Some simple precautions can help you avoid vacation-killing illnesses.
by Beverly Burmeier
Whether the perfect vacation means lounging on a beach, hiking in the mountains or shopping in a city, illness can put the kibosh on your trip.
“Prevention is the key to staying healthy when traveling,” says John Midturi, DO, MPH, infectious disease physician at Baylor Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, Texas.
To start, avoid stressing about last-minute arrangements. “Get plenty of rest before leaving,” advises Jo Lichten, PhD, RD, author of How to Stay Healthy and Fit on the Road (Nutrifit). Increase your water and fiber intake ahead of time to avoid constipation due to dehydration and unpredictable schedules. Take along snacks like trail mix made with dry cereal, dried fruit and walnuts or almonds, or peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat bread.
If you plan strenuous activities like hiking or kayaking, prepare your body beforehand. “Don’t use vacation time to try something new,” Midturi warns.
Inactivity on long flights or car rides can put you at risk for blood clots. Exercise when sitting by contracting calf muscles or pressing the balls of your feet down while raising your heels. Stretch to stay flexible, and avoid crossing your legs.
“When driving, take a 10-minute break every 90 minutes,” Lichten advises.
Skip cocktails or caffeinated sodas. Instead, Lichten suggests, drink water frequently to stave off effects of dry or re-circulated air. Bring your own pillow and blanket on long flights and clean seat arms, backs and tray tables with disinfectant wipes (and use them on light switches, door knobs and remote controls in hotel rooms).
To stave off jet lag, Lichten says, you should immediately change your watch as if you are already in the new time zone. Midturi adds that taking five to ten milligrams of melatonin for three days can help your body’s internal clock adjust. Staying active on arrival or getting wet, either by jumping in the swimming pool or the shower, can also promote wakefulness.
If you feel queasy, travel where there’s less motion—in a car’s front seat, over a plane’s wing or in a ship’s midsection. When traveling on land, focus on scenery or keep your eyes on the horizon. Stay hydrated, eat small meals every three to five hours and avoid strong odors or smoke. Ginger, a traditional herbal remedy, may help soothe nausea.
When it comes to food and drink, less is better. “Listen to your body and don’t overeat,” Lichten advises.
When traveling abroad, skip fruit juices, raw foods or salads (including lettuce and tomato on a burger) and cold buffets. Drink only bottled water (no ice). Midturi says you should avoid food from street vendors, and wash your hands frequently. Also be careful around pools and hot tubs; avoid swallowing the water or eating food that may have come into contact with it.
To prevent stomach upsets Midturi recommends having yogurt made with live cultures or probiotic drinks. Based on personal experience, however, travel and wine editor Mary Milhaly advises avoiding dairy. “You never know about refrigeration or pasteurization in other countries,” she says.
If you’re traveling to high altitudes, especially above 8,000 feet, allow time for your body to acclimatize. Symptoms such as fatigue, headache, nausea or shortness of breath can develop within the first few days as your body adjusts to changes in air pressure and oxygen levels. While you’re acclimating, drink extra (non-alcoholic) fluids and eat frequent, small meals. Walk slowly, avoiding strenuous exercise.
Don’t forget sunscreen; sunlight can reflect off sand, concrete, water and snow. UV intensity increases 8% for every 1,000 feet of elevation, so sunburn may develop more quickly at higher altitudes.
When traveling to an area that requires vaccinations, visit a travel clinic several months prior to leaving. If you plan to visit a region where mosquitoes, ticks or flies might carry disease, Midturi recommends using a DEET-based repellent liberally and wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors. There are also natural repellents made with essential oils such as cedar, citronella, lemongrass and peppermint.
Take the proper precautions and chances are good you’ll have an enjoyable vacation.