Never leave home without these key items that will keep you healthy while you’re on the road.
For many, the holiday season means it’s time to hit the road to visit far-flung family and friends. Though reuniting with loved ones is wonderful, the long trips to get there can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. While you’re away from home, your body is working twice as hard to cope with circumstances that are outside your daily routine, from dehydration and dietary changes to lack of sleep and stress. This can often result in catching a cold or coming down with something even worse.
To stay healthy and fend off illnesses while traveling, let naturopathic medicine be your co-pilot. We asked several naturopathic experts to explain why travel often makes us sick, reveal how to avoid catching a bug, and share the items that are always on the packing list for their holistic travel kit.
Travel can wear down your immune system for a number of reasons.
During a trip, the risk of getting sick increases greatly because of the close contact with people and bacteria. “Our odds of being exposed to different pathogens increase tremendously,” explains Dr. Simona Ciobanu of NUHS. “Pathogens could also be waterborne such E. coli and dysentery; insect-borne such as Lyme and malaria; and food-borne such as salmonella.”
Lack of sleep—whether it’s caused by an early morning wake-up call or a trip across time zones—can also weaken your defenses. “Without adequate rest, the body loses precious time involved in regenerating and restoring itself,” says Dr. Nazanin Vassighi, an assistant professor at Bastyr University California.
When flying, the recirculated air in plane cabins often has lower oxygen and humidity concentrations. Dr. JoAnn Yanez, executive director of the AANMC, calls it the “perfect storm for germs to take hold.” It can also dehydrate you quicker, which can make you feel tired and can also compromise your ability to flush pathogens from your mucus membrane.
In addition, it’s easy to make poor nutrition choices when you’re out of your normal routine. “Grabbing processed foods to eat on the run so you can catch that flight, or over-indulging in foods you are not typically used to consuming can compromise your gastrointestinal health and deny your body and immune system the nutrients needed to keep infection at bay,” Dr. Vassighi says.
Avoiding these travel pitfalls is challenging, but it can be done with if you take extra precautions and plan ahead.
“It goes without saying that basic hygiene practices such as frequent hand washing and keeping hands away from our mouth, nose, and eyes become even more important than usual,” Dr. Ciobanu says.
On an airplane, disinfecting your tray table is always a good idea, according to Dr. Taylor Arnold, an assistant professor at SCNM. “Let’s face it, your tray table has likely been touched by many passengers who probably don’t have ideal hand hygiene. Clean hands and a clean eating surface are extremely important in preventing foodborne illnesses! I disinfect my tray table and armrests before I even sit down on the plane,” she says.
When you arrive after changing time zones, Dr. Vassighi recommends melatonin to reset your body clock. “When we travel eastward, we lose time and therefore affect our body’s natural circadian rhythms of sleeping and waking. Taking several milligrams of melatonin (1 to 5 mg) the first night of your travels in the new time zone will ensure not only a good night’s rest, but re-trains your body to adapt its circadian rhythm to your vacation location so you can avoid feeling jet-lagged for the remainder of your trip,” she says.
“Before you hit the sack, get plenty of sunlight at the new destination to not only train your body to stay awake when it thinks it should be sleeping, but give an added benefit of Vitamin D production which is also an immune system enhancer,” she adds.
Dehydration can be mitigated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after travel. “Seltzer or flavored water is another good option, as is tea,” Dr. Yanez advises. “Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as those are further dehydrating, and limit sodium intake.”
Do some research ahead of time to plan your meals for the duration of your trip. “Hotels or rentals with a kitchenette are ideal, because they allow you the flexibility to prepare meals on the road,” Dr. Arnold says.
Plus, always travel with healthy snacks. “This will help you avoid snacking on convenience food, which can be loaded with salt, saturated fat, and other additives. Bring fruit or pre-cut and bagged veggies for your travel days, but make sure to research TSA rules, because they always seem to change! Bringing instant oats is a great way to save money and have a fiber filled breakfast before starting your day,” she adds.
“Increase your veggie intake and decrease the sugar,” Dr. Vassighi says. “Oftentimes we are tempted to ‘cheat’ on our vacation or see travel time as a special occasion to indulge in foods we don’t normally eat. Ensuring at least 3 to 5 servings of veggies and fruits a day near the beginning of your travel will contribute antioxidants and vitamins necessary for strong immunity. Sugar is notorious for decreasing our immune response so try to avoid large doses. Moderation is always key.”
If you plan to dine out, look for healthy meal options at your destination. “Look for naturally colorful, plant-based meals with minimal added sugars. Check the nutrition information online, as menu titles can be deceiving,” Dr. Arnold says.
“Know where your food is coming from and do research about foodborne illness at your destination,” she says. “Are you traveling to a place where street food is off limits? How about a place where you might need to bring your own water to a restaurant? The CDC has an app called “Can I Eat This?” that will help you determine if a food is likely to be safe based on the region and type of food.”
“Avoid eating foods that are easily contaminated—water, ice, fruits and vegetables that need to be rinsed in water—especially if traveling to locations where this could be an issue,” Dr. Yanez says.
The best way to fend off illnesses while traveling is to carry a kit full of natural remedies and treatments. Here are the top items to include:
- High-Potency Multivitamin and Mineral Formula: “This provides me with those good complex nutrients my body needs to function at optimal speed,” Dr. Ciobanu says.
- Vitamin C: “For several days before your departure date, take 500mg to 1000mg Vitamin C daily,” Dr. Vassighi says.
- Vitamin D: “On travel days or on the day before travel, I usually double my dose for a little extra boost. Be careful with taking more than 2000 IU/day for an extended period of time without consulting your doctor,” Dr. Arnold says.
- Zinc Lozenges: “I like to have zinc lozenges on hand for getting sick on the road. Zinc works best when taken at the very first sign of a cold or scratchy throat,” Dr. Arnold says.
- Antiviral Herbal Formula: “Different supplement companies have their own formulas, so my best advice is to find one that works for you. My favorite ingredients to look for are herbs such as Echinacea, Astragalus, Andrographis, and Sambucus, along with extra vitamins and minerals such as Zinc, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C. When they are put together they make a powerful antiviral combination which stimulates the immune system and increases the production of pathogen fighting lymphocytes and natural killer cells,” Dr. Ciobanu says.
- Probiotics: “A good probiotic formula to look for is one that contains a number (at least 8) of different strains of these gut-friendly bacterias. Probiotics are phenomenal at supporting the immune system, aiding proper digestive function, fighting food-borne pathogens, reducing gut inflammation, and eliminating toxins from our systems. They may aide greatly in cases of constipation and diarrhea, especially those associated with travel,” Dr. Ciobanu says.
- Digestive Enzymes: “These can greatly alleviate bloating, gas, and other digestive complaints associated with poor digestion while traveling and indulging on new foods,” Dr. Ciobanu says.
- Homeopathic Remedies: “Homeopathy is one of the most powerful tools in naturopathic medicine because of its safe and gentle action on the body. I will usually bring either a pre-made kit that can be purchased online, or a few remedies on hand in case illness strikes,” Dr. Vassighi says.
- Ciobanu also always travels with a homeopathic kit. Here are her top 10 remedies:
- Arnica montana: traumas, bruises, soreness, aches.
- Arsenicum album: food poisoning scenarios involving diarrhea, vomiting, chilliness.
- Belladonna: high and sudden intense fevers. Dilated pupils, redness, heat with no sweating.
- Ferrum phosphoricum: high fevers with chills, rosy cheeks; may not act or feel acutely sick.
- Nux vomica: digestive upset due to overindulging in foods or alcohol; headaches, constipation.
- Aconitum napellus: any physical or emotional ailments from sudden fright or getting chilled.
- Cantharis: sunburns, UTIs with scalding and bloody drops of urine.
- Cocculus indicus: motion sickness, jet lag, time zone changes, insomnia.
- Ledum: insect bites or blunt trauma, relieved by cold application.
- Apis: insect bites, hives, allergic reactions; with swelling, redness and heat; relieved by cold.
- Water Bottles: “Always have a spare BPA-free filter bottle on hand. In addition, bring a BPA-free collapsible water bottle for day trips to avoid carrying a big and bulky empty water bottle by the end of the day. Filter bottles are great to keep if you run out of water. If you ever need to drink tap water or from a drinking fountain, having a filter water bottle is a nice way to clean your water and improve the taste,” Dr. Arnold says.
- Woolen Socks: “Warming sock therapy is a great way to decrease fever without using medications and to decrease areas with congestion, such as sinuses or lungs. Before bed, begin by placing your feet in a tub of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. Then rinse a pair of cold cotton socks in cold water, wring excess water out as completely as possible, and place on your feet. Next, pull a pair of woolen socks over your cold wet socks on your feet, and head to bed. While you sleep, your body will begin the process of bringing increased circulation and warmth to your feet, drying the wet socks while the wool acts as an insulator. This process of hydrotherapy stimulates the immune system by the pumping action of the blood to the extremities and back to the heart, which is effective as a potent fever-reducer,” Dr. Vassighi says.
- Healthy Snacks: Dr. Arnold recommends portable fruit (like bananas, oranges, and apples), pre-cut and bagged veggies, and granola bars with low added sugar and high fiber.
- Fiber Supplement: “Many people have trouble with constipation when traveling. A fiber supplement, like psyllium husk, is a great, natural way to help with this. Make sure you are drinking enough water to avoid making the constipation worse,” Dr. Arnold says.
- Tea Bags and Travel Mug: Herbal, green, and medicinal teas are all good choices. Dr. Yanez says sleep blends and constipation blends can be especially useful. “Most airport coffee shops will fill up your cup with hot water if you ask nicely. Some airports also have hot water dispensers,” she says.
As with any supplements or remedies, consult with a doctor before making drastic changes to your regular routine.
When you plan ahead and have the right naturopathic tools in your travel kit, traveling doesn’t have to result in illness.