Long distance travel can take a huge toll on our general health and wellbeing. Long-haul flights, a change of diet, a lack of routine, and the overall stress of transport and figuring out new cultures can leave us feeling worn out, overwhelmed, and often sick. Without being a stick in the mud or missing out on the experience of travel, here are some of the biggest mistakes people make, and a few tactics you can employ to avoid unnecessarily sabotaging your health while traveling.
1. Overdoing it
This one tops the list as it is something we are all prone to do in the excitement of planning a trip. Hopefully, you are reading this before you craft a jam-packed itinerary, and instead leave some room for a breather — and spontaneity.
It’s common to feel overwhelmed with trip planning and the anticipation of the experience of air travel, the safety of a destination, potential unexpected finances, and personal expectations. They all take a strain on stress levels. If this is something you struggle with, here are some tips to reduce anxiety whilst traveling.
And during the trip, remember you don’t have to be doing or seeing something every moment. Some of the most memorable travel experiences appear in the unexpected moments spent sitting in the local park or city plaza, sipping coffee or chatting with locals.
2. Having poor sleeping habits
It is likely that we are all guilty of neglecting to prioritize sleep during our travels (and lives). It can be hard to maintain a decent sleep schedule when exploring the world, especially when flying across time zones and when overnight travel legs can’t be avoided.
While it might be asking too much to fit in a solid 8-hours, practicing a few simple tricks can encourage decent sleeping habits. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times has a list of benefits including enhanced immunity, hormonal balance, mood support, not to mention providing you with energy to get out and enjoy the sights that inspired your journey in the first place.
Prepare yourself for a variety of challenging sleep circumstances with an eye mask, earplugs, and a travel pillow. There are lots of effective sleep aids, including natural ones, that can help. Do your best to reset your internal clock toward the time zone you will be traveling in, even in the days before you get there. Once you’ve arrived, send your body direct signals informing it of the time zone where you are — get out and be active during daylight hours (exercise is a great idea) and wind down with quiet activities, like reading and hot tea, once it’s dark and nearing bedtime.
3. Not drinking enough water
A simple and accessible way to promote health while traveling is by staying hydrated. If you are not drinking enough fluids, you are making your body susceptible to a long list of unpleasantries, including constipation, dry skin, headaches, and crankiness. Certain travel-related influences, such as long plane flights, hot environments, alcohol, and caffeine, make hydration even more essential.
Carry a small, refillable water bottle with you, and sip from it often. If you find water to be uninspiring, jazz it up with a squeeze of lemon or lime, an electrolyte tablet, or try bubbly water. Any time you take a break — snapping a photo, looking at a map, waiting in line to buy tickets, sitting on a bus or park bench — use it as a chance to hydrate.
4. Using too much plastic
It is hard not to be reliant on plastic while traveling. Sadly, not only is plastic awful for the environment, it is also damaging to our health. Plastics contain endocrine-mimicking molecules that negatively affect the human hormonal system. This can lead to issues such as cancer and suppressed immunity.
While traveling, you will likely find yourself eating and drinking out of plastic containers often, leaving a trail of plastic waste in your wake. Bring a reusable water bottle with you on your journey, or buy a single plastic container that you can reuse and seek out water filling stations. Bring your own reusable food container with a lid that you can request your to-go food be served in. This will double as a great storage container in your suitcase.
This is a hard one to stay ahead of, but really worth the effort to proactively avoid. Plastic is harmful to your health and the health of the planet.
5. Too much sun
Equip yourself with a protective hat, sunscreen, and water. It’s usually a good rule of thumb to follow the locals. If you notice that people disappear indoors midday or find a shady place to nap in clever public places, take a hint and follow their lead. The sun’s warmth might feel like the reward of the vacation you’ve dreamed of for so long, just remember to not overdo. The sights you want to fit in will be so pleasant (and photogenic) in the early morning quiet or with a late afternoon breeze.
If you fly often, especially long-haul at high altitudes, you are being exposed to a small amount of radiation on each leg. While radiation exposure is an everyday threat we face due to radio waves, cellular communication, and sunshine in our environment, it is enhanced by airplane travel. Exposure on a single flight is negligible but will accumulate if you covered a lot of miles (though this mainly applies to airline workers). No need to get paranoid and skip flying altogether; just ensure you get your annual health screenings.
7. Asking too much of your respiratory system
Travel tends to challenge the respiratory system. Recycled air on a plane, air conditioning, and pollution present irritants to your lungs, throat, and sinuses with each inhale. When the respiratory system becomes compromised you become more susceptible to catching colds or the flu.
Show your respiratory system some love by getting out into nature for a hike, jog, or just hanging out and breathing deeply. The sea air is an ideal humidifier for the respiratory system, or any lush area with clean air, such as a forest, botanical garden, or even a small city park. Keep your mucous membranes moist and clear using a moisturizing nasal spray or by sitting in a sauna.
8. Not eating enough fresh, healthy food
Perhaps you have encountered the traveler who resigns to eating only French fries, McDonald’s, or fried rice throughout their trip because the local food does not suit their dietary restrictions or preferences. While I applaud a commitment to vegetarianism, veganism, or whatever your dietary path, travel may require you to put in extra effort while eating regional cuisine.
Sticking to extremely limited food options, especially processed food, is an effective way to sabotage your health, and make you feel awful. Be adventurous, take some risks, and find the local foods that satisfy you and suit your needs — and listen to your body.
Be prepared to go the extra mile to accommodate your diet. Learn how to politely communicate your limitations in the local language. Seek out vendors who are willing to happily oblige. And be ready to eat very simply or even prepare something at your hotel.
9. Taking malaria meds and other antibiotics
Antibiotics can take a toll on your liver, kidneys, and digestive system, especially when taken long term. The benefits are obvious — no need to risk contracting malaria or suffering severe diarrhea when modern medicine offers protection. Just be sure to counteract the negative effects of antibiotics by boosting your body’s healthy bacterial load and supporting the detoxification capacity of your organs.
Take a quality probiotic for the entire length of your antibiotic prescription, and, ideally, for a couple weeks before and after as well. Allow for several hours (2 minimum) between taking pro- and antibiotics. Eating probiotic foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut is helpful, but they won’t match the medical potency of antibiotics. Drink plenty of water to help your body clear out toxins and support the optimal function of your organs. Follow the warnings associated with the drug you are taking, such as limiting sun exposure when taking most antimalarials.