Gear up and get ready to go on a healthy summer vacation of your dreams.
It’s easy to overlook your health when you’re planning your vacation.
The idea of sandy beaches, majestic mountains and exciting adventures await following the cramped road trip, delayed airplane flight or choppy cruise. But health is one thing that shouldn’t be set aside when you're trying to sidetrack your daily responsibilities for a little rest and relaxation.
The following are tips and tricks local health professionals have for three popular vacation travel options — cars, planes and cruises.
It’s easy to think traveling by car is the simplest. No long check-in lines or cramped cabins. You can travel at your own pace, and, there are no security checks to cramp your style.
But, car seats aren’t really that comfortable and seatbelts are constraining. Not to mention, fast-food chains pop up every few miles, tempting you and the youngsters with tasty treats.
To avoid those greasy fries, Dr. Jordan Keys, an assistant clinical professor at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, recommends filling plastic baggies with nuts, seeds, basic fruit and healthy snack bars. Even packing a cooler and filling it with veggies and hummus is a viable option. And when you do need to stop for a meal, check out Subway or Quizno’s, where you can make healthier choices, she said.
Keys said it’s easy to end up consuming too much salt while traveling, which will lead to bloating and irritability. So having water on hand at all times is important. And before arguing that drinking water will lead to more restroom breaks, take heed. Keys recommends stopping every two to three hours to stretch anyway. No matter how much car dancing you do, it is not stretching.
“Be the goofy-looking one who gets up and stretches on the side of the road periodically just so that when you do get to your final destination, you don’t end up with your back being out or [having] muscle spasms,” Keys said.
For Stacy Koski, a nurse with Passport Health Sarasota, hydration is No. 1. Blood clots are a concern, and hydration can prevent them from forming.
“Dehydration makes the blood thick like pudding,” she said.
Airports can be overwhelming. Security lines, baggage claims and flight delays are enough to make any traveler recoil in fear. But one thing people can control, to a certain extent, is their health.
Like road trips, it’s important to get up and stretch out. A quick walk around the cabin or trip to the restroom can help get blood flowing. For people with a history of blood clots, pharmacist Alex Vazquez, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at LECOM, said if doctors can determine a previous flight caused blood clots, they can prescribe medication in advance of a flight. Compression stockings can also be helpful, he said. Keys said smokers and women, but specifically women on birth control or who are pregnant, need to be wary of clots.
Unlike cars, it’s harder to bring your own food into airports. A lot of people go for the quick, easy foods found in airports, but those aren’t the most healthy. Keys finds old habits die hard when nutrition and traveling come together.
“Part of that is a lot of people’s habits when they’re not traveling are not great, and so how do you [change] bad habits into good habits when traveling?”
The secret is trying to figure out what foods you can bring through security with you, Keys said. Fruit is an easy snack to throw in a bag, as well as nuts and trail mix. As for meals in the airport, Key has found that most airports have salad and sandwich bars. She recommends finding those before you board so you can take them aboard your flight.
And as always, hydration is key. Keys recommends bringing an empty water bottle with you that will get through TSA, then find a water-bottle filling station, usually located near a drinking fountain. But drinking water isn’t the only step to staying hydrated when flying.
“The other thing, a side note on that, is to be mindful about alcohol consumption when you’re flying because you’re already prone to getting dehydrated. Alcohol consumption is only going to make you more dehydrated,” Key says.
Once boarded, germs come into play. Pack a small hand sanitizer container to take on board, and take a combination of zinc and vitamin C — think Airborne products — to ward off infections.
“Zinc and vitamin C are two things that have been linked to decreasing the length of colds and viral infections, and so if you do catch something or if you are starting to get sick, it can be a good way to not have an infection or prolonged infection while traveling,” Keys said.
Vazquez said some data is lacking on over-the-counter prevention products like Airborne, but a study was recently published showing that vitamin D can also decrease the length of a cold. Vazquez also recommends Pepto Bismol for people who know they get travelers’ diarrhea and a stool softener for those who get travelers’ constipation.
As for prescribed medication, Keys reminds patients to bring their medications in the bottles they came in with the labels. Your carry-on should be full of items you need daily. Clothes can be replaced, pills cannot.
As for jet lag, Vazquez said there is sleep training travelers can do before they leave to get them close to the schedule of their destination. Depending on if you’re coming or going, delay when you go to bed a little more each night leading up to your trip. Melatonin can help reset your internal clock, too.
“Sleep in general, when you’re traveling is important,” he said. “Make sure you’re sleeping. The stress of not getting sleep when you’re traveling can decrease your immune system’s ability to prevent infection and cold and all that.”
It can be easy to forget important documents and vaccinations when it seems like cruises have it all figured out for you. The food, the ports of call, and the activities are all planned. But health isn’t.
For not only cruises, but foreign travel in general, it’s worth checking into travel insurance. Some credit card companies include international travel health medicine, Passport Health’s Koski said.
“If you have a heart attack and need to be airlifted off the boat, the international health insurance will cover that,” she said.
Koski also recommends travelers check with their cruise lines to see what kind of onboard medical support is available .
And don’t forget about vaccinations before traveling. Koski warns that the government can restrict entry of a person if they haven’t had the yellow fever vaccine. Koski recommends people get vaccinated a month or two before their trip in case multiple vaccinations are needed.
As for fitness and nutrition, most cruises have endless options, but that can be a double-edged sword. Utilize the tracks, the pools and workout rooms. As for the food, Keys recommends choosing one meal a day to splurge. Keys and Vazquez also remind patients to be mindful of the water source.
“You’re on vacation, so you should be able to be a little bit more liberated, but also remember that you’re going to feel better on vacation if you’re mindful of those things,” she said.
Perhaps Keys sums it up best.
“The best thing you can do when traveling in general is just basic care of yourself up until that point,” Keys said. “I mean sleeping regularly, exercising, eating healthy, all of those things are really going to make your immune system stronger and make you less likely to get sick while traveling so just basic health principles go a long way when traveling.”