How to Take Care of Yourself While Traveling

Stacey Ebert

Taking care of your body is imperative to your personal wellness and without question, your travel wellness. More energy, more sleep, more fresh air and more exercise always equals less stress, less illness and of course, more fun! Cultivate travel wellness to keep your mind clear, your immune system strong and your body hydrated.

Whether at home or on the road, there are times when we all run ourselves ragged. At various points in the year we burn the candle at both ends, come in contact with some random germ-filled funk, or just feel like ‘we’re coming down with something’. We can stop and listen to our bodies, or suffer the consequences. Taking care of ourselves always matters, but taking care of ourselves while traveling impacts more than our health, it impacts our enjoyment of the trip.

Whether it’s an hour of self-care, a few hours sitting at a cafe sipping a re-aligning and rejuvenating tea, taking an afternoon nap, or knowing when to say “no” and give yourself 24 hours of full-on rest and recovery – all are necessary and all make a difference. How do you take care of yourself and stay healthy while traveling?

Tips for Self-Care While Traveling

With wellness tourism on the rise, we’re often reminded of the multiple opportunities travel and wellness have to intersect. The number of regimens and routines available reach far further than the one-off detox diet, yoga retreat, spa treatment, or mindfulness lesson as more and more people travel specifically to get healthier and recharge. Yet it’s up to each one of us to incorporate those self-care, at home and abroad.

While many of these are common sense, we sometimes forget to pack what’s common in favor of experiencing the exotic when we’re traveling. 

Pace Yourself & Get More Sleep

Sure, when you were young, the junk food and all-nighters might have seemed like a good idea – and it felt worth the price you paid for it later. Remind yourself that slowing down is a good thing, resting when you need it helps, detoxing from the insanity of our digital lifestyles is healthy, and getting 7-9 hours of sleep is never a bad idea. 

If you’re battling jet-lag, this is even more important.

Exercise Everyday

For many of us, our minds need a daily stretch as much as our bodies do. If you’re embracing exercise, or a movement regimen of any kind for your physical body, remember to do the same for the inner workings of your mind. Get outside, take a walk, sit in nature, color, go to yoga – do something that challenges, exercises, and soothes both body and mind.

Meditate Baby! (there’s an app for that!)

As the world gets more tech savvy, so do our travels. No longer do we need to be seated in a sweaty ashram led by a formidable guru in India to find our zen, focus our minds, and center ourselves. With a plethora of positive health benefits, there are multiple apps to download that bring clarity and mindfulness to the busiest NYC subway car, the center of Seattle’s most bustling market. or straight to your phone before you pick your next aisle of Thailand’s Chatuchak market.

Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to get some Headspace. Embrace Sanity and Self to maintain perspective, no matter where you are. Or if you’re so inclined, follow the lead of author and spiritual guru Gabrielle Bernstein who says she, “meditate(s) during take off. This is my absolute favorite time to meditate. There’s something very relaxing about it.”

A few favorites mindfulness apps are: Insight Timer, Headspace, Calm, Stop, Breathe, Think and 10% Happier

Don’t Forget to Eat (the right things!)

While TSA rules are constantly changing, dry goods are still allowed in flight. Recently, when I wound my way through the security line, I discovered one new rule: if traveling with many snacks or foods, they must be scanned in a separate bin on the conveyor belt (and sometimes they’re even tested with that magic wand thing).

Packing snacks for the flight, or beyond, is an easy way to be kind to your body while you travel. Pay attention to your own body’s needs, but be aware of the serious allergies of others and leave things like peanuts and tree nuts out of your flight bag of trail mix. Hit up a market as soon as you land to load up on fruit and veggies so that no matter where you are, you’ve got healthy stuff to feed your sense of adventure.

Eating what the locals do helps your body adjust and develop local immunities. Tony’s trick for ingesting local probiotics and yeasts is local raw honey over local yogurt for breakfast and a locally brewed beer in the afternoon. Healthy travel doesn’t have to feel like missing out! Build your gut in advance with pro-biotics: Some travelers start them ahead of their journey while others employ them upon arrival. $24, SimplyBiotix

One dietitian’s trick for feeding her body while traveling:

Lindsey Pine, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D, C.L.T., owner of Tasty Balance Nutrition, told SELF Magazine she ‘bring(s) oatmeal and soup cups on planes with her.’

Take Your Vitamins

We don’t need a doctor to remind us to take our vitamins anymore – and when traveling – we certainly don’t! My sister-in-law employs a regimen of garlic and echinacea to combat air travel germs. Jenn, our editor, swears by Ultra-Immune to  combat what she calls “continental-shift sickness.” You know, that tummy trouble that invades on day three of a trip because you’ve swapped biotic environments and juggled your dietary routine? Others punch up their vitamin C, B ,and ginger levels. Still others travel with a selection of essential oils to use along the way. 

You might try:

Dealing With Food Allergies & Dietary Restrictions 

Allergies of any kind can be scary, but dealing with life threatening food allergies in a country where you don’t speak the language is downright frightening. Food allergy cards are always a good idea! These cards share significant information in both English and another language. Check blogs, review sites, and even hotel concierges for food vendors that can accommodate allergies and other dietary restrictions. If possible, learn to say necessary information in the local language or even ask the hotel to write it in local dialect for you before heading out.

And of course, my motto is ‘always travel with snacks’!

Pro-Tip: Angela, get the Team Tortuga award for the most and worst food allergies. She wrote extensively about packing for and traveling with serious food allergies and restrictions. 

Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling

There are some obvious actions you can take to guard your health while you’re traveling. Most people know that:

  • Eating the local yoghurt adds local pro-biotics
  • Tap water (and ice) is not safe to drink or brush your teeth with in many countries
  • All fruits and vegetables should be cooked, peeled, or washed thoroughly

Even with adequate precautions and best of intentions – sometimes those icky germs sneak through and sickness joins us on a journey. Experienced travelers learn that even those days lead to stories remembered. My husband got sick in Egypt and we had to miss an excursion to the Valley of the Kings, yet within 24-48 hours of room and pool rest, with a little bit of traveler’s medical kit magic, he was good to go and our fabulous friends even brought us back postcards of their donkey experience.

But, staying healthy goes far beyond what you eat and drink as you travel. Protect your body from discomfort that can muck up your journeys like and achy back from an ill fitting or improperly packed travel backpack or the funky design of airplane seats, sun exposure that makes putting on even a tank top painful, and the ever so obvious but often over looked – dehydration? 

Here’s how to take care of your body while traveling.

Ergonomics

Backpack Ergonomics

Wrestling heavy, oversized luggage has ruined more than one trip due to muscle strain or physical injury. Don’t let wheeled luggage ruin your trip. Choosing a backpack that fits properly, and learning to pack it like a pro is key to your comfort traveling.

Learn to lift it properly: Whether you set the pack down and bend at the knees to get it situated, have a friend hold the weight while you slip your arms through the straps, or pop it on a table to back into it just don’t lift, twist, and swing a heavy backpack to get it on your back. That’s asking for trouble.

An essential component of any good pack is a hip belt. Snap the buckle and pull the straps snug, letting your hips hold the weight before adjusting shoulder straps, chest strap, and load lifters, towards the top towards your shoulders.

Again, please, NEVER do that whole swing and twist move – it’s a recipe for disaster!

Airplane Seat Ergonomics

We all have our issues when traveling – me, I’m 4’11 and have scoliosis. Although I can climb on any armrest to pop a bag into the overhead compartment – I’m bound to not only tweak my back, but to probably hit someone else in the head. An upside is that I don’t need to pay more for extra legroom seats and I happily yoga myself into multiple pretzels throughout the flight, but mostly that’s because my feet don’t reach the floor. Which is painful and annoying without a backpack or something rest my feet on.

I haven’t tried them yet, but there are a few cool products for shorter travelers (like me) who need to bring the floor to meet our feet and for anyone who wants a way to get that first class footrest feeling without paying the usurious price of that ticket. 

Tackling Tension

Therapy balls soothe my achy back on long haul flights. Sure, a full body massage upon landing would lessen that tension, but it would also lessen the cash in my wallet. Not everyone can afford to start every trip at the spa. Instead, invest in a $13 Clever Training Double Lacrosse Ball.

Heather Peterson, Senior Vice President of Programming at Corepower Yoga, shared her personal trick with Travel and Leisure :

Do a “seated twist and seated figure four every hour on the plane. I heard from an engineer that plane seats are designed to concave your back so you are 2 inches smaller across, but that’s the worst position for a healthy spine! So these poses counterbalance that problem. I also carry an extra scarf and roll it up and put it at my back for lumbar support.” 

Avoid Sitting Too Much & DVT

Have you read about how sitting is the new smoking? Well, they’ve banned smoking on flights, but the whole sitting thing would be kind of difficult. The best way to counter the discomfort that comes from sitting too long is to get up throughout your flight.

Yup, we’ve all had those window and middle seats where we feel badly about asking someone to get up, but don’t feel badly, do it! Foot exercises, seated yoga stretches and quite literally standing and walking can save your life from clotting emergencies in flight.

Movement helps to avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), restless legs, and cramping. Do your foot pumps, drink water so you force yourself to get up to pee every few hours, or walk the aisle to reinvigorate blood flow. And for long flights, consider compression socks.

Shalisa Pouw, Senior Master Teacher Trainer at Pure Barre talked to T & L about what won her over to compression socks:

She has a “slight obsession with quirky socks, and recently found out about compression socks while planning for a trip out of the country.  They help with blood circulation and prevent blood clots, especially on flights longer than four hours. When I found out you could get them in cute patterns, I was sold!” 

Myself – I have these little guys from Treat My Feet. Practical and fun, these bright purple compression socks even come in a size that fits my extra small feet.

Check out travel blogger, Sherry Ott’s story on how she wound up with DVT and what you can do to prevent it.

If you’re someone who is older, or suffers from vascular problems, see a doctor before you fly and get expert advice.

Combatting In-flight Germs

We all know someone who is a self-proclaimed germaphobe. Perhaps they use alcohol wipes to clean the covers of library books, lather any restaurant chair with their handy wet wipes, or use hand sanitizer like it’s their job. However, on a plane, adapting a bit of that mindset might work in your favor to reduce the chance of catching the wrong kind of bug while you fly.

  • Wipe down the seat belt and tray table
  • Carry hand sanitizer 
  • Take vitamins, immunity boosters, or pro-biotics
  • Wear a face mask if you’re prone to illnesses (or have one!) 

Chug a green juice before heading to your seat, put a bit of peppermint oil under your nose, carry some ginger chews, or pop some vitamin C inflight – whatever works for you to limit those pesky airplane germs – do it.

Finding Silence

Ear plugs aren’t only about blocking out noise, the right kind can help keep changing pressure stable and reduce ear pain while helping us sleep inflight. Earplugs are on many travelers’ lists of ‘must haves.’ 

Whether you’re using them to manage your mindfulness meditation, silence the nonsense of other loud travelers, or to keep your eardrums safe from harm there’s definitely an ear plug option out there for everyone.

De-Stress In-Flight

Enter any airport bookstore these days and you’ll find adult coloring books, colored pencils, markers, crayons and even stickers. Those same meditation apps that work at home, work in the air. There are earplugs that not only block out that loud airplane drone but allow your music or your partner’s soothing tones into your ears. There are even people who make their flight time into a mini spa trip with lavender eye pillows, special socks, special (unscented) lotions, and a nubbly massage ball. 

Whether you’re nervous about flying or a fearless traveler with no need for elevated stress levels, there are things out there to make your travel experience as smooth as can be.

Journaling

Today, many people jot down their dates and activities in a smartphone app or write down a few tidbits on a digital tablet. But there are good reasons to go old school, grab a fun writing utensil, get a pretty journal, and get your therapy on!

Sure, you might include the names of restaurants and unique conversations with new friends – but you might also include how you felt during these experiences. Write often; unlock your journal potential. Whether it’s these colorful passport-sized beauties or another, journalling thoughts can be an important part of self-care.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

Rule of thumb while flying: Do your best to drink one eight ounce bottle of water an hour and, of course, if you can pre-hydrate, that’s an added bonus.

Not everyone can consume that much water, but the idea is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The more water you drink, the better you’ll feel, the more times you’ll have to get up to pee (added bonus as you can stretch those achy legs) and the better your skin and body will feel inflight and upon arrival at your destination.

Hydration Hints

TSA requirements still do not allow any liquids beyond the 3-1-1 rule for carry on travel. However, they will allow an empty bottle to come through security. Refill it at a fountain once you’re safely inside the terminal.

In the latest Backpacker magazine, I read about a free app that I installed in my phone before I finished turning the page. TAP uses your GPS location to tell you where the closest free refilling stations are – genius! Whether you hit up a restaurant, park, or nearby water fountain. You and your reusable bottle will be helping the planet one sip at a time.

Pro tip: Rehydration sachets/tablets are able to be carried in a carry on bag or personal item.

Skin Hydration

The hydration rule applies both inside and out. Treat your skin to extra hydration when you fly. Because I have allergies, asthma, and sensitive skin. I use Aveeno unscented products (for me as well as my fellow travelers – no one wants to smell someone else’s products, right?) and hit up Kiehls for some travel samples (this way I can easily test what best suits my skin and my lungs before I leave home) like Vitamin C serum and Youth Dose Eye Cream.

Choosing a Water Bottle for Travel

My sister-in-law has a zillion different water bottles in her cabinet. Some work better to take for a walk, but don’t seal up tightly enough to throw in her daypack. If you don’t want to use those single-use plastic bottles anymore, consider investing in few different ones for your varied journeys. Whether collapsible, purifying, filtering, rechargeable, or just one of each of your favorite colors and sizes. Yhere’s a water bottle out there for each occasion of your varied adventure schedule.

What to Pack for Self-Care

Everyone packs differently for self-care. Depending your needs, you might include peppermint oil, or therapy balls (well, I carry both of these), exercise bands, or an array of re-hydrating lotions. For you, maybe self-care while traveling looks like a bag full of snacks, gum and a camomile scented eye-mask.

Whether it’s a portable exercise regimen, rejuvenating skin treatments, eco-friendly water bottles, or three different pairs of earplugs, there are products out there to help you take care of your body while traveling.

Travel Scarves and Wraps

I freeze on most plane journeys. That forced, circulated air not only chafes my skin but makes me shiver in my seat. Stay warm, keep your belongings secure, or roll these babies up and use them as lumbar support for your achy back – travel scarves are one of those multi-use items that’s always in my travel bag.

Fitness Equipment

Sure, you can book a paddle boarding lesson or grab a pilates class along the way, but what can you bring for a fitness regimen in a hotel, house-share, or Airbnb space?

Often, I travel with a yoga mat. Sometimes I throw in resistance bands and there’s always a bunch of exercises I can find following those fabulous Insta-influencers. Give these babies a try to (quite literally) get your butt in gear on any continent.

Active Sightseeing – Keep Moving 

If you spend any time on social media, you’ve likly seen Paulo Coelho’s quote, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal.” Well, this is one of those times that routine is actually a good thing. If you work out, exercise, work or move when you’re home – keep going that during your travels. 

Here are some tips:

  • Get your steps in: Ditch the ride shares or public transportation and walk
  • Explore: If you’ve got time in a new city – give a path, trail, park or boardwalk a try
  • Go  social: Grab your girlfriends and paddle, ride, jump, dance or get your yoga on
  • Find a studio: Sometimes the first class is even free
  • Use apps: Check local apps to find free or inexpensive community classes 
  • Go to the park: Find a nearby open air area and get your groove on

Want more inspiration? Leo Babauta, of Zen Habits, shares 7 ways he stays fit while traveling.

Self-Care While Traveling: What Makes a Difference

The airlines remind us during that intro-talk that you’re supposed to be listening to that, “if the air pressure changes, put on your own mask first before helping someone else.” For many of us – we forget that taking care of ourselves isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.

In order to be the best co-worker, traveler, friend, relative, boss or whatever, we first have to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. This is especially true when we travel.

Practicing self-care while we travel gives us the best opportunity to stay well, reduce jet lag, and enjoy our trip to the max. Get rest, drink water and stay healthy – it matters!

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