Guidelines for Healthier Travel

Goodness knows there’s enough problems to deal with when you have to travel without bringing back with you some kind of ailment or sickness along with your souvenirs. Surprisingly, most health-related illnesses are completely avoidable if you’ll just follow a few simple guidelines and tips.

Like everything else associated with travel, it all begins with preparation. If you pack what you need before you need it, you can at least avoid the inconvenience of having to find healthcare products in a strange town or an unpopulated area even if you can’t manage to avoid the health hit altogether. A travel first aid kit should contain more than just bandages and aspirin.

Because chances are you’ll be dining out in establishments with which you are unfamiliar, or possibly even taking culinary chances, make sure you bring along some antacid such as Maalox, Tums, Rolaids, or any of the other brands on the market. Especially if you are traveling in a foreign country that doesn’t have the inspection laws the US has, you will want to make sure you have something handy when those abdominal cramps begin. Or let’s say you’re taking a trip to the southwest US and your only familiarity with Mexican food is Taco Bell. Ethnic foods of all types carry their own specialized health concerns and if you are prone to heartburn or gastric difficulties, but you got all caught up in the excitement of trying “authentic” food then you don’t want to have to track down a drug store or a Walmart in the middle of the night.

Along with antacids, this is probably a good time to remind you to bring along a diarrhea remedy like Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate. On the first few days of an international trip, you should drink only bottled water and ask for drinks without ice. Obviously stay away from salads or any kind of food featuring raw fruit. And be sure to use that bottled water when brushing your teeth as well. Nothing ruins a vacation like an overactive bowel system!. Unless, of course, it’s an underactive bowel system. Constipation is something that just can’t wait for treatment, so next to the pink bottle pack along a laxative. Let’s face it, you’re on vacation and you probably aren’t exactly the healthiest eater when you’re at home, so chances are all that fiber that’s recommended is going to go by the wayside. No fiber, no poop!

If you’re going to be traveling in a part of the country or another country that contains a significantly different set of foliage than you are used to, take a chance on an antihistamine. Even if you aren’t subject to allergies at home, you may find out the hard way that you and certain allergens you aren’t normally exposed to don’t get along too well. Even going from a low humidity area like out west to a high humidity area like the gulf coast can spur nose-related problems you never thought about. Benadryl and Claritin are two workhorses that you should be able to take without getting too drowsy to enjoy yourself.

If you’ve been having a toothache or some kind of bacterial infection prior to leaving, call your dentist or doctor and see if you can get a prescription for an antibiotic before leaving on a trip at least a week long. Should that tooth suddenly become obsessed as you’re riding a rollercoaster at a theme park that scream you make is not going to be one of enjoyment of the thrill. Obviously you should never take an antibiotic without physician’s approval so tell him you’re going on a trip and you just want to be prepared. He may have some other medication he can give you, but you certainly don’t want to be stuck in a strange city and suddenly get hit hard by a toothache or infection.

Even people going on a cruise or to a resort are going to find themselves walking more than they usually do so bring along medication to treat feet problems, such as an athlete’s foot powder or cream. Even if you don’t find yourself walking a lot, you will be still be showering in a strange place and you can’t always count on tubs and floors being as clean as you want. It’s very easy to pick up a fungus in a public bathroom so bring along some shower clogs as well.

Obviously if you’re going to be traveling someplace where you expect to be out in the sun for extended periods of time, then make sure you bring along a hat and sunscreen with at least a 15 SPF level and that protects against both UVB and UVA rays. The biggest mistake people make isn’t in choosing a low SPF rating, but rather it’s that they don’t apply enough of the lotion. As a consequence you may think you’re safe from the sun’s rays, but in fact you aren’t and so you’ll stay out longer than the sunscreen is adequately protected for and you come home looking like a lobster. Also, don’t use the sunscreen if it’s really runny. That means it’s too old and pretty much completely ineffective no matter how much you put on.

Obviously, if you know you’re going to be camping you’ll remember to bring along insect repellent. But if you are unfamiliar with Florida–home of Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World–then you should know that come nighttime if you visiting any of these places you might as well be camping. Mosquitoes and other little nagging flying creatures are everywhere and so if even if you aren’t visiting the great outdoors but plan on being outdoors at night, pack along a little DEET.

Airport travel is a case unto itself. The inside of a jet is like an incubator for germs due to the constant recirculation of air and all the different human beings breathing and touching things in a confined space. Before going on a plane trip, do yourself a favor and start taking some vitamins, especially echinacea and Vitamin C. You want to build up your immune system as best and as quickly as possible. Just remember, the longer you are confined inside the plane, the higher your chance of contracting something.

You can avoid back and neck trouble on uncomfortable airline seats by bringing along one of those ultra-soft, ultra-squishy new microbead pillows that arrived on the market not too long ago and seem to be sold everywhere. They literally come in all shapes and sizes and the ones that are U-shaped are especially good for your neck and, um, other areas prone to aches and pains if you sit in the same place for a long time.

In addition, there are some simple exercises you can do to relieve the stress caused by sitting in one position for too long. Shoulder circles are nothing more than shrugging your shoulders up and down and then rolling them forward and backward and this increases blood flow to the muscles. Head circles involve tilting your head to side as if trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. Stay in that position for a few seconds and then return your head to normal and then do the same thing in the other direction. Then drop your chin to your chest. If these don’t work, try applying some muscle relaxant cream. I would make this a last case priority, however, as they tend to really stink up the joint and you might get some complaints from other passengers.

Jet lag, of course, is always a problem when traveling long horizontal distances. The best thing to do for jet lag if you know in advance you’ll be taking the trip is to acclimate your body’s internal clock to the time zone you’ll be traveling to. Set up your TiVo so you won’t miss your favorite shows and start going to be earlier if you have to. You may have received advice on taking supplements of melatonin, a hormone that supposedly helps with jet lag. So far studies are inconclusive and those who seemed to actually be helped are people who are constantly facing jet lag, such as airline workers and businessmen. You probably wait on this one until the jury comes in.

The most dangerous risk during flight isn’t terrorism, it’s the possibility of a pulmonary embolism. Sitting motionless for hours at a time can cause a blood clot in the leg that breaks away and makes a beeline for the lung. If it gets to the lung it can adversely affect your body’s oxygen supply. You can help lower the risk simply be getting up and taking a walk up and down the aisle every once in a while. You can even take steps when you aren’t allowed to leave your seat by doing heel rocks and leg lifts, anything to get the blood flowing.

Traveling is fraught with perils from the moment you leave the house to the moment you return exhausted and loaded down with items you really shouldn’t have bought and don’t need. Just thinking ahead a little and doing some careful planning can significantly cut down on those risks and it really won’t set back as much as buying food in a theme park.

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