You know the moment.
You’re on holiday and in the middle of an local market, taking pictures of the jars of homemade pickles and piles of spices (well, that’s what I like to do on holiday!), when suddenly:
goes your stomach. Or your intestines. Or both.
And you know your holiday fun will be put on hold for at least 24 hours, while you hang out in your hotel room, getting acquainted with the toilet – and CNN international (the only English TV channel ever available!)
With my upcoming wedding fast approaching, staying healthy while traveling is at the front of my mind.
I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of international travel over the past few years, and have managed to stay, mostly, healthy the entire time. (Except for a little food poisoning incident in Romania – but that wasn’t Romania’s fault, I got sick on the plane en route!)
So I thought I’d share my healthy travel plan. It’s a good dose of natural health wisdom, and starts well before you leave your house!
Step 1: Pre-Travel Immune Boosting
One of the most important parts of my travel plan, is making sure I’m in tip-top shape before leaving on a trip.
The last thing you want is to be exhausted and run-down, and then expose your compromised immune system to lots of weird foods, drinks and exotic germs!
So our top priority while travel planning, is nourishing and supporting our immune system.
And boosting our immune system starts in our gut.
You know, I used to think it was strange all the alternative health people talked about gut health. Why? Who cares? I’m eating food, and digesting it, so everything must be A-OK, right?
That was until I learned that 80% of our immune system is in our gut (source). It makes sense. One of the top ways for germs to get into our body is when we eat or drink them – and the first place these germs will end up – in our gut. It’s important that our gut bacteria is as healthy as possible so they can ward off these unknown invaders … and keep our digestive system functioning well too!
Before the trip, make sure you’re doing general good-health habits like:
- getting enough sleep
- drinking enough water
- reduce the amount of sugar you eat (which can suppress the immune system – source)
Then, move onto boosting your gut bacteria. My very favorite way to do this is through fermented foods.
You could eat a few spoonfuls of naturally fermented sauerkraut everyday (try my super veg recipe or mostly purple pickle recipe). You could eat some probiotic yogurt (you can make your own yogurt). Or you could drink a glass of kombucha.
Eating these foods as a normal part of your diet is best. But if you’re getting ready for a trip, eat a fermented food daily for 1-2 weeks before your trip starts (up to 1 month before, if you’ve been on antibiotics recently.)
You can also take probiotic pills, but they’re so much more expensive than just making fermented foods. I only take probiotic pills if I’m going to a developing country, and want to continue taking probiotics during the trip (because it’s too messy to carry along my jar of sauerkraut!)
It’s also a good idea to boost your intake of prebiotics, which is a term for the stuff your gut bacteria feed on. This basically means to eat enough fiber. Eating oatmeal or lots of green veggies while taking your probiotics can’t hurt!
Step 2: Pack a healthy travel kit.
I like to pack a few reliable home remedies for use during my trip, for example:
- Peppermint tea bags – good for upset stomachs, headaches, and just general drinking. Traditionally used to reduce vomiting, and generally tone the upper digestive tract. Slightly stimulating, so better during the day than at night.
- Chamomile tea bags – good for upset stomachs, anxiety/stress, general relaxing, falling asleep. Especially calming to the lower digestive tract (diarrhea). You could also use a wet tea bag to calm irritated skin, sunburn, bug bites or sore eyes.
- Ginger tea bags – again good for nausea, travel sickness / motion sickness, and if you catch a cold.
- Digestive Bitters – I carry a little bottle of take when I’m feeling overly full, or if I want to strengthen my digestion before a big meal. Or if I’m feeling slightly unsteady in the stomach. Unlike teabags when you have to have hot water available, you can carry digestive bitters in your handbag, so it’s good for using during the day. I love what this company is doing with digestive bitters!
- Lavender essential oil – I carry this with me during the day as well. Besides being relaxing (to use on your pillow or in the bath, to unwind while traveling), lavender e.o. is also anti-inflammatory and can be used in a single drop on bugbites, or to disinfect a scrape/scratch.
- Rescue Remedy – Here’s another one that stays in my handbag. It’s a flower essence, so it’s a bit more new-agey than many of my remedies, but I do think it works. Just a few drops in a water bottle or under your tongue will help to “comfort and reassure” you. Good if you’re feeling stressed from travel, if you get sick, or feel slightly shocked. You can buy rescue remedy here.
- Activated charcoal – this is the thing to have on-hand if you get food poisoning. Here’s how to use activated charcoal. I travel with the capsules.
Note: this is not a substitute for a first-aid kit, and whatever other medications you and your doctor think you need during travel! This is just a list of those natural health items that I bring along when I travel (in addition to the Immodium, for example!)
Step 3: Staying healthy during your trip.
This is where you just need to be sensible.
Drinking tap water in a developing country? Bad idea.
Eating a popular street food dish while sitting on little squatty tables and wiping your chopsticks on a napkin? Just part of the travel experience!
This is a personal choice, and of course if you have any special health concerns, you should speak to your doctor about what is best for you! But for me personally, eating local food (ie, eating outside of the big hotels and touristy restaurants!) is a integral part of travel, and if that means I get sick every few trips, then so be it.
(Although like I said, I’ve only really gotten sick on one trip to Romania, and that was from food I had here in London. So you never know.)
While traveling I like to follow these general guidelines to keep myself in good health:
- Wash my hands a lot more than I do at home. Every single time before I eat. Throughout the day. I even use hand sanitizer (yes, the chemical kind!) throughout the day. The less foreign bacteria that can get into my body, the better.
- Find a clean water source (probably bottled), and stick to it. Consider brushing your teeth with bottled water, depending on the country. I drink tap water around the US and Europe, but almost everywhere else I stick to bottled. Again, this is a personal choice. (Top tip – find a local convenience store and buy several big bottles of water at the start of your trip – much cheaper than buying little bottles in touristy locations!)
- Eat vegetables! Often while traveling it’s hard to find enough vegetables to eat … there is just tons of sugar, meat, and bread/pasta. Try to eat as many vegetables as you can to keep up your vitamin levels, have more energy, and to get enough fiber to keep your digestive system moving!
- Moderate the sugar and alcohol – as we saw above, sugar can suppress your immune system. So keep it to a reasonable amount.
- Consider probiotic pills if you’re in a developing country. You might want to continue taking a daily probiotic pill while travelling depending on your destination.
If you’d like more information about healthy travel, check out my articles on what to do if you get food poisoning while travelling, and how not to catch a cold on a plane flight.
Now I’d like to hear from you – how do you stay healthy when you’re travelling? Have you tried any of these remedies above? Share your tips in the comments!