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Thursday 12 March 2020

Tips for Staying Healthy While Travelling

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With the news and social media filled with talk of the Coronavirus (COVID 19) at the moment, hygiene and staying healthy has been on pretty much everyone's minds. Just take a look at your local supermarket and you'll see the hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes and hand wash flying off the shelves. And of course, the toilet paper, but let's not go there...

Anyway, all this talk of staying healthy and trying to avoid the Cornonavirus has got me thinking about how we stay healthy when we're travelling. In our day to day lives at home it can be a little easier. We have more control over how clean our immediate environment is, we have access to known doctors and medical care, we have brand familiarity when it comes to buying health and hygiene products, and most of us have more of a support network at home than we do on the road. There's also no language barrier at home. Trust me, I've been there. Trying to buy Sudafed through a series of hand gestures in an Italian pharmacy was an interesting experience!

So, today I'm sharing my top tips for staying healthy while travelling. Please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional and these tips should not be taken as medical advice. These are simply things that my family does to stay as healthy as possible when travelling. Most of these tips are commonsense, but when you're planning a trip there are so many things to think of that it's easy for the little things to be overlooked.

Research your destination
If you're anything like me, then you probably do a fair amount of research about your destination while planning a trip. Along with checking out local attractions, the best places to eat and where to stay make sure to do a little research into health related issues. Is the tap water safe to drink? Are vaccine preventable diseases prevalent? Are mosquitoes or ticks carrying nasty diseases common? What are the recommendations if you do come across a health related issue? With a little research you can be prepared before your trip. If the tap water isn't safe to drink, which was the case when we visited India, make sure that the whole family is aware of this, especially kids. Maybe have them practice brushing teeth with bottled water at home before you leave. If ticks or mosquitoes are an issue, make sure to purchase a suitable insect repellent, tick removing tool or even a mosquito net.   

Follow the advice of your travel advisory
This one is important at all times, but especially at the moment. Before planning an international trip make sure to check for any warnings about your destination with your local travel authority. They are your best bet for advice when it comes to issues that may make travel unsafe including pandemics, natural disasters, uprisings, terrorist threats etc. Some may have a service, such as Smart Traveller in Australia, that will give you the option to register your travel and sign up for warnings and updates by email or text message. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) are also great resources.

Visit a travel doctor
If you're traveling to the tropics or to a developing country there's a good chance that vaccinations or an antimalarial might be required. Make an appointment with a travel doctor to discuss what's required, any recommendations regarding your destination, and to organize getting shots and prescriptions. When we traveled to India we needed shots for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. We also needed booster shots for Polio. For travel to some countries a Yellow Fever shot is a requirement and proof of vaccination must be shown upon entry. Your travel doctor will provide you with the yellow book as a record of your vaccinations. If you are traveling to an area where malaria is prevalent you may be prescribed a course of an anti-malarial drug which needs to be taken both before and after your trip as well as during. Make sure to visit the travel doctor early in your planning as there may be limitations on availability of certain vaccinations where you live. You can visit your regular doctor instead but they are less likely to keep stock of the vaccinations as they are not common and this may cause delays. If you are traveling with young children and have any health related concerns, make sure to speak to the travel doctor about these. Ava was only two when we visited India and our first step, before booking anything, was to visit the travel doctor and make sure that she was old enough for the required vaccinations etc.

Refill your regular prescriptions
Speaking of doctors, before traveling make sure to organize refills of any prescription medication that you take well in advance of your trip. If you're in the US, you may find issues with your insurance company authorizing coverage for your prescriptions in advance, so don't leave this to the last minute. I have several friends caught out by this. Your doctor should be able to request an over ride with the insurance, but even then it can take weeks. Worst case scenario you end up paying out of pocket and then place a claim with your health insurance later, but it's kind of crazy just how expensive some regular medications can be. Ava's inhalers are over $500 each before insurance! That's $500 I could be spending on my trip!  It's a good idea to request at least a week's more supply than you'll need for your trip in case of any travel delays. Same goes for any over the counter medications that you take. They may not be available at your destination or you may have language barriers when trying to purchase (like my Sudafed in Italy example above). Make sure to pack a paper copy of your prescription along with the packaging with your name on it. Not all medications are legal in all countries so you don't want to encounter trouble going through customs. Same goes for over the counter medications. It's best to keep them in their original packaging with all of the information.

Buy travel insurance
Ok, so this one won't prevent you from getting sick, but it could prevent you from coming home from your trip with a nasty bill should you require hospitalization during your travels! Travel insurance policies vary widely so make sure to read your policy thoroughly so you know exactly what is covered. A policy may cover your hospital stay and medical bills, but might not cover costs incurred should you need to cancel due to illness. From what I've been reading, most policies will not cover cancellation costs due to the Coronavirus pandemic. They'll cover you if you become ill with the Coronavirus, but not if you choose to cancel your trip out of fear of catching it. That may very well change, so it's definitely something to look into when choosing travel insurance.

Practice good hygiene
This one applies at home too! Teach your kids simple hygiene practices such as coughing and sneezing into their elbow, avoiding touching faces and hair (harder than it sounds), and washing hands regularly. And of course, make sure you practice good hygiene yourself too, not only for yourself but to set an example. It's much easier for young kids to learn if they see you doing it too. I'm usually pretty relaxed when it comes to germs and I do believe that kids need get dirty to help build their immune system, but when we're traveling I tend to be a little stricter. The five second rule may apply at home, but not in the New York subway system!

Wash hands regularly
Sounds like a no brainer right, but it's kind of scary just how many people I see leaving public restrooms without stopping to wash their hands first. Yuck! One positive to come out of the Coronavirus is that people are paying more attention to washing their hands. I mean, everyone should've been doing it before anyway but, well, people are gross! Make sure to wash your hands with soap and water for twenty seconds before eating, after using the bathroom, after patting animals... you know, all the usual times when you should be washing your hands anyway. And definitely after touching the Gum Wall in Seattle! Just so you don't think I'm a terrible parent, Mathilde is actually placing her own piece on the Gum Wall here, not playing with other people's chewed up gum - and we did clean hands right afterwards. Still gross though!

Use hand sanitizer
Washing hands with soap is the best way to keep germs at bay when it comes to our hands, but there's not always a sink and soap available. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your backpack, handbag, fanny pack, or whatever you're carrying around and you'll have an easy alternative. My favorite hand sanitizers are the pump sprays available from Honest Co and Tubby Todd. They both smell pleasant and don't dry my hands out like some of the gel hand sanitizers do. My kids like the small hand sanitizers from Bath & Bodyworks which can be hung from backpacks like a keychain. Baby wipes are handy for cleaning hands and faces on the go too. It's been almost four years since I had a kid in diapers, but I still always carry baby wipes!

Use disinfecting wipes to clean surfaces
So, this isn't something I've done in the past while traveling, apart from when there's something really gross on my seat, on my tray table or in my hotel room, but with the spread of the coronavirus it's something that I've been thinking about more. Anything we touch with our hands is likely to hold germs, depending on what it's made of. That means seats and hand rails on public transport, the tray table and arm rests on a plane, door handles in your hotel room, the steering wheel of your rental car, and pretty much every other surface you touch are likely to hold germs. Sure, these things do get cleaned but if you're worried about germs it doesn't hurt to carry a small pack of disinfecting wipes to give it a little extra clean for your peace of mind. If you or a family member that you're traveling with have life threatening food allergies then wiping down such surfaces is a must. My friend Shahla has some great tips for traveling with food allergies on her blog My Berkeley Kitchen.

Stay hydrated
Keeping hydrated is always important and especially so when travelling. I find that when we're on vacation we're a lot more active than we would be at home with a LOT of walking involved. We're also often visiting places that are much warmer than what we're used to, so drinking plenty of water is essential. We always travel with reusable water bottles, but it you're visiting somewhere with an iffy water supply, purchasing bottled water is most likely your best bet. Always make sure that bottled water is new. We saw refilled water bottles being sold as new in India on several occasions, but we knew in advance to keep an eye out for this and did not buy them. The other option is to travel with a water bottle that has a built in filter. That way you can safely drink the local tap water and contribute less waste. Lifestraw bottles are a great choice as they filter out 99.999% of bacteria, parasites and micro plastics and have a filter that lasts up to five years. They also give back to communities in need with every purchase. Should you become dehydrated from heat exhaustion, diarrhea or vomiting,  sipping an electrolyte drink or sports drink such as Powerade or Gatorade should help. Make sure to seek medical attention if things don't improve as dehydration can be rather nasty.

Eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies
Ok, now I'm starting to sound like your mum! One of my favorite things about traveling is eating out and trying new foods. But after a while eating out for every meal starts to take its toll and I crave simple, fresh foods. If you're staying in an AirBnB or a long stay hotel with a kitchen then making your own meals isn't too tricky. If you're staying at a regular hotel then eating out is really your only option. If your hotel room has a fridge, visit a local supermarket and pick up some fruit and veggies for snacks on the go. Apples, bananas, mandarins, mini carrots, grapes, berries, small cucumbers and cherry tomatoes are all great travel snacks. Picking up some fresh fruits, veggies and meats for a picnic lunch is also a great idea. Smoothies and juices can also be a great way to get a serve of fresh fruit and veggies, but keep in mind that they often contain large amounts of added sugar.

Take supplements
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and veggies is your best bet when it comes to nutrition, but as I mentioned above, eating out every day while traveling isn't always compatible with healthy eating. Taking a daily multivitamin can be a great help. Now, a multivitamin isn't going to stop you from catching every cold, flu or virus going around, but just like eating a healthy diet it can boost your immune system and make recovery much smoother. I personally find that vitamin C helps when it comes to fighting off colds, but everyone is different. Some people swear by elderberry or zinc. Like with all medications, speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any supplements.

Get plenty of sleep
Just like how healthy eating tends to go out the window when we travel, so too do healthy sleep patterns. Especially for the kids. If we're not allowing our bodies to get the rest they need, we're more likely to feel run down and this can lead to being more susceptible to picking up colds and viruses.  I find that we tend to stay up much later than usual when we're traveling and this can start to take its toll, especially if we're starting to feel a little sick. Sleeping in a strange room can sometimes mess with the kids' sleep too. Having lived on a busy downtown corner for years my kids are pretty good at sleeping in noisy places, but I know that this isn't true for all kids. A small sound machine, or even a sound machine app on your phone might come in handy. Some families also find that travelling with black out curtains to use in hotels can be handy. My friend Mylee is a sleep consultant and offers great tips on maintaining healthy sleep for babies and kids on her web page Little Big Dreamers.

Allow for rest time
If we're traveling for a week or longer I like to factor in a day or two with no plans. This gives us some downtime on our trip to just hang out and relax. We'll usually sleep in, hit up a playground or two, hang out in the hotel pool, go out for ice cream... All fun stuff but a break from rushing from one tourist site to the next. I usually try to factor some down time in each day as well. Not only is this great for if we're starting to feel a little run down, it helps with the kids' behavior too. It's amazing just how much a stop at a playground lifts moods. Ice cream works wonders too!

Pack a small humidifier for your hotel room
A small humidifier is one of my travel must haves. I purchased one while on vacation in Salt Lake City a few years back after the kids and I were struggling with the dry air. Our hands were so dry that the skin was splitting, our lips kept splitting, and more worryingly, the dry air meant that we were waking up with sore throats each morning. Adding a cool mist humidifier to our room made a world of difference, especially when it came to how we felt when waking up. A humidifier is also a great addition to your hotel room if you're starting to feel a cold coming on, whether you're somewhere dry or humid. For safety reasons I prefer to use a cool mist humidifier. I have this Crane humidifier for our travels (and use at home too - it's the perfect size for a bedroom) but this model is much smaller and can be used with a glass of water.

Pack a first aid kit
I've mentioned above the importance of packing any prescription and over the counter medications that you take regularly, but don't forget to also pack a small first aid kit. I make up our own first aid kit, but there are plenty of ready made kits available online such as this one. Our first aid kit contains the essentials that come in handy for minor accidents, bug bites and minor illnesses. Bandaids, antiseptic cream, Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen (paracetamol) in both adult and child formulas, cortizone anti-itch cream, sterilizing wipes, sterile eye drops, tick removal tool, and sachets of electrolyte powder. You can find a shopping list to all my must haves here. When we visited India we included a few extra items as suggested by our travel doctor including emergency antibiotics (prescribed by our travel doctor) and an anti-diarrheal in case we were hit by the dreaded Delhi belly. The pic below was from when Ava got bitten by a (rabies free) squirrel in Boston. The first aid kid came in handy that day.

Protect yourself from insects
Are you traveling somewhere known for ticks? Or maybe a tropical location with lots of mosquitoes? It's important to keep yourself and your family safe from these little bugs that can carry nasty diseases. Applying an insect repellent is a great start. There are so many options out there that it can be hard to choose the best one. In general, an insect repellent containing DEET will work best, but I know that a lot of people (myself included) prefer to avoid DEET and go for natural products. When we visited India we made sure to use products containing DEET (as recommended by our travel doctor) but for local travel we use this and it has worked well. Whatever you decide to use, make sure it repels the bugs that you're likely to encounter at your destination. If mosquitoes are an issue at your destination, you may also like to pack a mosquito net to hang over your bed. If you're hiking somewhere with a lot of bugs dress accordingly by wearing long pants and sleeves. Tuck pants into boots or socks to avoid any gaps that nasty bugs, in particular, ticks, can sneak in through. Not so stylish, but safe! A tick removal tool is a must have in my travel first aid kit, along with a tick identification chart. You can also use fine tip tweezers. Removing ticks can be a little tricky and if they're not removed properly they can leave their mouth parts behind in your skin. Yuck! You can find out how to remove ticks effectively here.

Don't forget to be sun smart
Sunburn. Ugh... it's the worst. You don't have to be on a beach vacation for sunburn to rear its ugly head. In fact, some of my worst sunburns have happened during ski/snow trips. No matter where you're traveling to, don't forget to pack - and apply - the sunscreen. Hats, sunglasses and long clothing are great for protecting yourself from sun damage too. Long sleeve rash tops are a great idea for visits to the beach, lake, river, swimming pool etc. Seeking out shade between 11am and 3pm in Summer is always a great idea.

Do you have any other tips for staying healthy while traveling? If there's something that you and your family do please leave a comment below to let me know.

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