When you’re leaving for vacation, one of the last things on your mind is your health — you’re too busy packing, wrapping up stuff at work and making arrangements for the neighbor to feed Fluffy while you’re away.
But after investing so much time and money in your getaway, you don’t want it ruined by throwing out your back schlepping luggage or sniffling through a newly acquired cold. And if you can indulge without gaining 10 pounds, that’d be nice, too. Not to worry. Here are a few tips for safe, healthy travel:
1. Pack a mini first aid kit
Anne Walters of Travel Leaders, 4104 W. Sixth St., says she always brings a kit full of those little essentials that can help in a pinch.
“If I’m going out of the country, I usually have something packed that has something for headaches, something to sleep like a Tylenol P.M., Imodium, something for sea sickness,” Walters says. “Just sort of that handy pack that’s not very large but could get you through.”
Other medical musts as advised by Prevention magazine include:
• Any prescription meds you need you should pack them in your carry-on luggage.
• Bug repellent, sunscreen and lip balm. And bring lotion containing aloe in case of sunburn.
• Diarrhea remedies. If you’re traveling to a developing country, take along loperamide or Lomotil.
• Miscellaneous items: It’s a good idea to always pack a pain reliever, bandages, tweezers, scissors, laxatives and a thermometer, as well as tampons or pads and medication for yeast infections if you’re traveling abroad.
2. Brown-bag your food
You never know what greasy airport or roadside rest stop options await you, so prepare for the worst with your own DIY meal. For the plane, pack a whole-wheat sandwich, a bag of trail mix, easily portable fruits like apples and bananas, etc. For car trips, tote a small ice chest filled with similarly nutritious fare. If you do hit up a roadside stop, stay away from fried items and fatty condiments such as mayo and oily dressings — it’ll be easier on your digestion.
And don’t forget to enjoy the local cuisine once you arrive — it’s often healthier than American-inspired dishes or restaurants.
“Don’t go to Paris and eat at McDonald’s,” says Beverly Falley, owner, Lawrence Travel Center, 3320 Peterson Road. “Have something like bread and something fresh. Almost every place you’ll go will have fresh food. So, eat local. That would be a good tip to be healthier.”
3. Know the rules
Walters says one of the biggest stressors she sees occurs when travelers don’t play by the rules. Know exactly what you can take on the plane, when to arrive before a flight, and don’t even try to buck the regulations.
“Pay attention to the rules and regulations of the federal government,” she says. “Take the one quart bag. Three ounces or less (of) anything liquid and gel goes in the bag, and be sure you do that.”
4. Pack your car the night before
If you’re leaving in the morning, pack up your car at night. Fluids pool in your spinal discs while you sleep, making your lower back taut and sensitive to irritation when you first wake up.
5. And speaking of packing — pack light.
Falley says the No. 1 thing she sees that adds stress and strain to clients is overpacking. Not only do you have to lug around all that extra gear, but it’s a drag in general.
“People just tend to way, way, way overpack,” Falley says. “I think if you want to talk about making everything easier, lighter, quicker, everything else, you just learn how to pack. Think about a carry-on, and don’t take everything in your closet.”
She says don’t worry about being without a hair dryer or some other “must have.” Most hotels, even abroad, will have exactly what you’re looking for either in your room or at the front desk.
6. Revise your expectations
The easiest secret to a happy, healthy vacation is a happy, healthy attitude, says Falley.
“It depends a lot on your expectations. You shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations before you go,” Falley says. “Don’t expect it to be like home, because you’re not staying home. If you want everything to be like home, I guess you should stay there instead of travel. Just be more open to new experiences.”
7. Scatter long weekends through the year
It goes without saying that vacations zap stress and make us happy, but it turns out that simply looking forward to your next trip may bring the biggest smile to your face. Dutch researchers found that people with upcoming vacations scheduled were happier than those without a trip booked, but happiness levels of the two groups were about equal after the travelers returned. It may be the anticipation of upcoming travel that accounts for its mood lift, which means that taking a few short weekend excursions throughout the year could make you just as content as a pricier two-week jaunt.
8. Put exercise on your itinerary
You’ll be happier and feel healthier if you squeeze in some activity while you’re away — and exploring a new city on foot definitely counts. If you’re in more of a resort-type setting, take advantage of the hotel gym or swimming pool. If you don’t want to spend precious vacation time in your hotel gym, get out and try something new.
Depending on where you’re staying, you might want to try inline skating or kayaking, or you can just rent a bike or go hiking. Even 20 minutes a day will help boost your energy levels (essential for all-day sightseeing) and take away some of the guilt from those indulgent vacay dinners.
“Walking, of course, you’re probably going to do a lot of that on the trip anyway, but that’s going to be good,” Falley says. “You don’t necessarily need to go to the gym, but just use your legs instead of a cab.”
Have another health-related question? Make sure to ask a travel professional — Walters says unless you want to talk about health it won’t often come up in the planning. Travel agents are just like you — focused on the trip.
“The common sense things that would come out in Prevention magazine — get lots of sleep, drink lots of water, exercise — that’s really not stuff that we talk a whole lot about it. We talk about destinations, we talk about what to expect there, what sort of things you can do, how much exercise you can get.”
— McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this story.