My friend Lynne recently spent 10 days in Mexico. The trip sounded idyllic — swimming, exploring ancient ruins and lying on the beach. But the long flight and pre-trip stress left her exhausted and fighting a cold, and the spicy food upset her stomach. “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation,” she told me.
The adventure of travel — including time zone changes, unfamiliar environments and exotic foods — often causes physical and emotional stress. But with a bit of planning and a travel kit of natural remedies, you can make certain your next journey is a healthy one.
Planning for a Healthy Trip
Although traveling can give you a great break from your daily routine, this doesn’t mean you want to take a vacation from your health. Before setting off on a long trip, and especially if you’re going to be traveling out of the country, be sure to check in with your doctor (see “Before You Go” on Page 22).
One of the first rules of stress-free travel is to pack light. But there’s always room in your luggage for a first-aid kit. A well-stocked travel kit can keep you healthy on the road, as well as save you from the frustration of trying to find your favorite natural remedies in an unfamiliar locale. Pack arnica gel for bruises and sore muscles; comfrey salve for minor skin abrasions; aloe vera gel for burns; and tea tree essential oil for its antiseptic and antifungal properties. I also always carry a small bottle of lavender essential oil, which helps calm stress.
Other herbal remedies I consider indispensable are echinacea extract as an all-purpose immune-booster; elderberry extract for warding off colds and flu; valerian or passionflower extract for insomnia; kava for anxiety; eleuthero for jet lag; and goldenseal capsules for treating traveler’s diarrhea. Capsules of powdered ginger are excellent for preventing and relieving motion sickness and nausea. A small package of mentholated throat lozenges eases sore throats, coughs and congestion. Nonherbal essentials for your first-aid kit include a pair of tweezers, a digital thermometer, an assortment of adhesive bandages, sterile gauze bandages, adhesive tape, cotton swabs, an elastic bandage, moleskin (for blister prevention) and waterless hand sanitizer. Don’t forget an herbal insect repellent. Choose one that contains citronella, which has been proven to repel biting insects effectively.
Take the Tension out of Travel
Whether you travel by car, train, boat or plane, taking care of yourself during the actual journey makes a big difference in how you’ll feel when you reach your destination.
One of the most important things you can do is to exercise, which wards off stiffness and fatigue and keeps your circulation moving. This is especially important for people who tend to have problems with deep vein thrombosis (potentially dangerous blood clots that form in the legs during periods of inactivity), or who have had any history of clotting problems. If you’re traveling by car, stop every hour or two to get out of the car to stretch and take a short, brisk walk. If you’re on an extended driving trip, plan time every day for a walk, hike or other activity. When flying, your exercise options are obviously more limited, but at least get up and walk around the cabin every hour or two, if flight conditions permit. Also, stretch your legs and wiggle your feet often, and don’t place anything under the seat in front of you to allow for maximum leg room.
You’ll be more at ease while traveling if you avoid wearing tight, restrictive garments and instead opt for loose, natural-fiber clothing. Dressing in layers allows you to add or remove clothing to maintain a comfortable body temperature. Don’t forget to wear low-heeled shoes that are easy to walk in.
Eat Healthy on the Go
Packing healthful snacks and meals makes a trip by car or plane much more enjoyable. You’ll eat better and feel better if you don’t depend on fast-food restaurants (or airplane food) to sustain you. It takes a bit of planning, but it’s worth the time and effort.
If you’re traveling by car, take along a small cooler for foods that need to be refrigerated and a picnic basket with plates, cups, a small cutting board, a knife and eating utensils. For quick, healthy breakfasts, choose from whole-grain bagels with almond or peanut butter, or cream cheese and smoked salmon; whole-grain cereals; or fresh fruit and yogurt.
It’s easy to prepare a picnic lunch anywhere with cooked tempeh, smoked tofu, hummus, sliced turkey, cheeses, washed lettuce, avocados, small containers of condiments, and whole-grain breads and wraps. Round out your picnic with packages of baby carrots, cherry tomatoes or other raw vegetables, an assortment of seasonal fruit, healthful cookies and your favorite beverages, including plenty of bottled spring water. Keeping your favorite healthy snacks on hand — such as whole-grain crackers, nuts, string cheese, fresh and dried fruit, popcorn and good dark chocolate — will help you avoid the frustration of trying to find something healthy to snack on at a gas station convenience store.
If you’re traveling by plane, prepare sandwiches ahead of time along with washed raw vegetables and fruit. If your flight is longer than three hours, include a snack as well. Whatever your mode of travel, carry along an assortment of tea bags. A cup of black or green tea provides antioxidants as well as a boost of energy, which can be helpful on long trips (avoid caffeine, however, if you’re feeling anxious). I always carry along a few chamomile tea bags for easing stress, peppermint as a digestive aid and ginger for colds or sore throats.
Finally, be sure to drink plenty of water during your trip to stay well hydrated.
Staying Healthy and Having Fun
While a vacation should be a respite from daily life, you shouldn’t abandon your healthy daily habits. In fact, a vacation can be a time to renew your commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
Plan your trip so exercise is part of your experience, and you’ll find your trip much more rewarding. Make it a point to be physically active every day, whether engaging in your favorite, familiar activities or discovering an entirely new activity or sport. Take time every evening for a few simple yoga stretches to help you relax and unwind.
Trying new foods is part of the fun of traveling. But to stay healthy and energetic (and avoid vacation weight gain), avoid fried and fatty foods and excessive sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Drink plenty of pure water — at least 4 to 6 glasses daily — to prevent dehydration. (If you’re traveling in an unindustrialized country, drink only purified water.)
Unfamiliar surroundings, schedules, climates and foods can tax your body and cause problems such as jet lag, diarrhea and anxiety. The following simple remedies will help you cope with the most common traveler’s complaints:
• Anxiety: If the excitement of travel turns into anxiety, you can calm your nerves with a cup of chamomile tea. Breathing in lavender essential oil also can help (place a few drops onto a handkerchief and inhale, or place 10 drops in a one-ounce spray bottle of water and use as a facial mist). If your anxiety is severe, take kava. Take one 500-mg capsule or 30 drops of liquid extract up to three times a day. (Don’t use kava if you have liver problems.) A simple deep-breathing exercise also can signal your nervous system to calm down. Inhale slowly through your nose to a count of five, hold for a count of five, and then exhale very slowly to a count of 10. Repeat at least five times.
• Colds and flu: Many factors conspire to make travelers vulnerable to respiratory infections, including stress and lack of sleep. On airplanes, the dry air and crowded conditions are notorious for contributing to the spread of cold and flu viruses. Echinacea and elderberry extracts can help prevent and treat these infections. At the first sign of symptoms, take 1/2 teaspoon of echinacea extract and 1/2 teaspoon of elderberry extract five times a day until you feel better. Echinacea boosts immune defenses, and elderberry disarms virus cells. If you’re flying, consider taking echinacea and elderberry twice daily for three days prior to your flight, during your flight and for two days following your arrival to bolster your immune system.
• Constipation: Changes in diet and daily routines often cause constipation while traveling. To prevent constipation, drink plenty of water (at least six glasses daily) and eat high-fiber foods such as apples, carrots and whole grains every day. Cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana) is a safe, gentle herbal laxative to use occasionally. Take 1 to 2 capsules at night before bed with a glass of water. If necessary, repeat the dosage in the morning.
• Jet lag: The disorientation, irritability and sleep disturbance characteristic of jet lag are caused by your body trying to reset its internal biological clock to a different schedule. To help your body adjust more quickly, fly during the day, if possible. During the flight, drink plenty of fluids but avoid alcohol, which will dehydrate you and intensify the symptoms of jet lag.
When you arrive at your destination, take a walk, have dinner and go to bed on the local schedule. The next morning, get out in the sunshine as early as possible, because sunlight helps to reset your biological clock. Eleuthero can help prevent jet lag; it was even used by Soviet cosmonauts to help them adjust to space travel. Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of liquid extract three times a day for three days prior to traveling and three days following your flight.
The hormone melatonin also can be very helpful for combating jet lag. Take a 1-mg tablet one hour before you want to go to sleep for several days upon your arrival.
• Motion sickness: Traveling by plane, car or boat makes many people nauseated. Ginger has been proven to be as effective as conventionally prescribed drugs, but without drowsiness. To prevent motion sickness, take 500 to 1,000 mg of powdered ginger 30 minutes prior to traveling, followed by 500 mg every couple of hours, as necessary. A delicious alternative is crystallized ginger. Chew on a small piece as often as needed.
• Traveler’s diarrhea: Contaminated food or water causes traveler’s diarrhea. You can protect yourself by drinking only bottled or boiled water (including the water you use to brush your teeth), eating properly cooked foods, and avoiding raw foods, except for fruit that you peel. If you do experience diarrhea, take goldenseal, a natural antimicrobial that is effective against many of the trouble-causing microorganisms. Take 2 capsules three times daily until symptoms abate. To prevent dehydration from diarrhea, drink plenty of fluids and eat easily digestible foods, such as bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Black tea, which is rich in tannins, helps stop diarrhea. If you experience fever or blood in the stool, or if diarrhea continues for more than a few days, consult a doctor.
Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs and natural healing from her home in southern Oregon. She is the author of 1001 Natural Remedies (DK, 2003) and Herbal Healing Secrets for Women (Prentice Hall, 2000).