We’ve been traveling on the road pretty much full-time since 2006 and we can honestly say that we’re healthier when we’re traveling than we we’re not. Yes, part of staying healthy on the road is the magic of travel: when you look forward to a day filled with new experiences, not new meetings, you’re more likely to stay well to enjoy them. The Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (the name is purely coincidental), in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association, recently released a study that links travel with better health, including decreased risk of heart attack and depression and even the promotion of brain health. Stated simply – travel is good medicine. That’s all well and good, but you can still get a cold, the flu,or worse while traveling. Here’s how we stay healthy.
Top 5 tips for healthy travel
1. Soap is not enough
When we backpacked through South and Southeast Asia from 1995 to 1999 hand sanitizer didn’t really exist. Now it does. Use it. We were traveling in Mexico during the height of the swine flu madness and we credit liberal use of hand sanitizer (which the Mexican government was actually giving away and placing in all public places) with keeping us perfectly healthy. We have hand sanitizer in the glove compartment of our truck and in every bag and backpack we carry. Yes, use soap and water whenever possible, but when you’re on the go sanitizer can save you.
2. Fight flu before it fights you
We could never pronounce it, but we always swore by Oscillococcinum (aka Oscillo) at home so why not take it on the road? It’s actually perfect for travel since this homeopathic flu fighter is tiny, light, securely packaged, does not need to be refrigerated, is dissolved under your tongue (so there’s no need for water), and won’t interfere with any other medication you may be taking. Now that we’re in South America we’re bouncing back and forth between hot climates (Amazon Basin) to cold climates (hello, Andes). In Sogamosa, Colombia, for example, we were at 8,428 feet (2,569 meters) and we were cold all the time. Karen started sneezing and aching but after four doses of Oscillo over 36 hours the flu symptoms were gone. The stuff tastes yummy too.
3. Know when to take a rest day
It can be difficult to “waste” a day of travel to lay low and rest up. However, knowing when to take a break can keep you healthy enough to really make the most of the rest of you trip. Slowing down for a day (or more) can also be great way to notice and absorb the subtleties of a place that can elude you when you’re traveling fast.
4. Beware the water
You can’t always control the cleanliness of the food you eat while traveling, but you can avoid tummy trouble from the water you drink with one easy, effective, economical, and ecological travel tool: a SteriPEN. See why we’ve relied on this small gadget that kills waterborne bugs using UV light in our post about why all travelers should have a SteriPEN.
5. Remember that good doctors are all around you
Much of the world has doctors trained in the US and Europe or at excellent local medical schools. In many parts of the world, those doctors are skilled, talented, and much, much cheaper than doctors in the US. When Karen got dengue fever in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for example, the doctor we visited at the spotless, modern hospital there ordered full blood work (including platelets) and actually consulted with us for nearly 30 minutes. The total bill was less than US$4. If your preventative measures fall short, don’t try to tough it out. Go see a doctor and get back on the road.
Good advice :) Sometimes I wonder if traveling boosts your immune system just from the exposure to all of the elements… there have been some questionable hostel rooms and bus rides I’ve taken that surely bombarded me will all sorts of nastiness!
We totally believe in the “travel makes you stronger” theory!
One of the oldest travel phrases is “be careful of the water when abroad”. I normally carry a water filter on a bike which keeps me healthy most of the time. What do you do for water filtration?
Hi Dave and thanks for your (very good) questions. We have used a SteriPEN since day one of our Trans-Americas Journey more than seven years ago and it has served us well when we’re camping and need to filter stream water and in cities and towns throughout North, Central and South America. It’s light, portable, sturdy and uses UV light to purify a liter of water in 90 seconds. No additives. No funny taste. It’s kept the tummy bugs away AND saved us the cost of buying bottled water and the bad karma of throwing away a mini-Mount Everest of used bottles. Find out more about how we’ve relied on our SteriPEN to stay healthy while traveling in this post we did https://trans-americas.com/2012/05/drink-responsibly-steripen/.
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