Few things can put a damper on a fun trip like getting sick, so I’d like to share what I do to stay healthy while traveling. These suggestions are good ideas at any time to incorporate in your life. But, they are especially helpful while traveling.
Now, these are not intended to be guidance on avoiding the global pandemic. You should get those from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or your home country’s comparable organization. And, I’m not a medical professional so these don’t constitute medical advice. These are recommendations to stay well in general so you can enjoy your trip.
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Wash Your Hands
It’s always a good idea to wash your hands regularly, and especially so to stay healthy while traveling. Making sure your hands are clean is a great idea and so easy to do. We use our hands all the time and then we touch our faces, and that’s an easy way to transmit bacteria and viruses.
I’m not even talking about being a major germophobe here. But, just being smart and making sure you’re not exposing yourself to sickness unnecessarily.
Also, the cleanliness standards in different countries can vary. For example, developing countries don’t always have the standards of other countries. I mentioned this specifically in a post with tips for traveling in Colombia.
In my experience traveling to Central and South America, many of the bathrooms don’t have paper or even a toilet seat. Well, they also often don’t have soap either.
It’s important to wash your hands with soap after going to the bathroom, and also before you eat anything. Ideally, any time you are putting your hands near your face, you should wash them.
Even in developed countries, you will see large swings. So, do yourself a favor and make sure you wash your hands regularly. If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can bring hand sanitizer along. It works well in a pinch.
Make Sure to Hydrate
Water is one of those important things that keep our bodies functioning at its peak. It’s even more important than food, as we can go much longer without food than water.
It’s easy to get dehydrated as we do a lot on vacation that drains us of fluid. Things like flying on a plane, being in the sun, and being active all tap our fluid supply. It’s a great idea to drink a lot when you travel.
There are some countries where it’s not advisable to drink the tap water. Instead, you can buy bottled water or consider being environmentally conscious and bring a refillable water bottle. There are so many options for filtering water. You can get bottles with water filters in them or get a separate water filter to use.
I have been using the Katadyn BeFree water filter bottle by Katadyn and I love it. It holds a liter so it’s a great size to carry around without carrying too much weight. It’s soft-sided so you can crumple it up to the size of the filter in your bag when you’re not using it. You can also use it to fill other cups and bottles.
If I need more water than it holds, I have a collapsible bottle by Platypus that holds 2 liters of water. It doesn’t have a filter on it but I don’t need one as I can refill it with my Katadyn bottle.
This is one tip I have learned the hard way. There is little more miserable than getting a scorching sunburn while you’re traveling. A bad burn makes it tough to sleep and really makes it tough to do much at all as everything hurts!
There isn’t much you can do once you get sunburned, either. You can try to find aloe to help your skin heal, but it takes a few days to improve. There’s not a lot you can do about that.
If you’re going to be outside for any amount of time, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a layer of sunscreen. What I often forget is that the sunscreen only lasts a certain amount of time, and even less if you sweat a lot or get wet. So, make sure to reapply. You’ll be much happier for it.
I usually use Neutrogena sunscreen and here’s what I use on my face and on my body (it’s water-resistant!), conveniently in travel-friendly sizes.
Get Plenty of Sleep
It’s very easy to be on the go, go, go when you travel and as a result, sleep isn’t a high priority. I have been known to do this a time or ten. I tend to run myself ragged on vacations and as a result, I often get sick. It’s no fun, and simply getting rest and enough sleep would make a big difference.
Most people need a solid eight hours of sleep on a regular basis. That’s not to say you can’t get less occasionally. Though really, you want to be sure to get at least as much sleep as you generally get on a regular basis.
So, if seven hours is the magic number for you, that’s fine. Though, when you’re traveling, you may be running around all day and much busier than you usually are when you’re at home. If so, consider bumping it up a little bit to accommodate your extra energy level.
Naps count as well. So, if you have a couple of nights where you can’t get as much sleep as you usually do, see if you can get a nap during the day. You’re usually best off if they are short or under an hour. That way you can make sure your nap doesn’t impact that night’s sleep.
Keep in mind this also means getting sleep while you’re traveling. If you’re like me and have a tough time on planes, here are some handy tips for managing flight anxiety that can help. And sometimes, it’s as easy as making sure to leave plenty of time to get to the airport.
Listen to Your Body
In addition to making sure you get enough sleep, you also need to make sure you get enough rest and pace yourself. If you travel like me, you hop up out of bed in the morning eager to start your day to see everything you possibly can.
I have learned the hard way as I’ve gotten older, that my energy level doesn’t seem to listen to my will. Now that I’m getting older, I’m finding that in addition to sleep, I need to be sure I’m getting enough rest. If I’m overly active for a long period of time during the day and then I don’t get enough sleep, it’s a sure way to get sick.
I now try to limit myself on a daily basis of how long I am out and about and make sure I have some downtime. This can be either sitting down or laying down and resting. It’s a challenge as resting is the last thing I want to do when I’m exploring. However, my body thanks me for it during my trip by not getting sick.
Stay Active and Stretch Often
When you travel, it’s a good idea to stay active, even if you’re on a relaxing beach vacation. Part of the reason for this is we tend to make less healthy food choices when we’re traveling. This includes eating and drinking more than we usually do and eating and drinking less healthful things. If you stay active it may help to counter that a bit.
Also, staying active helps you feel your best. Activity can be anything. If you want to explore an area, consider walking instead of driving around. Rent a bike, go for a swim. The activity can be anything you want that you enjoy which keeps you moving.
Stretching is a good way to help you feel good and not get stiff. Sometimes sleeping in a different bed can make me stiff.
I know that if I doze on a flight I can wake in a poor position where my neck or back hurts. Stretching after flights and even during a trip can help you feel your best while you travel. I try to stretch at least every morning when I get up to work out any kinks from traveling.
I recently purchased this foldable travel yoga mat for this purpose. I love the idea, though haven’t had a chance to road test it yet.
A great way to stay healthy while traveling is to make sure you protect yourself from known illnesses. Before you travel to any country, it’s a good idea to check what vaccinations are recommended.
If you live in the United States, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website is a great place to start. It provides both recommended vaccinations as well as optional ones. Some of the vaccinations last a year or less but many of them last for five years or more.
Some of the commonly recommended vaccinations include Typhoid, Hepatitis A, and B. The website shows you maps if transmission areas are geographically based. It also provides information about recent issues.
The CDC helps you to identify your risk level for certain issues. It also provides great recommendations for travel safety and health to help you stay safe when you travel.
The vaccinations can be costly but they are much less expensive than a hospital stay if you were to get sick. And there is no downtime on your vacation from them!
Pack First Aid Supplies
Though you don’t need a full first aid kit, it’s a really good idea to pack some first aid supplies in case you need them. Regardless of where I’m traveling, I always pack some Advil, anti-diarrheal (like Immodium), bandages and band-aids, moleskin, cold and allergy medicine. Depending on where I’m going, I may adjust this list a bit.
Trying to go to a pharmacy to explain what you need when you don’t speak the local language where you’re traveling can be a challenge. And imagine trying to explain Immodium? Yeah, I’ve been there and it’s a blast!
I have a small first-aid kit similar to this one for hiking that I sometimes pack for trips. At a minimum, I snag a few things out of it and refill as needed.
Don’t Forget Your Meds
Make sure you pack your regular medications. You don’t want to get stuck without something you need, trying to get it filled at a pharmacy when you don’t speak the language. If it’s important for your health and wellbeing, make sure you pack it.
There are so many options for your meds for travel. I used to just toss my meds in a Ziploc bag (which can explode in your bag!), and it works. If you like the Ziploc idea but want something a tad sturdier, these bags are a great option. Here’s a great option for organizing if you take several and different meds in the morning and at night.
Another great option to organize and keep your meds safe are these small plastic containers. There are lots of options.
Drink in Moderation
I’m not going to say not to drink alcohol as that isn’t very practical. But when you drink, try to drink in moderation. First, it’s not a good feeling to wake up from a fun night out with a scorching hangover.
It can ruin your day and worse, can make you susceptible to getting sick. So have a drink or two and enjoy them, but make sure you don’t overdo it relative to what you normally drink.
Make Your Own Meals
When I eat out for three meals a day, I tend to eat more than I normally do and feel a bit bloated. It’s great to eat smaller meals or better yet, make your own if you can. Eating healthy while traveling can be a challenge.
I have been renting apartments over the last couple of years when I travel and I love it. Not only do I feel a bit more like a local, but I have the opportunity to make my own meals occasionally.
I don’t do any major cooking, but I can make something light for a meal each day and feel so much better for it. Maybe I’ll do something light out for breakfast, come home during the day for a light lunch, or even make an easy dinner. I can also bring home leftovers so I’m not tempted to scarf the last bites of my dinner.
Having this flexibility is helpful so when I do go out to eat, it’s a nice treat and I really appreciate it. But I tend to eat less when I’m traveling and make better decisions.
If you can’t get an apartment, grabbing a take-away, or to-go meal, is another alternative to try to keep the volume down as well as cost. When I went to Paris on a budget, I would grab a baguette or a crepe on the go. That way I not only didn’t take the time in a restaurant, but it was cheaper too. And often a bit less than what I might have eaten in a restaurant.
Get Travel Insurance
To be honest, I never got travel insurance. Then I went to Thailand and in the span of two days, I met two women who both had significant medical issues while traveling on that trip.
One broke her arm and was hospitalized for surgery. The other came down with a mosquito-borne illness and also had to be hospitalized. Had she gotten the recommended vaccination for the area, she may have been ok.
I heard the message loud and clear and have gotten travel insurance since. There are a number of carriers who provide it, and the coverage varies.
I have always used World Nomads for my travel insurance. They offer coverage for things like trip interruption and delays, as well as if your bag is lost or stolen in addition to medical coverage. It’s a great package and it’s reasonably priced for peace of mind.
Though travel insurance doesn’t necessarily help you to stay healthy while traveling, it can help you get back to health more quickly. I recommend World Nomads and it’s what I currently use.
World Nomads covers to age 70. If you are 70 or older, check out Insure My Trip. And, if you’d like some additional repatriation protection to return to your home country in the case of an emergency, check out MedJet.
I’m not a medical professional and the guidance in this post doesn’t constitute medical advice. Of course, if you are traveling and you feel unwell, it’s advisable to see a doctor. These are simply recommendations based on the things I do to try to stay healthy while traveling.
Many of these suggestions to stay healthy while traveling is just good practical advice. And they are useful anytime, whether you are traveling or at home. I have found them helpful in my quest to stay healthy while traveling. It’s no fun being sick in bed when you can be out exploring the world! I wanted to share them with you as I hope they may be helpful for you as well.
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