelling the globe.
Here a few tips and tricks that have helped me.
Staying healthy on a plane
Isn’t it torturous being sick on a plane? Every time you sneeze you cringe in embarrassment because you know what your seatmates are thinking. Swine Flu! Contagion! Get me a different seat! I know that’s what they’re thinking because that’s what I think when other people are blowing their runny noses beside me.
The only thing that rivals being sick on a plane is sitting beside someone who’s sick. This happened last week when I was flying back from Rome, and I’m proud to say I didn’t catch whatever it was they were coughing up. Here are some travel healthy tips to help you stay well on a flight:
Keep it clean. First, wipe down the armrests, tabletop, headrest, video screen, and seatbelt buckle with an antibacterial wipe. Yes, people will look at you as if you’re a paranoid neurotic, but you’ll be the one laughing when they’re at home with the flu.
Sanitize. Use hand sanitizer when you come back from the washroom, even though you’ve just washed your hands. You think germs aren’t hanging around that doorknob? And then put on moisturizer, because hand sanitizer is drying and so are flights – this will help you from ending up with a fistful of broken fingernails.
Blow the germs away. If the person beside you is coughing, adjust the air vent above you so tthat he air stream is pointing towards them and away from you.
Respect rest. Try to catch some sleep on the plane, even if it means giving up that second Harry Potter rerun. This is especially important on an overnight flight. Bring an eye mask and ear plugs to help you zone out.
Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder. Don’t get drunk on the flight. It will lower your immune system. Not to mention give you a hangover.
What you can drink. Non-caffeinated non-alcoholic liquids are your friend. In other words, water.
Staying healthy when you travel – what to do before you go
It’s always a good idea to visit a travel clinic before going abroad – and go at least six weeks beforehand if you can. A doctor can tell you what vaccines you’ll need, and if special medications for things such as malaria are necessary.
But do watch out, they might also try to up sell you expensive vaccinations you don’t necessarily need. So, in addition to visiting a travel clinic, you might want to check some reputable government sites to see what they recommend. I use the Canadian Government travel vaccine sight before going abroad.
Buy medical insurance. I can’t stress this enough.
If you feel like you’re getting sick on a trip, here’s what to do
My disgusting secret recipe for staying healthy when travelling. Aren’t you lucky? I’m going to give you my secret recipe for battling colds, flus and sore throats. I’ve been concocting this odorous all-natural potion for years, and not only is it helpful for fighting germs, it’s guaranteed to get rid of anyone around you because it smells.
Take a cup of hot water, add a sliced up clove of garlic, chopped-up fresh ginger, lemon juice, and a sprinkle of cayenne. Drink. Stink. And be healthy.
Acidophilus. What is it? Acidophilus is a probiotic found naturally in your digestive system. Probiotics are good bacteria. According to the Mayo Clinic, acidophilus can be effective in treating vaginal inflammation, diarrhoea and possibly respiratory infections. You can buy it at a health store or drugstore, but make sure it’s the type that doesn’t need refrigeration so you can take it with you. Another option is to eat yoghurt.
Go for garlic: Garlic has been used as a health booster for centuries. The key compound is allicin, a powerful antioxidant that is released when garlic is crushed, chopped or chewed. Fresh is best, but a garlic-laden meal won’t hurt you.
Or, in a pinch, do what I saw an Australian former-heroin-addict-turned-Born-Again-Christian do in Paris at my hotel. Buy a bulb of garlic, peel a clove and eat it. Then give some to your travel companions because they probably have colds, too.
Get green. Remember to eat something green once in awhile unless, of course, you’re in a hot exotic country then you might want to forego the fresh salads and opt for cooked vegetables or travel with a bottle of Greens Plus instead.
Take goldenseal or Echinacea for colds and flu. Goldenseal is a powerful herb, so don’t take it for too long at a time. Echinacea is another popular herb used to combat cold and flu.
Try Cold-FX. Cold-FX is North American ginseng in a standardized dose and it really seems to pack a punch when you are fighting a cold, at least it does for me.
Listerine. Don’t knock this humble mouthwash. Like the ad says, ‘it kills germs fast’ and I always travel with it. Gargle at night before you go to bed. Bonus, your breath will be fresh, too.
Take Vitamin C. If you can’t get enough Vitamin C from fruit and veggies, consider taking a supplement for this powerful antioxidant.
See a doctor. If you’re not getting better quickly, see a doctor. Ask for recommendations at your hotel – sometimes they’ll make an appointment for you. While it’s scary to visit a doctor in a foreign country, you won’t be alone. It happens to many of us, at least it’s happened to me in Greece, Korea, Thailand, the UK and France. I told you I was experienced at this.
Watch what you eat and drink
Street food. Travellers love to rave about street food. I love to rave about diarrhoea. If it looks questionable or dirty stay away.
Fresh but … When I’m traveling in places such as the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, I avoid salad and unpeeled fruit, and opt for well-cooked vegetables instead.
Avoid tap water. Generally I don’t drink tap water in places such as the Caribbean, South or Central America, Mexico, Southeast or South Asia unless it’s boiled. Use bottled water instead and check that the seal on the bottle hasn’t been broken. Avoid ice in your drinks – it’s made with same tap water, too. If you don’t have access to bottled water, look into purification tablets or some other method of water purification.
Eat enough and eat right
Eating right can be tricky when travelling, especially for those on a budget. That’s because often the right choice is the expensive choice. It’s a constant battle not to fall in the habit of surviving on pizza, pasta or pad thai. Sometimes you need to tell yourself it’s okay to pay more for a healthy meal.
Splurge on a side dish of boring-but-healthy steamed broccoli once in awhile rather than that sinful chocolate cake. (No, I don’t want to either.) Or get yourself to a market and buy some fresh fruit (but remember to peel it yourself).
If you’re like me, you’re sunk. Some people give off a delicious chemical smell that is irresistible to insects – especially when you sweat. This is problematic when, for example, you’re hiking through a steamy jungle. But mosquitos can carry terrible illnesses such as Zika, Dengue and Malaria so you don’t want to mess with them.
What do you do? Research a destination before you go, and discuss the risks with your doctor. Drown yourself in mosquito repellent, but be careful of ones containing DEET. It’s effective but toxic, so shower off at night. Wear long sleeves and pants (I know, it’s a pain in warm weather) especially at dawn and dusk, and consider sleeping under a mosquito net, depending on where you are.
Stay fit while you travel
While sightseeing will keep you on your feet, it’s not exactly refreshing. Adding a cycling tour, hike or some other kind of activity will relax and renew. Walk to that church or temple instead of taking the bus or a cab. If your hotel has a fitness room, use it (easier said than done) and if it has a sauna or pool, make use of it that, too.
Doing stretches in your hotel room before you go to bed helps work out kinks and muscle tension – and it makes you feel virtuous. If you’re concerned with how to stay healthy while traveling, fitting in some fitness will go a long way.
Get enough sleep
Pay attention to your body. Give it some rest.
Be careful of the sun
Who doesn’t love sunshine? It’s so tempting when you’re coming from a cold country to overdo the heat. Beware, heatstroke can happen if your body can’t regulate its temperature when faced with super high temperatures, and passing out is no fun.
We all know that sunburn is painful and about skin cancer risks. Much as I hate greasy sunblock, I slather it on, and when I have to I wear a hat and bring along a lightweight shirt I can put over my bare arms if the sun gets too strong. If you’re feeling dizzy, find shade fast. Remember to keep yourself hydrated.
Give yourself a break
You don’t have to see all of Rome in one day. For some reason, once I get out of my hotel room I have a habit of staying out until I have seen Every. Single. Sight. Also, I’ve made myself sick from shopping exhaustively. (Sad, but true. Thanks, London.) If your legs are wearing out, find a park bench, a cafe or go back to your hotel and take a siesta. Your body is your most faithful travel companion – you can’t leave home without it.
Note: I’m not a professional health practitioner and this does not take the place of a doctor’s advice. Before taking any supplement or medication check with your health provider.
Note: I’m not a doctor and this does not take the place of a doctor’s advice. Before taking any supplement you should check with your health provider.