15 Secrets to Staying Healthy on Vacation
Your vacation is valuable, which is why you should take care of your health before and after the plane takes off.
Pack your medications in a carry-on bag
To avoid losing your important meds to an airline baggage mixup, pack your meds in a carry-on, recommends Johnnie Yates, MD, medical director of travel and tropical medicine at Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii. If you take prescription drugs, you need to have the necessary paperwork with you throughout your trip. “To ensure your drugs aren’t confiscated, keep medicines in original, clearly labeled containers or packaging, and bring a copy of your prescriptions,” recommends Dr. Yates. “The prescription and medication labels should match the name on your photo ID.” Some destinations forbid certain medications, so double-check with your destination’s embassy before you leave.
Hey, you’re on vacation: It’s OK to have an extra scoop of ice cream or more than a bite or two of a caloric Mexican dinner. But know when to say “when,” warns health and wellness practitioner Richard Purvis, author of Recalibrate: Six Secrets to Resetting Your Age. He suggests filling up on quality proteins, fats, and high-fiber carbs that’ll keep you full longer. That will help you resist overdoing it at dessert time. “The protein and fats will slow the impact of the sugar on the body by slowing your digestion,” he explains.
Don’t go barefoot
Part of the wonder of travel is dipping your toes into new oceans, lakes, streams, and rivers. However, there can be infectious organisms lurking in that water, which is why allergist and internist Tania Elliott, MD, suggests wearing water shoes to avoid scraping your tootsies and letting germs into the open wound. “There is a risk of exposure to water that is contaminated with bacteria and parasites from animal feces,” she says. “It is best to wear water shoes that fit snugly. And wear sandals in the shower to minimize exposure to fungi, which can lead to infection.”
Never skip breakfast
There’s one step you shouldn’t skip in your rush to get to the airport: breakfast. David Greuner, MD, head surgeon and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates, says the first meal of the day should be non-negotiable. Skipping it could leave you scrambling for food in less than ideal situations later in the day, he warns. Learn the healthiest choice at a continental breakfast.
Prepare for tummy issues
Ugh, traveler’s diarrhea. Up to 70 percent of international travelers will experience this at least once, says Leslie Faith Taub, PhD, director of the adult-gerontology primary care program at NYU’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing. That’s why she suggests packing both diarrhea medication like Pepto-Bismol, just in case. “If you are a traveler with a high risk of complications from severe diarrhea, then your primary care provider will likely recommend treatment with rifaximin or Azithromycin,” she adds.
Never forget to wash your hands
“No matter if you are home or traveling, frequent hand washing is always an effective way to reduce your risk of catching colds and other illnesses,” Dr. Yates says. Washing your hands is second nature for most people, no matter where you are. The only issue is when your travels take you to a place where warm water and soap aren’t readily available. Yates recommends carrying hand sanitizer. “Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, changing diapers, or helping a sick person,” he says. “Don’t touch your face, particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth, before washing your hands.” Check out these other tricks to avoid getting sick on vacation.
One of the biggest struggles while on the road is staying hydrated—not only during your trip, but before it and after it, too, says certified health coach Robyn Youkilis, author of Go With Your Gut. “Water, water, and more water,” she says. “Buy yourself a few big bottles right when you get to your destination and then keep your mini fridge stocked. Dehydration is the cause of so many issues: constipation, sluggish metabolism, low energy, headaches, irritability, sugar cravings, trouble sleeping, muscle cramps and fatigue. You definitely don’t want any of those making an appearance during your vacation if you can help it.”
Be mindful of mosquito bites
To ensure you stay clear of dengue fever, Zika, malaria, yellow fever, and other mosquito-borne illnesses, Dr. Yates recommends wearing clothes that cover your skin, plus using EPA-approved bug spray. “DEET and picaridin are the most commonly recommended mosquito repellents,” he says. “The mosquitoes that spread dengue, Zika and yellow fever are active during the daytime, while those that spread malaria are active at night,” he explains.
Drink bottled water and avoid raw food
Not every place has reliable water, warns Dr. Yates. When in doubt, opt for the bottled water, he says. If you’re a salad lover, remember that produce could be washed with questionable water. “Raw fruits and vegetables are also high-risk foods when traveling to developing countries,” he says. “If you can peel the fruit or vegetable yourself and wash it in safe water, then it should be OK. Cooked vegetables are fine as long as they are served hot.” Coffee and hot tea will generally be safe because the water is boiled for preparation, he says. Learn 10 more tricks for eating healthy on vacation.
Only eat really hot food from street vendors
While eating at street carts is becoming increasingly popular, Dr. Yates says it’s better to be choosy. “Street food carries a higher risk of food-borne illness than traditional sit-down restaurants,” he says. “If you want to try street food, be sure that the food is thoroughly cooked and served piping hot.”
Make sure you’re up to date on vaccinations
Seasoned travelers know it’s better to be safe than sorry if you’re heading off the beaten path: “Depending on your destination, additional vaccines, such as hepatitis A and typhoid or yellow fever, may be recommended,” explains Dr. Yates. “If you are traveling to tropical South America or Sub-Saharan Africa, you may even be required to get the yellow fever vaccine before entering the country.” And don’t wait until a week before—some vaccinations require a series of shots and need about a month to complete. Here are 9 vaccinations and medications you should know about before you travel.
Walk more than you ride
Resting is an important aspect of vacation, but Purvis stresses it’s still important to remain somewhat active. “Working out can be painlessly incorporated into your vacation and adventurous and fun without even seeming like exercise,” he says. Whether it’s walking around a city instead of taking cabs to see the sights or strolling along the beach for a few hours, moving is enough to keep you healthy. Cruise passengers can explore the ship, he says. “Walking to see the sights at the various stops can also be a great way to get exercise,” he adds.
Indulge yourself—take a snooze. Purvis says the more you rack up the sleep, the healthier you’ll feel. He suggests taking a daily siesta, sleeping in, and allowing your body to ease into the local time.
Prep in advance
Stress can creep into your travel at a moment’s notice—all you need is to realize you forgot something vital or to miss a connection. “Stress can also lead to more serious health concerns, including out-of-control hypertension, rapid heartbeat, and even stomach ulcers,” warns Dr. Elliott. “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Prep in advance, and have an itinerary and stick to it. Just remember: You can’t control everything, and it’s OK if something doesn’t go as planned.”
Sports dietitian Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, says you should bring along a daily healthy snack option. “One of the biggest reasons people tend to overeat … is because they go long periods of time without eating, especially when they are sightseeing or constantly on the move,” she shares. You can’t pack fresh fruit, but you can bring energy bars or packaged nuts that can really help you in a pinch. “Making sure you never go too long without a snack will prevent you becoming ravenous and ordering everything on the menu at dinner,” she says. Find out 11 nutritionist-approved tips for what to eat at the airport.