Be a Healthy Traveler
By Dr. JJ Dugoua ND PhD
It’s that time of the year in the North. The leaves are falling, the air is getting chilly and the rivers and streams are freezing over. I find myself looking through my drawers for my gloves and tuque. Should I wear a scarf today? Should I pull out my trusty winter jacket with its Goretex™ shell and cozy inner fleece (did I mention fleece padded pockets?)? I also find myself surfing (daily) the travel sites on the internet. I seem to crave some sun, some heat, some travel.
If you are like me, you probably hope to take it easy over the holidays. Sure you’ve thought of your tickets, your passport, your money and which bathing suit to wear (sorry for bringing that up), but have you given any though to your health?
Traveling has become so common in North America that we forget the health risks that can be involved and we falsely assume, in many cases, that there is easy access to medical facilities as in our homeland. Here are 10 tips to help make your vacation fun, invigorating, and most importantly, healthy.
#1 Planning Ahead
Before you leave, it’s important to plan ahead. Here are some items to check off before you board that plane.
- Consult your physician or licensed health care practitioner before you leave, particularly if you have a serious medical condition.
- Check with your Health organization to see what immunizations are required.
- Bring enough medication and supplements for the length of your trip, for example malaria pills or a good probiotic (acidophilus).
- In case you run out, see if your medications and supplements are available in your country of destination.
- Have a dental check up. Nothing is worse then having teeth pain while on your trip
#2 Travel insurance
This may be the most important item on your list. Despite our best precautions, sometimes accidents happen. A medical stay in a foreign country could cost you thousands of dollars. Before you travel, always arrange health insurance adequate for your destination.
#3 Eat and Drink Safely
Wherever you are in the world, be careful what you eat and drink. Food and water may be contaminated in a variety of ways. Just because it looks delectable, doesn’t mean it’s not contaminated. Traveler’s diarrhea is very common, if not the most common traveler’s sickness. Contaminated food or water often causes traveler’s diarrhea and other diseases, such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. See below for eating and drinking safely tips.
- Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, before handling food and before eating.
- Avoid uncooked or raw food, particularly meat, fish and seafood. This may not be the best time to experiment with tartar.
- Eat freshly cooked food which is thoroughly cooked and still piping hot.
- Avoid food that has been exposed to flies.
- Avoid food which has been kept warm.
- Avoid ice cream from unreliable sources, such as kiosks or street traders.
- Avoid unpasteurised milk.
- Fish and shellfish can be suspect in some countries. Uncooked shellfish, such as oysters, are a particular hazard.
- With respect to fruit, if you can peel it, eat it.
- Avoid ice unless you are 100% sure it is made from treated and chlorinated water. This includes ice used to keep food cool as well as ice in drinks.
- Contaminated water may include the water in swimming pools, lakes, rivers and the sea, so try not to swallow water when you are bathing.
- If you have any doubts about the water available for drinking, washing food or cleaning teeth, boil it, sterilize it with disinfectant tablets or use bottled water (preferably carbonated with gas) in sealed containers.
- Check the seal and cap of your bottled water. In some countries, bottles are refilled with tap water and sold as bottled water.
- It is usually safe to drink hot tea or coffee, wine, beer, carbonated water and soft drinks, and packaged or bottled fruit juices.
#4 Take care in the sun
At this time of year, many people travel in search of the sun. Sun worshipping is fine, but overexposure can cause sunburn, leading to premature skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. Sunburns are caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays. The closer you are to the equator, the higher the intensity of UV rays. Prolonged sun exposure may also put you a risk for sunstroke or heatstroke.
Never underestimate the effect of careless exposure to the sun. Just because you are not burning right now, doesn’t mean you won’t be tonight. See below for some tips on taking care in the sun:
- Protect yourself and your children with sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) suitable for your skin type.
- Do not place your baby in direct sunlight.
- If you swim, even though your sunscreen may be “water resistant” re-apply on a regular basis.
- Try to avoid the midday sun, which is the most intense sun exposure of the day.
- Wear sunglasses that filter UV rays for your eyes.
- If you burn easily or have a history of skin cancer, wear protective clothing.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water, or at least non-alcoholic drinks to balance the fluids lost from the body through perspiration.
- Avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest hours of the day.
- Void alcohol consumption while in the sun.
#5 Play Safely
A foreign land may not be the best place to attempt the latest greatest ultimate high-risk sport. Be conscious of your current injuries and try to avoid activities that would cause you to flare up. If you are looking for danger, follow all the relevant safety guidance, make sure that there are adequate emergency medical facilities on hand and check that you have medical insurance which covers you fully in the event of any accident. If you are a scuba diver, you should wait at least 24 hours between your last dive and a flight.
#6 Carry Some Supplements
Although we do not recommended that you carry your entire medicine chest with you, because you must save room for all that great duty-free shopping, it is important to carry some supplements with you. If the bottles take up too much room, buy a small ill container or use a Ziploc™ bag. Below are the top 5 supplements to take on your trip.
Live probiotics are healthy bacteria that populate our intestinal tract. Most infections contracted abroad, particularly traveler’s diarrhea, are due to our bodies not being accustomed to the bacterial inhabitants of our country of destination. Studies have shown that probiotics protect the body from disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli. Make sure you choose a probiotic that does not require refrigerization.
2. Digestive Enzymes
You are trying new foods and expanding your palate in the realm of exotic dishes. You may find, unfortunately, that your body is having some difficulties digesting this new-found experiment of yours. Carry digestive enzymes with you to help your body with the digestive process. A good digestive enzyme should include enzymes that breakdown carbohydrates (amylase), fats (lipase) and protein (protease).
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body. Glutamine serves as fuel to the cells gastrointestinal tract. Glutamine is also very effective at stopping diarrhea.
Travel, by definition, implies some form of moving around. You may be flying by air, traveling by boat or riding in a car or bus. For many, this movement leads to motion sickness. Studies have shown that ginger may be useful for the prevention and treatment of mild to moderate cases of motion sickness.
5. Immune combo
Stress, lack of sleep, food and water contaminants or even a new environment are enough to put a strain on your immune system. Carry a good immune combo with you, which should include goldenseal, barberry, Oregon grape, garlic, Echinacea, Astragalus, American ginseng and others.
Check with your governmental health agency before you leave for any disease outbreaks. You may also check with the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/ith/countrylist01.html).
#8 Carry a medical kit
A medical kit contains supplies for accidents, injuries and other illnesses. These kits can be purchased from most pharmacies and health care providers. Here is a list of items to be included in the kit:
- adhesive tape
- antiseptic wound cleanser
- emollient eye drops
- insect repellent
- insect bite treatment
- nasal decongestant
- oral rehydration salts
- scissors and safety pins
- simple analgesic (e.g. paracetamol)
- sterile dressing
- clinical thermometer
Additional items according to destination and individual needs:
- antidiarrhoeal medication
- antifungal powder
- antimalarial medication
- medication for any pre-existing medical condition
- sterile syringes and needles
- water disinfectant
- other items to meet foreseeable needs, according to the destination and duration of the visit
#9 Homeopathic travel
Homeopathic medicine is an extremely powerful, safe and effective treatment for a number of first aid conditions. For example, the remedy Arnica is excellent for trauma, injuries, sprains and bruises; the remedy Belladonna is excellent for sunburn and sunstroke. A homeopathic kit can be purchased from most supplement markets and licensed naturopathic Doctors.
A number of countries require immunizations in order to prevent you contracting, and even spreading, certain infectious diseases. Check with your governmental health agency or the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/ith/countrylist01.html).
#10 and ½ Have Fun
Relax. Read a good book. Enjoy your time away with your partner or loved ones, or enjoy your time to yourself. Travel is a time to learn, not just about other cultures, but about yourself, your life, your relationships and so on. If you have to splurge, then splurge. Remember the 80:20 rule, good 80% of the time and not-so-good 20% of the time. Enjoy your vacation because you’ve certainly earned it.
Resta-Lenert S, Barrett KE. Live probiotics protect intestinal epithelial cells from the effects of infection with enteroinvasive Escherichia coli (EIEC). Gut. 2003 Jul;52(7):988-97.