How to stay healthy while you travel

Travelling in less developed parts of the world presents challenges that require vigilance during the trip

How to stay healthy while you travel

Source: Best Health Magazine, Summer 2008

You’ve pictured yourself zipping from tree to tree on that rain forest adventure in Costa Rica or cycling in Tibet along the base of spectacular snow-capped mountains. Your vacation plans probably include nothing but carefree fun.

Travel in less developed parts of the world, however, presents challenges that require vigilance during the trip. The things that we take for granted, such as food and water, can put our bodies under stress if we encounter disagreeable bacteria. Stomach maladies, dehydration, exhaustion’they’re not so much fun to think about, but knowing what to do in these situations goes a long way in getting you back to happy holidays.

Here are some travel scenarios you may encounter, and tips to help you stay healthy on the journey:

Fast food fix

You were so excited to get the most out of your day in Mexico City that you didn’t eat breakfast. Now it’s almost noon and you’re going to buy the first greasy fish tacos you come across from a street vendor or canteen.

While you do want to sample the local fare and experience the culture, it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to food and beverages, especially when you’re outside your North American comfort zone.

Kira Zack, a spokesperson with G.A.P. Adventures travel company, says a much better choice is to search out fruit that you can peel or nuts in their shells. Better yet, you should carry those healthy snacks with you. The motto to follow is, “If you can’t cook, boil or peel it, don’t eat it,” Zack says.

Anything you don’t prepare yourself could have been washed or cooked in local, untreated water, so it’s best to avoid ice, salads, uncooked shellfish, fruit that you don’t peel and, yes, food from street vendors.

‘If you are going to be eating out, try for a five-star hotel. Even then, you should still be vigilant,’ says Pam Lynch, a registered dietitian and nutrition instructor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. She recommends taking a multivitamin as a backup on the road.

A few sips from the tap

You’ve packed a small bottle of water in your suitcase, but that won’t last. The hotel clerk tells you that the tap water is fine to drink. So what do you do?

Play it safe and drink only commercially bottled water that is completely sealed. Only drink tap water that is boiled or that you’ve purified with tablets or a portable water purification system.

When Evelyn Hannon, editor of the travel website is on vacation, she drinks only bottled water that is perfectly sealed. Always check the seal, she says. “I once stayed at a resort in South America and got up early to run. To my amazement I saw hotel employees filling bottles with supposedly pure water from a rubber hose outside their kitchen. If I’m not certain that the bottled water is authentic, I buy carbonated water. Those bubbles can’t be faked.”

If you can’t drink the tap water, is it safe to use it to brush your teeth? Again, err on the side of caution.

Lisa Kucman, a travel enthusiast from Toronto, ran out of bottled water when she was staying in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and decided to brush her teeth with beer to avoid the risk of using the tap water. “It was a weird mix of beer and spearmint, but you can’t be too careful.”

Holed up in the bathroom

No question, one of the most common and unpleasant setbacks while travelling is diarrhea. It’s usually caused by differences in water purity. You may have eaten something that was washed or prepared in local water, or drank the water itself; either way, it’s no fun feeling ill and stuck on the toilet all day.

The main concern with diarrhea is dehydration and the loss of electrolytes because everything is moving so much more quickly through your system. Registered dietitian Pam Lynch recommends bottled water and a sports drink to replenish the body’s electrolytes, but always seek medical advice if the diarrhea persists.

Need a vacation from your vacation?

For those six days of holiday freedom in Thailand, you’ve pressed your play button and refused to stop. How do you keep your energy up and not come home aching and exhausted?

Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine as much as possible, and try to get to bed at a reasonable hour, traveler Evelyn Hannon advises.”I know this sounds boring but it’s far better than sleep-walking through activities because you’re so worn out. I carry small packets of raisins and almonds for an extra boost when I’m tired, hungry or cranky.’

Taking breaks while travelling is important as well, so you don’t overextend yourself. ‘Give yourself time to rest and stretch your muscles,’ Alexa Morgan, a fitness and lifestyle expert in Barrie, Ont., says. “Ideally, you want to step up your exercise before you go on vacation to develop endurance for an increased amount of exercising and walking, often in hotter climates.’

Common sense often gets pushed aside in the excitement of time away from your regular routine and eating habits. Take a little time in between the sightseeing and adventures to watch what you eat and drink, and to give your body time to rest — you are on vacation after all — and you will get the most out of your travel with the least amount of trouble.

Found this article informative? Subscribe to our magazine today and receive more Best Health exclusives delivered to your door!