Healthy Habits for Traveling
Without proper upkeep, frequent travel for work or pleasure can take its toll on the mind and body. An expert at Baylor College of Medicine shares the warning signs of travel fatigue and how to stay healthy while traveling.
“Though frequent travel can boost your mood and positively impact your mental health, keep in mind that it’s a two-way street,” said Dr. Mike Ren, assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor. “While traveling, it is important to keep up your physical and mental well-being to maximize the beneficial effects of travel.”
Travel fatigue manifests differently for each person, but some of the most common symptoms include trouble sleeping, feeling disengaged, experiencing higher stress or anxiety levels and overindulging in food or alcohol. Depending on the severity of symptoms, individuals may need to refrain from traveling to reset. Ren advises consulting with a physician to discuss whether a pause is necessary and to address stress and other symptoms that do not resolve. Simple preventative action can be taken to lessen these symptoms.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make sure you are up to date on all your vaccinations, particularly for international travel, and if you are on prescription medications, make sure you have an adequate supply for travel and a few days upon return,” Ren said. “Make sure to maintain a good level of hygiene by washing your hands often and take advantage of telehealth visits while traveling if symptoms or medical concerns arise.”
Jet lag and different time zones may throw an individual’s circadian rhythm out of sync, but with the right supplements and habits, sleep won’t be lost on vacation or business travel. Cure jet lag by adhering to local times and adjusting sleeping and eating schedules to those hours, rather than the ones back home. Put away smartphones 30 minutes before bed and create a cool, comfortable environment to sleep in. Ren advises avoiding beverages that contain alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime and remembering to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.
If these sleep habits do not prove effective, Ren suggests using sleep masks and earplugs to help create a dark and quiet environment to sleep in.
Additionally, taking melatonin supplements can be used to help fall asleep, and some people even find help through calming scents such as lavender.
Though travel may interrupt an individual’s exercise regimen, there are many ways to stay active while away from home. Ren encourages walking and adventuring during travel as the best way to stay active. Body weight exercises can be performed first thing in the morning so that they are not forgotten about later in the day and exercise apps and athletic equipment that easily travels, like jump ropes or exercise bands, also can be used.
“If you have an active day of walking, biking or hiking, you shouldn’t feel guilty about skipping a workout,” Ren said.
Keeping a balanced diet while trying out new cuisines is possible. Stay hydrated when traveling and make conscious decisions when deciding where to eat.
“Whenever possible, choose food options that come with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Ren said. “If restaurants have limited healthy options, try preparing your own meal here and there. Stock up on fresh, healthy ingredients and make easy meals, such as salads and sandwiches. Nuts and fruits make great snacks when you’re on the move.”
Ren also emphasizes food safety while abroad.
“Be sure to consume foods that are prepared properly, like only eating meat that is thoroughly cooked and avoiding tap water, unless you are certain it is safe to drink. Be wary of raw foods and products sold by street vendors,” Ren said.
Travel can be a relaxing escape, but it also can be stressful and taxing on mental health. Some individuals find solace by bringing items that remind them of home. Ren also suggests keeping in contact with support systems, such as, parents, children, family or friends, to ease feelings of anxiety. Exercise also helps with relieving feelings of anxiety or stress that may arise from traveling, and even taking a break from being active or sightseeing while traveling can help.
If more intense mental healthcare concerns are on top of mind, Ren advises scheduling an appointment with a healthcare provider prior to traveling to discuss things like destination-specific vaccines, medication refills and any concerns that may be causing anxiety.