It’s a foregone conclusion that the adventurer who spends enough time on the travel circuit will eventually fall ill. There is only so much exposure to new germs that the body can handle before it throws in the white towel for a few days.
My body has thrown in its fair share of white towels over the past 5 years. In spite of the misery I have endured, these experiences have sharpened my ability to stay healthy on the road. Here are my top 5 tactics for healthy travel.
Tips for healthy travel
Perhaps the most underrated factor in overall health, sleep has a major influence on the immune system. There are heaps of studies to support the importance of sleep, and the detrimental long and short-term effects a lack of it has. Personally, I do best when I get at least 7 hours straight per night, however, this isn’t always compatible with adventure travel.
Thus, I make an effort to get as much sleep as I can without leaving anything remarkable out. In many places around the world, the morning is the best time to learn how local people live, so I use this as incentive to sleep early and wake early.
When traveling long distances on planes, trains, and buses, having some of the proper gear can make all the difference. Would you rather; sleep comfortably through the night, or, lie awake for 9 hours in a neon-lit sleeper bus listening to Khmer game show hosts flirt with guests at full volume? The answer is obvious to me, and so, I use the following items to make sure I sleep enough in such situations:
- Earplugs (if you don’t have proper earplugs, some rolled up, wet tissue works wonders)
- Coccoon (REI sells various sizes and brands of comfortable, durable cocoons: https://www.rei.com/b/cocoon)
- Reading material
Exercise is one of the first routines to be axed when I begin travelling. However, I usually find myself craving some movement, heavy breathing, and muscle building activity early on in my travels. I try to integrate these activities into my daily routine in a way that doesn’t require me to spend too much extra time thinking about my body or seeking out gyms.
By selecting activities that require use of the body, it is easy to satisfy the exercising requirement. Trekking, kayaking, and rock climbing, to name a few, are great activities for killing two birds with one stone.
As for weight lifting, backpacks make great dumbbell substitutes. Small day-packs are perfect for a number of upper-body workouts, and large backpacks can be worn while doing pushups, squats, or pull-ups. Add or subtract as much weight as you please (try to maintain symettry in your pack), and you’ve got a full rack of dumbbells with you at all times!
To round out the travel gym, look carefuly around your hotel room. Door frames and bed frames, are great for pull-ups and triceps dips, respectively.
Being able to say, “No sugar”, “No MSG”, or, “No meat, I am vegetarian,” in the local language is truly indispensable. If done properly, it will certainly get you what you want, and to top it off, will likely make your server smile.
I normally learn these phrases at the first opportunity that I get. It’s best to find a local who speaks good English, perhaps a tour guide or hostel receptionist, to help you nail these phrases.
Focus on the pronunciation of what you are saying. Write down the phrases with an phonetic English transcription that is easy for you to understand. In many countries, sugar, MSG, and salt are used liberally in cuisine. Dodging these fine white powders, and any other ingredients you don’t fancy, will strengthen your health.
Some people will scoff at you if you ask the locals to alter the ingredients in a dish. Let them scoff. You can eat whatever you damn well please as long as you don’t force someone to make it for you in a certain way.
This piece of advice might fall flat for many people. Meditation can be a daunting undertaking. The majority of people probably think they don’t know how to meditate, and that they would be deepening their discomfort by sitting awkwardly on the floor in a dark hotel room. It doesn’t have to be this way! By meditate, I simply mean to take a bit of time from each day to cease all stimulating activities.
This doesn’t mean to lay down in bed and take a mid-day nap, although that is also a good travel practice. Rather, take a chunk of time, 15, 30, 60 minutes, really, whatever you can set aside, to check in with your body and mind.
I do this in a seated position with my eyes closed, because I learned a technique that requires that posture. Maybe you meditate best while walking, or while stretching. Whatever your preference, meditation is a tool that can be used to refresh the body and mind no matter the setting.
5. First-Aid Kit
A first-aid kit is a must have while traveling. However big or small it is, and whether it includes alopathic or natural remedies, this piece of equipment will certainly come in handy at some point down the road. Hand sanitizer, bandages of various sizes, gauze, cotton, disinfectant, and some medical tape are all components of a basic first-aid kit.
In mine, I add eyedrops, probiotic powder, and electrolytes. If you are reading this from a foreign country, and you don’t have a first-aid kit, don’t worry! These items can all usually be picked up cheaply in local pharmacies.
On several occasions, I have required emergency medical attention while traveling internationally. Each time, the items that I had in my first-aid kit were useful for dealing with the issue at hand before the professionals took over. Keep your first-aid kit simple. Unless you are deathly allergic to bee stings, you probably don’t need 100 tablets of antihistimines.
Hand sanitizer, bandages, and disinfectant are the most imperative items to carry, so make sure you have these packed and accessible. I normally have hand sanitizer in the front pocket of my backpack ready to dispense at a moments notice. It is great to ensure healthy travel both physically and mentally (I’d rather not have to be constantly aware of how many train handholds I’ve touched since last visiting a bathroom with soap).
Healthy Travel = Healthy Body + Healthy Mind
Healthy travel involves going with the flow just as much as it involves making well informed decisions. Thus, I try not to sacrifice awesome experiences just for the sake of keeping a regular schedule with exercise, meditation, or any other practice.
If I feel that I really need to sit and meditate, then I will do that, but there is normally more than one opportunity in a day to spend time with these activities. Ultimately, the equation for healthy travel is up to the traveler to figure out!