Traveling can be beneficial for health, but there can also be challenges when it comes to eating a balanced diet, staying active, and protecting against travel-related illnesses.
People who travel frequently may find that jet lag, sudden changes in diet, or sitting down for long periods makes it difficult to follow their usual routine. However, there are ways to continue taking care of one’s health while traveling for work or leisure.
Read on to learn more about staying healthy while traveling, including how to eat a healthy diet, exercise, reduce stress, and more.
Before traveling, there are precautions people can take to stay healthy. This may include:
- getting health check-ups
4–8 weeksbefore departure
- booking vaccinations, if necessary
- reading travel advice for the destination country
- getting travel health insurance to cover the cost of any medical treatment a person may need
- packing a first aid kit, which may contain band-aids, antiseptic, a thermometer, or other items
- packing any medications or medical devices a person needs, ensuring they have enough to last the trip
- gradually adjusting to the timezone of the travel destination in the days before leaving
Eating in a balanced way while traveling can sometimes be challenging. It may help to try:
- packing healthy snacks, such as nuts or dried fruit
- researching the local cuisine to understand which dishes are the most nutritious
- looking up local restaurants or grocery stores to see what is available close by
- choosing self-catered accommodation, where a person can cook their own meals, or meal packages that offer a range of options
Food safety is also an important consideration. Some of the foods that are usually safe to eat while traveling include:
- hot foods
- packaged or dried foods
Some of the options that carry a higher risk include:
- Raw foods: Preprepared raw fruits and vegetables, such as those in salads or salsa, may contain germs that are difficult to wash off. Eating raw meat or seafood, such as sushi and ceviche, may also be unsafe.
- Street foods: Depending on the location, street vendors may not use the same food safety practices that local restaurants do. Hot food that a person can see coming straight off of a grill may be safe, but if it is not possible to see the cooking method or the food is cold, it may not be.
- Bushmeat: Bushmeat is wild game that people hunt in the local area and can include animals such as rodents, bats, or monkeys. This can be a source of animal-to-human spread of diseases, such as ebola. Do not eat bushmeat while traveling.
It can be easy to forget to drink enough water while in transit. Visiting hot climates can also increase thirst. Drinking enough water is important for preventing dehydration.
When traveling, a person can hydrate by:
- purchasing some water, or refilling a water bottle, before waiting in line for transport
- taking regular sips throughout the journey, even if a person does not feel thirsty
- eating foods that contain water, such as fruit
- avoiding alcohol and caffeine
In some locations, tap water is not always safe for travelers. Even if the water looks clean, it can contain germs that cause water-borne diseases.
Factory-sealed bottled water is a safer option and may be the most convenient. People may need to use this exclusively for their drinking water while in some parts of the world and avoid swallowing any water from faucets.
Other drinks that may be safe include:
- canned drinks
- hot drinks
- pasteurized milk
- alcoholic drinks from sealed bottles or cans
People should avoid:
- drinks that contain ice
- drinks from sofa fountains or dispensers, as these may use tap water
- freshly squeezed juice, as a restaurant may have washed the fruit in tap water
People can also disinfect tap water by:
- boiling the water for 1 minute, or 3 minutes at high altitudes
- disinfecting the water using a chemical disinfectant, such as iodine tablets
- filtering the water using a portable water filter
- using portable UV light units
Frequent or long-haul travel can make it more difficult to exercise in a regular routine. Similarly, jet lag can interfere with a person’s ability to get to the gym or do fitness classes when they land.
Some tips that may help with this include:
- walking or stretching while waiting for transport
- learning some equipment-free exercises that a person can do anywhere, such as in their hotel room
- doing local activities that involve movement, such as hiking, running, or cycling
- using a 24-hour gym, if one is available
Sitting still for long periods can also increase the risk of developing blood clots in the legs. People can help prevent the development of clots while traveling by:
- selecting an aisle seat on planes in order to stretch the legs
- getting up and walking around every few hours, wherever possible
- taking regular stops while driving in a car
- doing leg exercises and stretches while sitting
- wearing compression socks
Travel can be stressful at times. This might be due to disruption in daily activities, culture shock, language barriers, and unexpected situations.
People can reduce stress while traveling by:
- Managing expectations: Planning is important, but no amount of preparation can guarantee that a trip will go perfectly. It is also important to acknowledge physical and mental limitations on how much a person can do while they are on vacation. Assess travel plans to ensure there is space and time to solve problems or rest and relax.
- Learning about the culture: Culture shock is when a person feels overwhelmed by being immersed in a new culture that is different from their own. This experience can be disorienting or make a person feel lonely. To reduce culture shock, it can help to learn about the culture before traveling. Learning some of the language may also help.
- Practicing relaxation: There may be aspects of travel that are frustrating, confusing, or beyond one’s control. Learning how to calm the body and mind down in these situations may help reduce anxiety or anger. A person may want to learn breathing techniques or other calming exercises to help them cope.
Additionally, people may find it helpful to have an extra day or two away from work when they get back so they can adjust to being home.
Between 43 and 79% of people who visit low- or middle-income countries experience travel-related illnesses. Most travel-related illnesses are mild, but they can be disruptive. In some cases, people require medical help.
Some examples of conditions people may experience while traveling include:
- bug bites
- animal bites or scratches
- heat exhaustion or heat stroke
- viral or bacterial infections, such as traveler’s diarrhea, influenza (flu), or dengue fever
- parasitic infections, such as malaria or schistosomiasis
Most travel-related infections appear soon after returning home, but some can appear after several weeks or months, depending on their incubation period.
People can take steps to avoid these illnesses by:
- following food and water safety advice
- always washing the hands with soap after using the bathroom or before touching food
- avoiding the sun at the hottest times of the day
- wearing sunscreen, and reapplying it after getting wet
- using an effective insect repellant
- staying up-to-date on vaccinations, such as for flu
Speak with a doctor if any unusual or severe symptoms develop during or after travel.
Travel can be beneficial to a person’s well-being, but it can also require precautions that help people stay healthy while in new places.
Depending on the circumstances, people may need to adapt their diet, exercise in different ways, or consult a healthcare professional to help prevent certain illnesses before they travel.
People who would like tailored advice, or who have chronic conditions that require ongoing management, can speak with a doctor or travel health specialist about this.