Wellness While You’re Away
Published March 2020
6 Steps to Healthy Travel
Vacations can be great: The opportunity to get away from daily stress, explore new places, indulge in favorite pastimes or lounge with your loved ones are all luxuries to keep you relaxed and well. But a virus caught on the plane or nausea from something in the water can put a damper on an otherwise exceptional experience.
Whether you’re traveling internationally or taking a road trip across the country, follow these six steps to stay healthy on and after your trip:
1. Visit and Vaccinate Early
While you may not need to check with your doctor before a weekend trip to Grandma’s, you should make an appointment to visit your primary care provider before any long-term or long-distance travel. Your physician can make any necessary arrangements for prescription medication and provide a letter speaking to your needs in case you run into trouble while you’re away. Remember to carry prescriptions in their original, well-labeled container and if flying, store in your carry-on in case your luggage is lost.
For international travel, be sure to see a travel medicine physician at least 4-6 weeks before you leave. Different countries may require specific vaccines, and certain inoculations will take multiple doses or a few weeks to be effective. Share your itinerary with your physician so he or she can provide recommendations and advice on staying well while you’re out of town.
Certain travel may cause young children to have their recommended vaccinations administered early, so be sure to allow enough time for everyone in your family to be ready.
2. Pack and Prep Before You Leave
Once you’ve sorted out vaccines and any area-specific risks, you can put together a first aid kit. A basic travel pack will include:
- Adhesive bandages
- Antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Allergy medication
- Antacids, digestive treatment like Pepto-Bismol
- Imodium for diarrhea
- Sunscreen (SPF 15 or more)
- Small scissors
- Hand sanitizer
Be sure to supplement your travel kit with any personal medications or first aid such as inhalers or insulin. Use your discretion and knowledge of your body and destination when deciding whether to bring motion sickness or altitude sickness medications. If appropriate, pack insect repellant and hydrocortisone cream for bug bites, poison ivy or poison oak.
You may also wish to pack a written copy of your or your family’s medical history, including name, address, blood type, health conditions, immunization records and contact information for your physician and pharmacist. Your physician can provide forms to help guide you collecting this information. You may also wish to download or update an In Case of Emergency app. ICE apps can provide first responders with emergency contact details as well as store important information on you and your family’s medications, allergies or organ donor designations.
If you anticipate jetlag, begin adjusting your sleep schedule two to three days before departure, though it’s most important to be well rested before taking a trip.
3. Make Healthy Habits En Route
Whether by plane, train or automobile, travel is often the most stressful part of vacation. If you or your loved one is prone to motion sickness, eat a light, relatively bland meal before travel, but avoid eating while on the move. When possible, make frequent stops for fresh air and focus your vision outside.
Air travel can cause ear pain, especially in children. Encourage your child to swallow lots and yawn; if they’re old enough, offer gum for take off and landing. Everyone should make an extra effort to stay hydrated when flying – no alcohol for adults – and get up and move about the cabin as much as possible.
4. Adjust On Arrival
Travel in any form tends to be confining. The first thing you should do when you arrive at your destination is get up – stretch and move around to get your blood pumping. Be sure to keep drinking lots of water as you begin your vacation, but choose bottled or purified options if you’re unsure about the tap water.
Travel is exhausting, but do your best to adjust to local time. Spend the first few hours at your new destination outside in daylight. As hard as it may be, try not to nap when you arrive and avoid coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages. Steer clear of alcohol as well until you're feeling on track with local time. Melatonin can also help configure your internal clock, though you’ll want to consult your doctor before taking any supplement.
5. Stay Safe and Active
Whatever your vacation entails – mountain hikes, beach relaxation or urban exploring – you’ll want to make sure you’re keeping safe and staying in line with your wellness goals. Sun protection is essential no matter your itinerary: apply sunscreen every two hours or more frequently if you’re sweating or swimming.
If you’re worried about staying in shape while you’re away from home, an app may be helpful for charting a run in a new neighborhood. Packing light shoes or researching local gym options can be easy ways to bring your workout with you.
The adventurous may be tempted to embark on that epic 15-mile hike or tackle that black diamond ski slope, but these could send you home with a new strain or more serious injury. Keep your ability or skill level in mind when picking active excursions on vacation.
6. Keep Well All the While
You’ve packed all the necessary precautions, sailed smoothly to your new location and even pulled off a local climb without, well, pulling anything. But, what about all the little things that might slip you up and into a sick bed on vacation?
When you check in to your hotel, bed and breakfast or vacation rental, do a quick spot check for bedbugs. Keeping baggage off the ground on a luggage rack can also safeguard against bringing any critters back home with you.
Depending on where your holiday takes you, be careful about drinking tap water and eating raw fruits or vegetables. In any locale, prioritize good hand washing and beware of buffets – hot or cold, food that has been sitting out can easily go bad.
If you follow a personal diet, do some research on friendly places to eat before you go. Find the best organic, gluten-free or vegan spots in advance to get the most out of your trip!