In December 2018, I withdrew from practicing medicine. As an anesthetist, I spent my days in an operating room to help people fall asleep and wake them up when their operations were over. It’s a package deal that I’ve been happy to deliver to several thousand patients over the course of my 26 year career.
I’ve traveled at every opportunity, including several times in the past year. I’m going to share the tips I follow to stay healthy while traveling – tips I used before COVID and during the pandemic.
Regarding COVID-19, I am not going to go into the pros and cons of the COVID vaccines or wearing a mask – I think you can find enough opinions on both of these by now.
Regarding any of the following advice on vitamins, supplements, medications, or non-COVID vaccines, please use this as a starting point for a discussion with your doctor. This is not a substitute for visiting someone who knows you and your medical conditions.
Here are nine tips for staying healthy while traveling.
1. Stay hydrated
Since your body is about 60 percent water, hydration is a key component to feeling your best. Travel is dehydrating. The air on an airplane is no more than half as humid as the air in your house (10 to 25 percent on an airplane and about 50 percent in your house, depending on where you live).
Then there is the problem of reducing your water intake because you don’t know when or where to use the toilet next. This can be kept in mind when on an organized tour and not in control of the comfort stops that you make.
So what is recommended? If you travel by plane, try to drink 8 ounces of water an hour. When you drink alcohol, you need to increase the amount of water you drink to counterbalance the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Avoid alcohol during your flight. If you do need to drink, do so in moderation.
Aim for about eight glasses of water a day on the floor, but let your thirst guide you.
2. Get a lot of sleep
The importance of getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night shouldn’t be underestimated, whether you’re at home or traveling. Recent studies link sleep deprivation to obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia, and early death.
I am terrible when it comes to this one. I know I would be better off if I stopped drinking caffeine long before bed, and turned off my phone and laptop sooner too. Here are some additional habits for better sleep.
If you are planning a long international trip across many time zones, consider staying in a city where you will catch a connecting flight. Hotels bordering airports make this pretty easy, and there is often little difference in tariff for a longer stay.
3. Straighten your legs
Long car and air travel increases the risk of a blood clot in your legs because you sit for long periods of time. This video shows some simple exercises you can do in your seat to prevent clotting.
If possible, stop the car about every hour to walk. On flights, I choose an aisle seat so I can walk up and down the aisle when the seat belt sign is off. Wear compression stockings that will minimize blood buildup in your legs.
If you have previously had a blood clot, check with your doctor before you travel to see if medical-grade blood thinners or compression stockings are required.
4. Practice good hygiene
According to the CDC statisticsIn the USA, the flu cases collapsed in the 2020-2021 season. In the middle of the pandemic, not only did we not gather together, but we also practiced our best hand hygiene and covered our coughs.
Thorough hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer are the best ways to prevent the spread of infection.
Pro tip: While flying, wipe the armrests and tray table on your seat. According to studies done before COVID-19 and the advanced cleaning techniques that resulted from it, the tables were dirtier than the toilet handles.
5. Protection against traveler’s diarrhea
Most bacterial and viral diseases are spread through inhalation, ingestion, or inoculation (rubbing the eyes). However, for travelers to developing countries, food and waterborne diseases are common, with the incidence of diarrhea ranging from 30 to 60 percent. Usually, without treatment, diarrhea will go away in two to seven days.
The CDC website offers common sense conduct to eat and drink in countries where North Americans may be at risk. In summary, eat fully cooked food, wash and peel fresh fruits and vegetables with bottled water, and only drink boiled or bottled water. Avoid ice cubes and don’t forget to brush your teeth with bottled water as well.
Pepto-Bismol (two tablets four times a day) has some mild antibacterial effects and appears to reduce the chance of travelers’ diarrhea. However, if you are allergic to aspirin, are taking blood thinners, or have kidney problems or gout, you must avoid Pepto-Bismol.
Should you be taking prophylactic antibiotics to prevent diarrhea? No. Should you bring antibiotics with you on a trip to a developing country, just in case? Yes. I recommend bringing antibiotics in case the diarrhea is severe or causing dehydration.
Here are additional recommendations for the prevention and treatment of traveler’s diarrhea.
6. Visit a travel clinic before you leave
If you plan to travel internationally, a visit to a travel clinic at least a month before your trip can help you get any vaccines or prophylactic antibiotics you need (e.g. for diarrhea or malaria).
If you have never been vaccinated against hepatitis A, I recommend that you get the vaccine. Hepatitis A is a virus that affects your liver and is transmitted through contaminated food or water.
Pro tip: Bring your vaccination record to your appointment.
7. Research doctors and clinics on your destination
The CDC has one conduct That covers health care on your travels. It has a number of evacuation insurance resources (evacuation – which costs thousands of dollars – may not be included in your evacuation insurance Travel insuranceand it is not covered by most health insurances), travel health insurance and finding a doctor or clinic abroad.
Medicare does not cover care outside of the United States or its territories in most circumstances. For exceptions, visit theirs website.
Cruise ships usually have a doctor on board. The Silk Road train I took did too. If you are sick, it is better to see a doctor sooner rather than later. It is much easier to treat someone in the early stages of an illness.
When traveling internationally independently of a group, I write down the names and addresses of accredited clinics with English-speaking doctors before I leave the house.
8. Consider taking vitamins or supplements
It would take an entire book to talk about the pros and cons of each vitamin and supplement. Everything from ashwagandha (a stress hormone-reducing supplement) to zinc is mentioned as something that should be in your suitcase.
Most importantly, studies show that vitamins and supplements like Airborne (with vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements) can support your health. In terms of the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, research is ongoing into the effectiveness of vitamins and supplements.
One recently study Vitamin D suggests that a deficiency leads to a greater chance of getting COVID-19 and a worse outcome. Many people in the northern United States and Canada are deficient because they are less exposed to the sun.
Pro tip: I recommend getting a vitamin D level (a blood test) first to see if you need to take extra vitamin D. Your doctor may recommend a dose based on your results.
9. Watch what you are eating
When I entered medical school in the 1980s, very little time was devoted to nutrition classes. But I believe that good nutrition is good for your health at home and on the go.
We should eat the best fruits, vegetables, and protein we can find. Organic is even better for foods labeled “the dirty dozen”- those who are heavily contaminated with pesticides and herbicides. A manual for a high-end car recommends filling the tank with premium gasoline. We should fill our tanks with the best food we can afford.
We should limit our intake of refined sugars, highly processed foods, and fast foods that are easy to grab and eat on the go. Because of wonderful things like cheetos and chocolate and peanut butter rice, this is another “do what I say, not like me” – just like getting enough sleep.
Pro tip: If you want to learn more about nutrition, I recommend Why We Get Fat and The Case Against Sugar, both by Gary Taubes. He’s a persuasive advocate against refined sugar.