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How to Stay Healthy Traveling
by Dr Mariana Calleja, Traveler, Writer and Medical Doctor

Because I am completely convinced that prevention is the best medicine of all, I am going to give you my best advice for those times when we are on the road, hopefully not going through medical situations.

Lets make a positive impact as we travel by learning some basics. So, lets get started, shall we?

There are some basics regarding the human body, and most can be grouped under a few main ideas:

  1. Hydration
  2. Healthy digestive function
  3. Healthy brain function
  4. Skin as the main protector organ of the body
  5. Sex as a basic human need

The importance of hydration

Our body is mostly made up of water (aprox. 60%) which makes sure every single function of the body works properly every single day.

As we travel, getting dehydrated is very likely to happen: air travel and cabin pressures, sun exposure, unhealthy diet lacking enough fruits and vegetables, exercise without enough water intake, bad sleeping habits.

All of these will have a major impact on the body's water levels. And with dehydration will come headaches, dermatitis and constipation, just to mention a few of the most common health problems related to a poor water intake.

So how do you stay hydrated while travelling?

Try and substitute soft drinks or sugary drinks with water. It's an interesting exercise in order to measure and discover how much (or little) water you are actually drinking.

And of course, drink water itself regardless of any other liquids you take during the day. At least 4 glasses a day, if not more depending on your activity during the day.

Maintaining a healthy digestive function

There are as many health issues as there are places on Earth.

For example, in India or Mexico we could suffer from digestive problems such as diarrhoea or vomiting due to unusual spices or bad water. Remember that these episodes can be not just annoying but also dangerous.

How to prevent them?

Make sure you drink bottled water. If you can't find any at your location, then try boiling water during 10 minutes before it is ready to be drunk. If its not possible to boil water where you are, you can add 8 drops of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Its a safe and approved method.

Regarding spices and street food, go carefully, specially if you have a sensitive stomach. It is usually safe, but Mexico for example could easily give you a one-way ticket to the toilet during your stay or even a bad allergic reaction to your throat. Just be wise.

Healthy brain function

The brain is the master control of our entire being, even when we are not aware of it. As a complex organ controlling so many functions of our body, mind and soul, the brain needs (and deserves) a proper reset every night. This is the reason we sleep or feel the need of sleeping.

The body, due to several sensor and chemical systems, knows pretty well when day is day and night is nightwe can not trick it, so dont even try or you will just get a massive breakdown at some point! The brain knows it all. So we must give it proper rest and proper food. Yes, eating well affects even the brain not just the vowel. Amazing, right?

So how to keep a good functioning of the brain?

By having proper sleep time.

Deep and sufficient sleep hours. Quality sleep.

Mind map get a better night's sleepPhoto Jean-Louis Zimmermann via Flickr cc

Even if we are hungry or slightly dehydrated, the body will still be able to hang around a bit longer if weve had good quality sleep. As travellers, we have schedules of some kind most of the times. We are active, putting our senses to work on constant and daily basis. The brain never stops workinguntil it sleeps. So please, do yourselves a favor and get at least 7 hours of deep sleep. Do what you have to: use an eye mask, ear plugs, anything that helps you get the best sleep times of your life. Even your mood will be better than ever!

Skin as the body's main protector organ

Allergic reactions, small wounds and insect bites are the most common skin problems while travelling so we need to learn some basics here.

Whether you've suffered an allergy or not, you need to know the signs. Redness, swelling and itchiness will always be present on the skin after an injury, bite or when allergy hits our skin.

The universal rule here is this: Don't panic!

If you feel scared enough, your will breathe fast, contributing to unbalanced oxygen levels that might translate into tingling of arms or feet. This could be a panic attack, a preventable one if you realize you don't need to panic but stay calm and act right away. Look for the closest pharmacy, doctor or medical facility if necessary.

In order to prevent skin damage, you can go with some simple rules:

  1. Always travel with a first aid kit.
  2. Always use a good repellent, even more in tropical areas. Again, cream yourself up! And sleep under a mosquito tent or mosquito net if you can.
  3. When noticing an insect bite, apply some ice or anything cold on it right away. This will ease pain, itchiness and will prevent any inflammation from growing larger. Avoid scratching it!
  4. If you have symptoms such as fever, headache, cramps, general body aching or nausea, look for the closest medical facility.
  5. If you have an injury that's bleeding, cover it and put pressure on it, constant and strong pressure. This will help the clotting process in order to stop the bleeding. If the injury is larger than 2 cm or looks deep, you probably need stitches. Meantime, you can use bandaids or strips to cover it up. The right way to help healing is by gently pushing both sides of the injured skin together until they touch each other as much as possible.  

Another basic skin issue is the sunburn. We are often unaware of how much the sun gets into our skin, and that it takes less time to get a tan nowadays than it did 15 years ago. At the same time, sunscreen ads and skin cancer awareness have increased significantly.

How to prevent sunburn?

Use solar protection every single day of your life and on every inch of your body! Whether you are hiking the Alps, diving with sharks or relaxing on the gorgeous Mediterranean coast, you need to prevent and cream yourself up!  Skin cancer can be deadly and you might not see any signs of it until it is too late.

Sexually-transmitted infections

No matter our age, we are all exposed to STIs (or STDs). And surprisingly, people are often unaware of the basics these important infections. An untreated STI can lead to serious complications if not treated or diagnosed early enough. Some will never go away, even after treatment. Others will lead to unpleasant treatments, affecting not only your body but also your psyche.

How to avoid STIs?

  1. Use protection when having sex.
  2. See your gynecologist every year.
  3. Examine yourself. Know what your body looks and feels like. Whenever something abnormal comes up, you'll know and be able to consult your doctor.

These are some of the key medical basics you should keep in mind to stay healthy when you travel. As amazingly wise as nature can be, with a few changes on our part we can actually make a major and positive difference to our bodies.

Lets remember that and stay safe as we travel!

Mariana Calleja is a doctor, traveller, writer and entrepreneur. An avid believer in prevention and mindfulness as a healthy lifestyle, she runs Travelthy, a website on travel, health and wellness. She also recently released Your Body Meets the World, a guide to travel vaccinations.

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