When people from other parts of the country learn that I live in Southwest Florida, the question usually comes up: where do I go on vacation? After all, I live in a vacation destination, so why would I ever travel?
The fact is, even people from Paradise travel from time to time. More often than not, my travel takes me to conferences and other forms of continuing education, and my vacations usually take me to spend time with family in Indiana.
That said, no matter where you’re going, travel is hard on your body. If you spend a lot of time on airplanes, you understand what I mean. Crazy flight times, packed into tin cans with 150 people and their communicable diseases, adjusting to time zones… it all depletes your reserves over time. And when your immune system is compromised, you are vulnerable to whatever is in the air.
So, as we head into the summer travel season, I want to share with you a few strategies I’ve picked up for protecting my health when I’m away from home that will help you stay strong wherever you go.
Drink Plenty of Filtered Water
I know that sounds counter-intuitive when you’re planning to spend hours in an airplane seat or a car, but it’s critical to maintaining a strong body. Your body is 70% water, and many of your cells are a higher percentage than that. Drinking plenty of water not only keeps your kidneys clear, it also prevents constipation (which can make travel a nightmare), empowers your brain to function at its best, and helps to flush out your lymphatic system, which is basically your body’s plumbing system for removing toxins from your organs. Without plenty of water, your lymphatic system gets constipated with toxins the same way your colon gets constipated with food waste.
Now, here’s a secret to water management that most people don’t think of: maintain a daily lifestyle of drinking plenty of water at home – at least half your body weight in ounces each day. If you commit to a consistent pattern of daily water intake, your body will adjust your storage capacity. Your body is very efficient at budgeting water and it operates best when you are consistent with your intake. Your body thrives on consistency – your Circadian Rhythms expect you to sleep and rise, eat and drink the same times every day. If you go weeks drinking a few ounces of water a day, then suddenly deluge your system with a gallon of water, your body will pass most of it straight through to the toilet. Pace yourself and form daily habits that you can maintain when you travel.
By the same token, if you are a regular water drinker, don’t let your travel schedule upset your routines. It’s easy to forget to drink water when all your other routines are jerked around by travel, and it’s tempting to skimp on water to limit your trips to the restroom. Don’t do that. As we mentioned earlier, you will spend the trip suffering from constipation, dry mouth, brain fog, and deep fatigue, among other frustrations. And if you’re going somewhere hot, you especially want to be ready with plenty of water.
Pack Snacks and Meals
It’s tempting to eat out every meal when you’re traveling. After all, who wants to cook on vacation, or try to prepare meals in a hotel during a business trip? It’s much easier to roll into the golden arches (or Golden Starches, as I call them) and drop $10 for dinner. The result will be more of what you don’t want: fatigue, difficulty sleeping, irritability, joint pain, stiffness, headaches, constipation, nausea, and other discomforts. Even the best restaurants load their food with salts, preservatives, monosodium glutamate, and sugars – all on the No-Go List for healthy travel. While there are more healthy choices among restaurants than ever, when you do find fresh, organic food in a restaurant, you often pay a premium for it.
With a little planning, it’s simple to eat well on the road. You might need to include a small cooler to keep organic foods fresh, but it’s well worth the effort. (This is the part where you give me your excuses about the difficulty of working a cooler into your luggage plan. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)
I have friends who pack a crockpot in their luggage for days when they know they’ll be busy all day (like a business conference or a day at DisneyWorld), and I have met people who even take along an electric frying pan or griddle. If you’re flying, it’s probably not a great idea, but I want you to start thinking outside the box. It’s easier than ever to eat healthy on the road.
Here are a few healthy ideas for meals and snacks for that long road trip or flight:
Simple salads can be prepackaged in a one-quart ziplock bag, although I encourage you to bring a separate container for oil or vinegar, so they don’t get soggy.
- Whole-grain pasta salad or quinoa salad with olives, avocado, cucumber, and a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Some people like to throw a few grapes or sliced tomato (if you’re not sensitive to nightshades).
- Any dark leafy green makes a good base for a salad with a little cucumber, chickpea, shredded carrot, cauliflower, and olives.
Packing sandwiches for a long road trip will save you up to an hour per meal, not to mention at least $10 per person.
- Turkey on whole-wheat bread or romaine lettuce. A little Provolone or Swiss Cheese is OK, but not ideal. Get creative with vegetables or sprouts.
- Cucumber and cream cheese on whole-wheat bread
- Organic peanut butter and jelly on rye is always an easy win. Tired of peanut butter? Try almond butter.
- Grilled chicken, lettuce, and tomato in a whole-grain wrap
- Hummus with sliced tomato, pepper, and cucumber in a whole-wheat pita
- Hard-boiled egg in a whole-wheat pita.
- Yogurt (remember my old maxim: “low-fat” is marketing language for “chemical sludge”). Sauerkraut and kimchi are great choices for a rock-solid probiotic.
- Unsalted raw almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts. Nuts are a terrific source of healthy fats your brain needs. Organic dark chocolate is a great way to add flavor without adding sugar. Buy a bag of each from the bulk organic aisle at the grocery store and make your own mix, instead of paying $7 for a small bag of the salty, oily, pre-packaged junk at the airport newsstand.
- Quinoa (cooked and chilled with a handful of frozen organic berries).
- String cheese
- Hummus cups
- Cut vegetables (carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, celery).
- Dried fruits are a great choice if you have a small handbag or fresh fruit is going to make a mess. Raisins, cranberries, apricots, bananas, and apples are great for this.
- Beef or turkey jerky can be a good source of protein (in limited amounts) but watch the salt and preservative contents. Some of the brands at the checkout lane are pure garbage.
- Everyone should get the bulk of their vitamins from fresh fruit and vegetables, to the extent that food can provide it. Our soil is very depleted through mismanagement, so this becomes more difficult every year. Most people need to take a B-complex supplement, a Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Vitamin D3, Magnesium, and an Omega-3 (like krill oil). Traveling can deplete your body’s reserves more than normal life, so this is particularly important when you’re traveling. If you take a daily supplement at home, don’t leave home without them.
- There are several good protein powders on the market (if you ever have questions, send me an e-mail and I can recommend one for you). Mix with water or coconut milk for a quick and satisfying meal replacement.
- If there’s simply no way you can possibly fit a few days’ worth of healthy choices into your luggage, take 30 seconds to look up your hotel on Google Maps and see if there is a grocery store nearby, or ask the front desk staff. I realize that there isn’t a Trader Joes or Whole Foods near every hotel or even in every town you visit. Even Walmart will have a few healthy options if you really want to find them.
This one can be complicated, especially if you are jumping across time zones, but it can be done. If possible, you want to adjust your sleep schedule in small increments over several days before and after the trip, and even while you are away. The farther away you are traveling, the more complex this will be.
As we recently discovered, sleep is a critical part of the body’s daily operation, resetting your systems for the next day. It’s easy to neglect sleep, especially when you’re having fun. That’s why so many people come back from vacation…needing another vacation. If you take a week off and spend the whole week pounding the pavement at DisneyWorld from early morning to late at night, you will likely come home feeling like you were run over by a car. Pace yourself and include sleep in your plans. I know how it gets when you’re traveling for business or a conference and you want to get in as much as possible, but you will be much more productive, effective, and pleasant to be around when you allow for plenty of sleep.
If you’re having to prop yourself up with coffee or those horrible energy drinks, you’re doing it wrong.
Hotel beds can be a dicey proposition, and staying at a family member’s home does not guarantee comfort, especially if you’re used to a bed customized to your preferences. Some people like to bring along the pillow they use at home for this reason. I can recommend a pillow that will protect the curve of your neck when you sleep.
Then there’s the matter of sleeping on an airplane. I don’t think any airlines offer pillows anymore, and many of the wrap-around neck rests you see at the airport stores are just garbage. Some will support your neck properly, but you really have to do your homework. I have had plenty of patients come in needing a serious adjustment to their neck and shoulders because of an awkward nap in an airplane seat.
I don’t talk about this very often, but it’s worth mentioning that there are several essential oils that are great for combating the colds and viruses you typically encounter when traveling. Oregano, frankincense, lavender, lemon, and eucalyptus all have outstanding antiviral and anti-fungal properties that work through the skin and lungs to fight germs and viruses. I know many people who won’t travel without them.
One Other Thought
You may have noticed that my tips for healthy travel are pretty much the same tips I offer for a healthy life in general. That’s not an accident. Your body thrives on consistency, so do everything you can to make your travel feel as much like normal life as possible, or you will have to spend the first week after a trip recovering from how the trip upset your routines.
There is a lot more we could say here about this (I didn’t even mention exercise this time), but this is a good start. You probably have some great ideas that I haven’t thought of. Share them in the comments on Facebook. I love it when you get in on the conversation. I always learn something.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas