People often think they can’t stay healthy while traveling. Whenever people go on vacation, it’s like all healthy choices go out the window. However, it can be done.
I like to consider myself a healthy person. I’m active, I try to eat right, and I rarely have anything worse than the common cold. When I started traveling, I found those basic aspects of my life challenged. Oftentimes in ways I didn’t see coming!
Over time, I learned how to manage health considerations alongside my travel plans. Note: I’m not a doctor, so don’t be taking my word as gospel! That being said, I’ve organized some of our typical, common-sense health tips to make them a bit easier to follow on the road. Personally, I tend to think of health in a few basic categories:
This is the one that most people struggle with. Let’s face it – there is so much tasty food out there! Every place you go is going to have a local delicacy that you should try. If you’re like me, that means you’re going to eat it every day while you’re there, because you know you won’t be able to find it at home. Also – again, if you’re like me – the sweet treats are going to be calling your name at every turn! Even so, you can control the types and amounts of food you eat.
My first tip would be to eat breakfast before you leave the hotel or hostel. Studies have shown that eating a healthy breakfast can help you keep on track for the rest of the day. Plus, when you fix your own breakfast, you can control what’s on the menu! Hit the local grocery store the night before and grab some yogurt or fruit, which you can keep in the hotel fridge. Bonus points: You might discover a new food that way! Maybe wherever you are has a special breakfast cereal or pastry or something which you can find in the grocery store.
Unfortunately, the other piece of advice I have for you on the food front is the lamest piece of advice in existence: Moderation. I always try to taste everything I can on a trip. After all, you never know when you’ll be able to find it again! That being said, the only way to make sure you can try everything on your trip while not completely destroying your waistline is to watch your portion sizes.
Also, it’s important to pay attention to the types of food that you’re eating. Mediterranean diets are going to have more veggies and lean meats than northern European cuisines. On the other hand, Mediterranean diets can also have very high carbohydrate contents. Certain areas will be more amenable to vegetarian or vegan diets than others. All of that factors into your overall health.
Apart from what you eat, you should pay attention to where you eat. Street vendors are often great choices for meals. They’re so convenient, especially when you only have a few minutes before you have to run back to the tour bus. They also usually serve a local food, the kind you usually read about in a guide book but never see in a restaurant. However, food trucks are notorious for their (lack of) cleanliness standards. If you’re going to get street food, watch where the locals go. Locals won’t buy food from vendors that gives them food poisoning, so it’s a safe bet that they’ll steer you straight.
I run every day, and, let me tell you, I can feel it when I don’t get the miles in. Unlike in the US, European hotels and hostels usually don’t have gyms. Luckily for runners, running is easy to do no matter where you are. Just throw your shoes and running watch in your bag, and voila! You’ve brought your gym with you. You can always ask the people in the hostel or hotel where there’s a good place to go running.
Even if you’re not a runner, you can still get your steps in! Remember, you’re in a new place, with loads of interesting things to see. Go for a walk! When my friend and I went to Rome, we logged something like 23,000 steps a day. Lace up those walking shoes, grab your camera, and get going!
If you’re not inclined towards running, you can do any kind of low-equipment workout in your room. Yoga, for instance, is super easy to do in hostels (and I recommend that you do after a long day of walking!). Not only does it not take any equipment, it doesn’t require that much space. Some hostels will even have a group exercise classes.
Homesickness is a real thing, guys. Even seasoned travel pros get homesick, especially on long trips or along the holidays. Not only have I experienced homesickness, I’ve seen it ruin experiences for people. It’s not weakness, and it’s no joke.
When dealing with homesickness – or any other mental condition – it’s important to have a strong network. Make sure that you have reliable communication technology. Being able to chat or face time with people back home can go a long way. Having a hobby that you can take with you can also be a huge help. Reading, knitting, photography, anything you can pack up and bring with you easily will help you recenter.
I also include spiritual health here. Before I moved abroad, I’d never studied my Bible. I mean, I wasn’t even sort of interested in doing that. After a few months of attending mass in a foreign language, though, I felt pretty isolated all the way around. All of a sudden, having an English translation of the Bible was an amazing help to me. Even if you’re not necessarily religious – maybe you’re non-denominational or spiritual or just need an emotional break – incorporate some daily meditation into your routine. For me, it was reading the Bible. For others, it might just be a few minutes of silence and calm. Find time in the mornings or evenings, when it’s quietest in the hostel and you’re least likely to be disturbed.
Illness and Injury
With everything that’s going on right now, everyone is asking how to keep illnesses at bay. Recent events have shown us just how important it is to do so while traveling. You can’t account for every eventuality, but you can definitely take some steps to help mitigate the damage.
- Carry sanitation products with you. You absolutely do not have to carry a whole hazmat unit with you. Nor am I suggesting that you adopt some sort of germophobe attitude while traveling. Something as simple as carrying hand sanitizer with you will do the trick. It’s small enough to carry around in your purse, and clean hands keep everyone healthy. I also make sure I have travel packs of Kleenex with me, and I have several travel pals – who are more put-together than me – who carry wet wipes. Kleenex should be used to capture sneezes, and both Kleenex and wet wipes can be used to clean up small messes. Filtering water bottles are also easily available and quite affordable. Drinking filtered water will protect your tummy in places that have iffy histories with water treatments.
- Bring a travel-size first aid kit. Travel-size first aid kits are great, because they come in a tiny box that fits into your suitcase without any problem. They also have all the essentials, which means that if you cut yourself shaving or trip over a cobblestone (a very real possibility), you have the materials you need to keep cuts clean. It’s also a good idea to bring any over-the-counter meds you think you might need. If you’re going to do that, though, keep them in the original containers! I know it’s tempting to put them into those trendy travel pill cases, but don’t. It’ll be easier to get them through TSA checks if they’re clearly labeled. Besides, in order to take them properly, you have to remember what they are and what dosage to take, all of which is clearly printed on the original bottle.
- Buy travel medical insurance. When I was in Italy, I had a bad case of the flu. After that, I had a nagging, racking cough that hung around for months. Through all of that, I refused to go to the doctor, largely because I was worried about paying for it. So, I get it. But there is absolutely no reason for it. Many insurance companies have limited-term policies for travelers. These policies will allow you to access local health care centers, and will even cover costs for Medevacking you back to the US if need be. Furthermore, medical professionals can also give you information about vaccines which might required in specific areas of the world. Some travel insurance plans may even cover the costs of getting those vaccines. So, it’s worth it to buy the insurance. Just buy it.
- Sign up for STEP. Okay, I have a lot to say about this one, but bear with me. The United States State Department has a program called the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP for short. Basically, before you travel, you go online and tell the State Department where you’re going and over what dates. They then notify the appropriate American embassy or consulate that an American will be within their jurisdiction, in the event that they need to find you. More importantly, they send regular updates via email to keep you up-to-date on any and all ongoing situations. These emails contain the event; when they expect the event to happen or how long they expect it to continue; what action you should take; and the contact information for emergency services. I registered with STEP every time I moved to a new country, and I’m still getting emails from the Consulates General in Poland, Italy, and the UK. Most recently, they’ve been sending out updates on the coronavirus situation and containment measures being taken in their respective countries. Honestly, I cannot stress this one enough. I’m in several social media groups for expats and ESL teachers, and those of us that are enrolled for STEP emails are, by far and away, the best informed about the current situation. With the coronavirus crisis constantly developing and localities devising new containment measures, this is incredibly important and can even save lives.
No matter where you go or what you do, staying healthy while traveling should be your first priority. A few minutes of prep work before you go can prevent a multitude of headaches – literal and figurative – later on down the road. Be sure to do your research and your travel prep. With any luck, you’ll never have to use your travel health prep, but that’s no excuse not to do it!