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9 Best Practices to Stay Healthy When You Travel

Luke Armstrong | Feb 24, 2021

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After purchasing travel health insurance, you're next priority should be doing everything in your power not to have to use it! You work hard for the time and money to travel, so unless you have some sort of bizarre interest in being a patient in a foreign hospital, taking precautions to stay healthy on trips protects your investment.

In this article:

I offer a variety of practices I've adopted over 10 years in 35 countries. I call them practices and not tips because the idea is to adopt healthy habits - not to become so obsessive about daily health considerations that you can nary enjoy a meal from a street vender without stressing about giardia. There have been moments on the road when I've been that obsessively-stressed-about-his-health-guy armed with Google, whom from his hotel room diagnosed himself with all sorts of scary diseases he didn't actually have.

In life we do the best we can. These are practices that are easy to adopt that really will help minimize the most common causes of illness without turning you into "that guy" or "that girl." Once adopted, these become second nature and therefore not something that will require much thought space.

1. Stay healthy while traveling by keeping your feet dry

Remember that scene in Forrest Gump when Mr. Gump has been sent off to war and is given the advice of keeping his feet dry? As it is in war, so it is on your travels. The best thing you can do is to pack waterproof shoes. If you're going to be walking in place where temperatures dip at dusk, bring a dry pair of socks to change into. This will keep you both healthy and happy. Who doesn't love the feeling of slipping into a pair of clean socks after a day of walking about?

2. Stay healthy when you travel by eating street food with street smarts

In articles on this topic, writers tend to say, "Do not eat street food." While this isn't bad advice, I don't know any travelers who actually follow it. In a world of taste bud-fueled Yolo, the wafting scents of market stall grills gets most of us most of the time. So rather than the hard-line, "never do this," here are some practices to put in place to do this with some practical forethought. Don't eat street food if there are young children in the food stall (those hands go straight from their diapers to guess where?).

Avoid lettuce, uncooked cabbage, strawberries, and other produce that grows close to the ground where livestock waste tends to wash through with the rains. I know, I know, strawberries make my heart smile, too. They are celestial and delicious, but (while very rare) they can infect a person with brainworm (it's as fatal as it sounds) if pig waste has washed through the patch they were picked from. Take note of the condition of the food in the stall. Does it look fresh and inviting? Does it look like it's been on the grill all day? Is there a steady flow of traffic through the stall or does it seem stagnant? These are good questions to ask yourself, and from there, use your judgment. When in doubt, you can always ask them to cook your meal longer. I tend to avoid anything that doesn't get cooked, since I can't ensure its quality.

3. Stay healthy when you travel by washing your produce efficiently

It's called bleach, and it's not just for the laundry room, but has an application in the kitchen as well. If you are buying fresh produce, make sure you wash it effectively to kill villainous microbes like E. coli. If you can peel it (banana, oranges, grapefruit, etc.) you're good to go. If not, a bleach cleanse is all you need to make most any a produce market purchase safe to eat. As bleach is toxic in its own right, be sure to do it right.

Quick And Dirty Tips offers great advice on bleach, vinegar, and iodine cleanses for vegetables.

4. Avoid jet lag to avoid illness when you travel

This isn't groundbreaking information, but it's worth your time to put into practice. Insomnia, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, and exhaustion are all unpleasant pals and each of them can come calling if jet lag isn't effectively nipped. Of the 10,000+ Internet articles covering ways to avoid jet lag, here's a summery of what you need to know in one imperative paragraph: Prepare your body ahead of time for the new time zone before you travel. Stay hydrated. Eat a protein rich meal in the morning and a light evening meal. Forget about what time it is where you were and be the time where you are (So if you are arriving at night, do what you gotta do to keep awake on the plane and hit the hay upon arriving).

Go outside, or open curtains in the daylight so your body understands it's daytime here. Avoid long naps, it will only cause the jet lag to linger. Ask your doctor about melatonin supplements to help you ease into a good night of sleep in your new time zone.

5. Practice safe sex when you travel

When Toby Keith wrote his lyrics, "What happens down in Mexico, stays in Mexico," he forgot to include a caveat verse of things that could potentially follow you home, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV, HPV - need I go on? We're all adults here, (unless you're a strange kid with an advanced reading level) so I don't need to go into detail about what safe sex means.

Just remember that abroad is a place where we tend to do things we'd never do at home. That's part of the joy of traveling. STDs are not part of that joy. So don't let the trip of your life become the medical saga of your life - be safe out there!

6. Stay hydrated to stay healthy when you travel

I touched on this in ways to avoid jet lag, but it's too important not to get its own bullet point. Dehydration is many a traveler's downfall and often the primary cause (you need some agua mate!) goes unnoticed. But the symptoms - fatigue, headache, irritability, and even fever, do not go unnoticed. Night of heavy drinking? May I recommend grabbing a Pedialyte from the pharmacy?

In the tropics coconuts are your best friends and have as much electrolytes as a Gatorade, so drink up. In general, just remember to drink water throughout the day, especially if you're sweating in the sun and/or swimming in saltwater.

7. Keep your skin healthy while you travel with sunscreen

When I was a young lad with bright orange highlights in my spiked hair, there was a peculiar song on the radio that wasn't a song at all. It was a speech with chamber music behind it. Remember "The Sunscreen Song?" It's starts with, "If I could offer you one piece of advice for the future, sunscreen would be it." Let's rephrase this to, "If I could offer you one piece of advice for your travels..." All long term benefits aside, a sunburn in the short term can unleash all sorts of nasty on a body.

Yes, we all want to come home looking like tanned Greek gods and goddesses, but fever, chills, night sweats, and painful burns need not be part of that. Tan gradually, wear some level of SPF, and thank me later. If this fails, aloe vera just became your new best friend.

8. Keep you immune system tuned up with contrast showers

This is my favorite, and it's easy. It sounds a bit crazy, so feel free to Google it for yourself! Switching from hot to cold in the shower gives your immune system a boost. You can do this when you travel, but why not just make it part of your life? It takes a bit of getting used to, but I've gotten to the point where I love it. It'll wake you up like coffee without a crash.

The basic principle behind this practice is that it moves blood around from your skin to your organs and this circulation not only wakes you up, but stimulates your immune system to be on top of its game. It's nothing new either. The Japanese have been doing it since the days of the samurai.

9. Stay healthy when you travel by being an (overall) healthy person

I don't know why it is, but my friends who travel seem to have much healthier lifestyles than those who don't. This bodes well for their trips, since their bodies are better equipped to handle the shock to the system of a new time zone, abrupt change in climate, new food, and all the little micro-shocks to the system that can happen on a trip.

Be it a brief yoga routine in the morning or before bed, a meditation practice, a jogging routine, conscious culinary decisions, or just a positive attitude, all of these things have been clinically shown to help us stay healthy and happy - which are two things I hope you have every trip you take.

One last thing before you go

In the event that you are not totally healthy, do the wise thing and protect yourself with travel insurance. Not only will you have medical coverage while you’re traveling, you also get protection in case you need to cancel your trip if you fall ill. Learn more about the various trip protection plans offered by Seven Corners by clicking here.


Important information from the United States Fire Insurance Company.

luke armstrong

About the Author

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.

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