8 Travel Health Tips

The travel bug is one thing, but what about jet lag, dehydration and other potential hazards of exploring? See our top tips for healthy travel.

Healthy Living July 10, 2014

Eat right, stay safe and manage stress while seeing the sights

Travelers, take heed: "Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote," says the comedian, writer and travel documentarian Michael Palin.

The travel bug is one thing, but what about malarial mosquitoes, jet lag, dehydration and other potential hazards of exploring the world?

We asked Jill Boroniec, MD, a family medicine physician at Rush University Medical Center and an avid traveler (favorite destinations: the Middle East, Central America and Europe) to share some of her top tips for healthy travel.

1. Protect yourself before you go 

Traveling outside of your home country can expose you to a lot of new bacteria and viruses. When you book your trip, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travelers' Health website for information. 

Then, four to six weeks before you travel, visit a travel medicine clinic for any necessary immunizations and other recommended precautions (e.g., malaria prophylaxis for many destinations in Brazil, Africa and South Asia).

2. Keep the H2O flowing 

Good hydration is always important, but even more so when you travel; air travel in particular is very dehydrating.

"Drink lots of water on the plane and while you're out and about at your destination," Boroniec says. "In developing countries, always make sure you're drinking bottled water for safety's sake."

3. Stay on the move

Sitting still in a confined space for extended periods — like when you're on a long flight — can contribute to blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT).

Every 30 to 45 minutes, get up and walk the cabin. "If you're stuck in a window seat and can't get up that often, or if the seat belt sign is on, perform 10 heel raises (with toes firmly planted on the floor) followed by 10 toe raises (with heels planted on the floor) at least every 60 minutes," Boroniec suggests.

If you're taking a car or RV trip, schedule rest stops every few hours so you can walk around and stretch.

4. Be smart about sun

Whenever you're going to be outdoors, wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30; apply it liberally and reapply every two hours as well as after swimming. Boroniec also recommends sun-protective clothing and hats for kids and fair-skinned people who burn easily — especially during summer or in tropical areas. 

"Another tip if you're traveling to a warm-weather destination: Be very careful about drinking alcohol in the hot sun," she says. "The combination magnifies the effects of both and puts you at high risk for heat exhaustion and heatstroke."

5. Eat like a local

"Be adventurous about trying local foods! Tropical fruit that you can't get at home can be a healthy vacation food splurge that satisfies your sweet tooth just as much as an ice-cream cone," Boroniec says. 

One caveat: In developing countries, avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables that you haven't peeled yourself.

Be very careful about drinking alcohol in the hot sun. The combination magnifies the effects of both and puts you at high risk for heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

6. Jettison jet lag

"If you're traveling only one or two time zones away, it's easiest just to operate as though you're still in your home time zone," Boroniec advises.

When you're planning a trip farther away, if you can begin to adjust your sleep and meal times by an hour each day before you travel, you'll be acclimated to your new time zone before you arrive.

When you get to your destination, try to sync with local time initially, and plan an early (local) bedtime on the first night. "Getting some light exercise and drinking lots of water the first day also really helps with jet lag," Boroniec adds.

7. Pack wisely

In addition to appropriate clothing, here are a few things to make sure you bring the following:

  • Enough of your prescription medications to last the trip, plus small bottles of staples like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Benadryl and cortisone lotion
  • The right shoes for your destination and your planned activities (and make sure they're well broken in before your trip so you don't get blisters)
  • A small bottle of hand sanitizer
  • A few travel-sized rolls of toilet paper (if you are traveling outside of the U.S.).  In many countries, restrooms are often not equipped with toilet paper, especially in rural areas. You don't have to carry an entire roll around while sightseeing; tear off enough to last the day, fold it up and stash it in a purse, bag or your pocket.

8. Take time to de-stress 

"Some people cram their schedules so full of activities that they forget they're traveling to relax and get away from the stress of life back home," Boroniec says. "Build in some time to unwind, disconnect from email and social media as much as you can, and just focus on enjoying yourself."

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