27 ways to be a healthier traveler in 2020
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on Jan. 8, 2019.
Many of us make New Year’s resolutions to travel more. But though the notion of jetsetting is romantic, the logistics of making it happen can be stressful. And the act of traveling can wreak havoc on your body (we’re looking at you, jet lag and bad airline food). So why not add an asterisk to that wanderlust goal by vowing to become a healthier traveler in 2020?
We tapped experts in a number of fields — nutritionists, pro travelers, psychologists, a gastroenterologist and even a former Olympian — for their tips on how to make everything about your travels healthier for your mind and body. Before you book your next trip, keep in mind these strategies for reducing stress, clearing your head and staying nourished, healthy and active. Not only will you feel restored after every trip you take, but you’ll get more out of your travels, too.
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Avoid the crowds
Before you even set foot on a plane, you can start to make your trips less stressful by traveling on a day that’s likely to be less busy. According to Expedia.com‘s total ticket demand in 2017 and 2018, the least popular day of the week to fly was Tuesday, and the busiest was Friday. So, by heading out out of town midweek, you’ll avoid those peak travel periods and consequently miss the crowds that go along with them. And thinner crowds almost always mean less hassle.
Ask friends for itinerary advice
Once your travel plans are secure, it can be overwhelming to think about how to plan hotel stays, activities, meals, excursions and more to fill out your vacation. You can reduce stress by looking to others for guidance.
“There can often be too much information out there,” said psychologist Jessica Nicolosi. “Ask friends who have been where you are headed for suggestions, because the path has already been paved.”
Know your backup travel plans
“Understand your trip and what airline you are flying with,” said former triathlon Olympian, trainer and United Million Miler Jarrod Shoemaker. “Are you flying through a big hub on a connecting or direct flight? Is this the only flight your airline flies to your location? Who are their partners and how else could you get to your location with another airline? All of this will make for a less stressful travel day and, hopefully, you do not need to use any of the information that you acquired.”
Get travel insurance
In case of an accident or illness that requires hospitalization while traveling, some travel insurances and credit-card benefits will only get you to the “nearest acceptable facility.” That could mean a foreign hospital where there are language barriers, or you’re not comfortable with the quality of care.
Comprehensive travel insurance can also help you in the event of any number of mishaps that may interrupt or disrupt your trip. Having a game plan for an emergency is definitely part of any healthy travel agenda.
Sanitize your surfaces
Planes and trains can be a breeding ground for illness. Dr. Niket Sonpal, a New York City-based gastroenterologist, suggested using sanitizing wipes on your tray table, seatbelt clip and the armrest of your airplane or train seat. When you exit a restroom on a plane or train and touch the door handles, be sure to use hand sanitizer even if you already washed your hands.
Be prepared for unexpected health hiccups
Colds, stomachaches and allergies are no fun, but they’re part of life, even when you’re on vacation. Keep in mind that your favorite over-the-counter remedies may not be available in your destination country.
“Bring your own supply of go-to medicines,” said John Gobbels, vice president and chief operating officer of Medjet, a medical air-transport and travel-security membership program. “If you do need to pick up more supplies along the way, know that counterfeit medications are prevalent in some foreign countries. Avoid shady corner pharmacies and nonpharmacy locations.”
We suggest packing half of your medicine and travel first-aid kit in your carry-on or personal item, so they’re easily accessible throughout the entire trip. Pack the other half in your checked luggage. On the off chance that airport security confiscates your medications, it’s good to have them separated.
Guard against germs
Getting sick while traveling is a real threat. To protect yourself, follow a few guidelines.
“Start a regime of probiotics to keep the gut from holding onto bad bacteria and encouraging the body to fight infection by increasing the good bacteria in your gut,” Dr. Nicholas Testa, chief physician executive at Dignity Health in Southern California, told TPG.
He also recommended taking a zinc supplement and getting the flu vaccine two to three weeks prior to travel. And, according to Dr. Nathan Favini, medical lead at Forward, a technology-based health-care startup, people under stress who take 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C per day are less likely to fall ill with viral infections.
Get your shots before traveling
Make sure you’re up to date on your shots. Dr. Sonpal said that “people should use the CDC website for recommended vaccines for travel abroad or see a travel clinic. The health risks posed to Americans vary based on the country they are traveling to.”
Mean it when you say you’re out of the office
Unless you’re traveling for business, the whole point of a getaway is to, well, get away from everything back home.
“Committing to disconnecting from work or responsibilities will reduce stress,” Nicolosi said. “Give yourself permission not to check your phone or email, and don’t overcommit to schedules, especially if you are someone who does that in your day-to-day life.”
Sign up for quick services
“I actually am not included in that demographic that’s stressed,” Jennifer Hawkins, CEO and founder of Hawkins International PR, a boutique travel and wellness agency, said. “The airport is a breeze for me because I have Clear and can skip the line with a touch of my fingerprint. It saves me a great deal of time and hair pulling. I really suggest it for any frequent flyer.”
Take advantage of airport wellness offerings
Maintaining optimal health should always be the priority, and that can start at the airport. Seriously.
“It’s so important to keep a healthy routine while traveling,” said SHA Wellness Clinic vice president and cofounder Alejandro Bataller. “This includes researching ahead of time healthy offerings available at airports.”
Since wellness travel is on the rise, many airports are jumping on the trend by offering their own relaxation services. For example, Esenza by SHA, operated by SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain, has two locations in the Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) that provide healthy food and beverages and targeted spa treatments. And then there are Xpress and Be Relax, both of which offer everything from massages to facials while you wait to board.
Flying can lead to dehydration because the humidity on an airplane is really low (it’s about three times drier than the Sahara desert.)
“Dehydration can cause a whole host of problems from mild discomfort to an increased risk of viral and bacterial infections from a suppressed immune system,” said Kameryn Tanita, an integrative nutritional-health coach and wellness blogger. “Try bringing a portable water bottle with you so you can refill it anywhere you go and focus on staying hydrated from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep.”
Give yourself healthy options
You can’t always be sure of what food choices you’ll get on your travels, so pack a bag with healthy snacks to take control when you get the munchies.
“Include fruit that travels well, like bananas and oranges, as well as nuts, olives, whole-grain crackers and peanut butter packets,” said New York City-area nutritionist Amy Gorin. “It also means you have an emergency stash of food that you can create a makeshift meal with if you have a long layover with limited food options.”
Of course, travelers flying internationally need to be conscientious about bringing fruits, vegetables, meats and other raw foods through customs. You’ll probably want to toss or declare anything fresh you don’t finish on the plane, lest you be welcomed back to the US (or the country you’re visiting) with a hefty fine.
Beat jet lag
Many times we forget an important factor that wreaks havoc on our health: jet lag.
“Upon arrival in your location, get onto the local schedule as quickly as possible,” Shoemaker said. “Eat meals when the locals eat meals. Most importantly, sleep and stay in bed until morning without looking at your phone or turning on the TV. This will help fight jet lag and make your trip healthier and more enjoyable.”
Related: 6 apps to help you beat jet lag
Get quality sleep
Traveling can be exhausting. You may be crossing various time zones, hauling your luggage around or hustling from place to place.
“Make sure to get a good night’s sleep every night, especially if you are fighting jet lag,” Tanita said. “If you have trouble sleeping in a new environment, bring earplugs and a sleep mask to avoid distractions, and try using lavender essential oil, which promotes relaxation and restful sleep.”
And this is important pre-trip, too. Parents are usually busy before a trip with last-minute packing, errands and working overtime to prepare to be out of office. Often times, we lose sleep in the weeks leading up to the trip.
“Do your best to plan weeks ahead so you’re not leaving things to the last minute and can focus on getting a good night’s sleep in the days leading up to the trip,” said Lauren Wolf, the certified infant and child sleep consultant behind Lolo Lullaby. “This goes for our kiddos too. [A] tight schedule and early bedtime a week before the trip will help keep them better rested during the vacation.”
Make space a priority when traveling with kids
Space can seriously impact your mental health while traveling. A survey conducted on behalf of Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites by Hilton, showed that most Americans do in fact feel that more space gives them a positive boost.
That’s why Amy Blankson, one of the nation’s top happiness experts (talk about a dream job), believes that, when you’re traveling with your family, it’s important to look for accommodations that will give you lots of space, such as separate rooms for you and your children. Book suites to ensure everyone can spread out, or opt for a vacation rental service like Airbnb, Home Away or HomeToGo, where the setup is more, well, like home.
“It will help bring down the stress of the trip,” Blankson said.
Hit the market
Another reason to book a vacation rental? Access to a kitchen, which will make it easier to avoid dining out for every meal. That not only helps you control what you eat but also how much you spend. Even if you’re in a hotel, you can still try and take advantage of the minifridge. Either way, Gorin suggests visiting a local farmer’s market.
“You can pick up tasty, in-season produce,” she said. “I’d also recommend stopping by a grocery store. Even if you don’t have a full kitchen where you’re staying, you can pick up essentials for a healthy breakfast and snack time. For me, those typically include Greek yogurt, nut butter, fresh berries and hard-boiled eggs.”
Change how you talk about travel
Your future starts with your next thought, right? Right. So the more you focus on the things that are stressing you out about a trip, the more you’ll be stressed out about the trip. That’s why Nicolosi suggests changing the way you speak about it and conceptualize your travels.
“Simply changing the word ‘have’ to the word ‘get’ creates a different emotional experience when making plans,” she said. “For example, instead of ‘I have to book our zip-lining excursion,’ it becomes, ‘I get to book the excursion.’ Getting to make plans creates gratitude and takes the obligation out of it, which can reduce the stress we feel about it.”
Related: Where to travel in 2020
Another way to get in a less-stressed headspace is to practice meditation when traveling.
“Travel can be very stressful, so it’s helpful to have certain tools on hand,” holistic-health coach Ali said. “Download a meditation app like Headspace. Some airlines’ inflight entertainment systems even have them available in flight as well. Take advantage.”
Don’t over-plan the first few days
It’s understandable that with your paid time off, you’d want to pack in as much as possible. But Wolf says it’s important not to over schedule the first couple days of the trip, especially if traveling to a new time zone.
“We need to allow our bodies time to adjust and recover from the travel and to the time change,” she said. “It’s best to be casual with the itinerary the first few days and allow flexibility if the family feels like going to bed early or offering naps to children.”
While you definitely deserve downtime during your vacation, it’s important to not give up entirely on physical activity. After all, health of body and mind is about consistency. Staying active keeps you feeling good while traveling, and aids in the recovery process when you return home. To do this, Kirsty Lewis — personal trainer, owner of wellness company Go Vitality and wife of a pilot — recommends booking a hotel with a gym. If that’s not an option, stick to a 20-minute in-room workout.
“All you need is 20 minutes to get in an effective workout,” she said. “If you do high intensity in a short period, it’s more effective at burning fat than steady cardio training because your metabolic burning engine keeps going for a really long time after.”
Her go-to bodyweight workout? Squat jumps, push-ups, burpees, mountain climbers and plyometric lunges. Do one exercise for 30 seconds and take 15 to 30 seconds off before moving to the next one. Do this for as many rounds as possible until you hit 20 minutes. And don’t underestimate the value of sightseeing by foot. You’ll be surprised by how many steps you get in when you travel.
Take a walking food tour
OK, you want to sample the local cuisine, but you don’t want to go overboard. Your best bet? Book a walking food tour.
“This is a great way to see the local sights and also get in some exercise,” Gorin said. “Typically, food tours serve smaller portions of foods, so even if something is decadent, you’re not eating a lot of it. And you’re typically getting in a good amount of exercise. I took a walking chocolate tour in Belgium, for example, and it was about four hours long.”
Pack plenty of nutritious snacks
Many of us pack healthy nibbles for the plane, bus or train ride, but it’s important to have a stash of nourishing options to enjoy once you arrive at your destination, too.
“When you have sugar, you want more of it. It’s natural, and we can’t control our reaction to processed sugar,” Lewis said. “So bring some healthy homemade bites for at least a couple of days. That way you’re not grabbing garbage when out and about.”
Gorin recommended the same, adding to grab a piece of fruit from the hotel’s breakfast buffet every morning. “I stash these in my purse so that I have a healthy snack at the ready when I get hungry while traveling,” she said. “It provides me with the energy I need to power through my trip, and this way I’m not tempted to eat a sugary treat when I get hungry. I save those indulgences for dinnertime, when I know I can sit down and really savor something sweet.”
Keep a journal
It’s very easy to get wrapped up in taking the perfect social media picture when traveling and not focus on the authentic experience. To ensure you walk away grateful, Lewis suggests journaling.
“Journal each day or [think] about three favorite things from the day,” she said. “This will keep you on holiday high, create longer lasting memories, and a deeper connection with the [destination].”
Focus on fruits and vegetables
Traveling is all about being open-minded and getting outside of your comfort zone. Most cities and countries have a unique cuisine, and part of the fun of being in a new place is trying new restaurants and immersing yourself in the food and culture.
“Don’t stress about overindulging in meals. Just focus on getting enough fruits and vegetables throughout the day,” Tanita said. “Make it a priority to eat foods that will fuel you for a full day.”
Don’t touch the ice
Many people are very cautious about only drinking bottled water when traveling abroad. But many folks forget that ice is simply frozen water, and put it into their soft drinks and other beverages. Contrary to what one might think, freezing water does not kill bacteria. The only way to be sure it’s safe is if you boiled the water and then froze it, said Dr. Sonpal.
Build in decompression days
When traveling, we tend to focus on all the things we want to do. But it’s important to give yourself permission to take some time to decompress, and even build that into your travel plans.
“Maybe the first day or two can be more active, and then you can enjoy the slower downtime,” Nicolosi said. “Or maybe you are the type who needs to get right into the calm. Knowing yourself and what you need to transition is vital.”
You might also want to consider adding decompression days when you come back home. This helps stave off those post-vacation blues.
Featured image via Shutterstock.
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