So you’re about to launch some vacay time on another horizon. Good for you! But you know from experience the dangers this can pose to your health. You remember that vacation when your sinuses got more stuffed then a turkey on Thanksgiving and your head felt like a bowling ball that just finished a 300 point game by Kingpin!
First there’s the public transport full of people touching everything. Then there’s the food you get offered in other locales that you aren’t sure if their definition of “fresh” meant still moving. And of course there are the wonderful epidemics you hear about on the news from bird flus to Polio (did someone forget to say Marcio?).
Well, set your fears, worries, and paranoia aside. We’re going to check off some preventative ways you can assure your vacation has as little down time as possible.
Why are we more likely to get sick when we travel?
Your immune system is an amazing piece of work. If it were a computer, it would be like the Borg off Star Trek. It’s constantly learning. It “remembers” viruses and bacteria it has come across before and knows exactly how to fight them. However, when you’re going to new places, your immune system is almost sure to encounter some microbial it has never come up against. The fight that ensues can either be quick and painless, or turn into a saga more dragged out then Lord of the Ring series.
Tip #1 – Rest
Enough Rest – How much is enough?
This one has been heavily debated. I’ve heard naturalists say we should sleep from dusk to dawn. I’ve heard others give age algorithms where babies get 18+ hours and grandpa gets less than 5(who’s retired?). Then there are those who advocate a strict 7-8 hours. There’s one study by CDCP which some have used to infer that if you get 10 hours of sleep you’re going to die sooner then someone who gets 7 hours of sleep. And if you’re getting 6 or less, there’s just no hope for you. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are the “deviants” who do polyphasic sleep patterns(sound like a calculus equation gone wrong?) involving 2 hours a day and say they get along just fine. Sound like politics yet?
Whichever group you fall into, there really is no easy answer for this one. The amount of sleep you need should be based on what works best for you. However, one thing that all can agree on is the need for consistency.
Consistent Sleep Patterns
Back in my college days, I was one of those students who would try to cram as many credits in a semester as possible, work, maintain a social life, and be involved in extra-curricular activities. So, typically, I would forego studying and practice(Fortunately I was a great test-taker!). One more thing I would skip on were Zs. I’d usually get by on about four hours a night. However, as long as I went to bed and woke up at the same time, my body knew what to expect and would adjust accordingly. A couple of times I would throw my sleep clock for a loop, and inevitably those were the times I would usually get sick. So find your pattern and stick to it. Your body will thank you for it. If you have flight anxiety or are just overly excited about your first time in another country, try relaxation techniques. If all else fails, open up your college law text books and, in a page or two, viola: deep space nine.
I’ll admit that me talking about naps is like Brittany Spears trying to tell us she’s human(you’re fooling no one – we all know you’re an android). Theory has it that they’re great to do, but no more than 30 minutes at a time(so napping during lecture time does have some science behind it!).
Adjusting to the Time Shift
Now here’s the tricky part. You’re traveling half way across the planet and, for a week, you’re guaranteed to be throwing your sleep clock for a loop. What can you do? Before you go for your flight out, try these steps.
- Find the difference in time between the place you’re going and the place you live(i.e.Live: California 7AM—->Travel:Cambodia 9PM = +14 hours difference).
- Take the time you normally snooze and add the time difference to it. (Normally sleep: 9PM, add 14 hours = 11AM).
- Take a long nap(2-3 hours) at the time you answered in the step above the day before your flight out.
Do the same on your return trip(but reverse all the numbers). And be sure to give me your feedback on how it works for you!
Tip #2 – Liquids
Drinking water like a camel might be excessive. However, drinking a lot of water will help your body remove toxins which, in turn, helps your immune system maintain peak function. Also, water acts in the cells like oil in machinery. It keeps everything moving properly.
Avoid alcohol and sugary drinks(including juices). Your body tries to remove alcohol from your bloodstream which results in resources being diverted from your immune system. Likewise, the sugary drinks spike your blood sugars which can temporarily depress your immune system(sounds sad!).
Tip #3 – Well Done Foods
So you’re in another country and trying out the cuisine. Your eating-out staple: steak, rare done. In your hometown, you can get away with this because your body is already used to the bacteria commonly found there. In addition, most restaurants follow the health codes, and your immune system has adjusted accordingly.
But in another country, health standards are not created equal. So you order your steak like you’re used to, and in rolls foreign bacteria to dance with your immune system like two junior high schoolers for the first time at Sadie Hawkins: disaster.
So be sure to ask for your food, and I mean all of it, to be cooked well done. It needs to be heated to the point where the bacteria are dead.
Tip #4 – Peeled Fruits
So you’re walking around the market corner and there, to your right, is a stall that has more colors than a New York suburb in late December. Each morsel of sweet, earthly grown produce looking like wax decorations of neatly rowed perfection is just waiting for you to disturb the order. You practice the bit of local language you learned on the plane and, after a few attempts, manage to deal a bargaining blow of triumph. But not so fast. That same fruit will have local bacteria on it that will make your sweet victory seem like a bitter defeat. However, if you peel your fruit, you can still sweep away a win. The inside of the fruit has an immune system of it’s own that keeps bacteria at it’s surface. If the fruit has parts that are going bad, be sure to cut these out as they could be prone to have bacteria.
Tip #5 – Purified Water
Do not, and I repeat, do not drink the tap water. Instead, purchase bottled water that has been purified with Reverse Osmosis(RO). Avoid ice. The ice is almost never filtered.
Tip #6 – Wash Your Hands
The flight attendant has announced to be seated for the landing and, after the 8 grueling hours you’ve shared together in that aluminum shell, everyone shares the same thought, “How can I get out first?” You mentally calculate the quickest way to grab all of your belongings from the upper compartment and make an exit before anyone else does. In your haste, your hand grabs the head of the seat next to you for balance, which has been grabbed by travelers, all from different locales then you, no less than 20 times that flight. You rush out and manage to find resolve in taking second place as you exit the plane behind the victor. Trying to stay ahead of the masses, you proceed on at mach speed. While walking down the horizontal escalator, your hand again comes in contact with 10 more sets of bacteria from other locales. You make your way for the food court, order your meal, and touch your straw. In one sip you introduce 30 foreign bacteria sets into your body.
In your stomping grounds, you can usually get away with the above. So, like you’re mama taught you, let those manners shine. Was your hands often while traveling and especially before eating.
Tip #7 – Eat Healthy!!!
It’s two days before your flight out and you’re scrambling to finish last minute preparations before you need to pack. Haircut: check. New outfit: check. Laundry washed: check. Read this article: check. With all your to-do lists, it just seems more convenient and time efficient to order some fast food on the way to the supermarket. Down it goes as fast as it came out the drive-through window and you’re off to the next thing. However, your body now has to divert resources to digest this classic mix of saturated fats and starchy carbs. For the next several days as your body digests this, it can offset your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness during your holiday commute.
Instead, make sure to eat a minimally processed diet rich in protein, some whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables. This will make sure you’re getting the natural nutrients you need in the form your body is designed for absorbing them. Keep your diet consistent especially leading up to your flight out.
Tip #8 – Regular Exercise Routine
Having a regular exercise routine has many obvious benefits we won’t go into. However, one of those benefits we will look at is the benefit this has on your immune system. According to the National Institute of Health, no one knows exactly why exercise makes the immune system stronger(what a discovery!). One theory holds that by using the lungs more during exercise helps to flush out the lungs of bacteria and air-born illnesses. It also causes the blood to circulate quicker, which means that the blood cells which fight infections(white blood cells, antibodies, etc.) move quicker and cover more ground. Last, exercise reduces stress hormones in the body that would otherwise inhibit the immune system.
Have my own theory I’ll throw into the mix. Bacteria and other microbes have their place in breaking down dead and dying organic material. I believe disease and illness comes into play when these microbes mistake your body for dead or dying organic material. So exercise, proper diet, and proper rest all help your body be in it’s ideal living state, flush with oxygen and a robust immune system, leaving these microbes to look else where for their food. There’s my two cents. B-)
Tip #9 – Garlic for Emergencies
I know. I know. Some of you are raising your eyebrows. Well, hear me out. Garlic has been found to have an antibacterial/antifungal compound released called allicin. It actually is more potent then antibiotics, but breaks down quick enough so it doesn’t wipe out the good bacteria in your colon. However, it should be fresh garlic(not cooked or dehydrated).
So let’s say you ate your steak, didn’t wash your hands, or thought the part of that fruit you ate might have had more bacteria then a college dorm room. No need to fear. Carry with you or buy a garlic clove. After peeling it, chew it up quick and wash it down with some water(follow up with a mint – you’ll thank me later). The chewing will cause it to release allicin into your gut which will in turn wipe out any bacteria present there. You could do the same with a red chili pepper(not recommended!) as it will have a similar(but not as powerful) affect. Researchers have found that the reason many cultures who have had no access to refrigeration or clean water have survived is because of garlic and other antibacterial foods present in their diets.
Tip #10 – Avoid Fresh Veggies
So I told you to eat healthy and now I’m going to tell you to avoid all fresh veggies? Makes as much sense as a horizontal escalator. But really. While you’re on your holiday, avoid salads and anything with fresh vegetables. They’re more suspect to carry bacteria. Cooked vegetables are fine, however.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments below!
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