How to stay healthy while traveling for work or on vacation

Traveling can be good for your health, but there can also be challenges when it comes to eating a balanced diet, staying active, and preventing travel-related illnesses.

Frequent travelers may find that jet lag, sudden changes in diet, or sitting for long periods of time make it difficult to keep up with their usual routine. However, there are ways to continue to take care of your health while traveling for business or pleasure.

Read on to learn more about staying healthy while traveling, including how to eat healthy, exercise, reduce stress and more.

Before traveling, there are precautions people can take to stay healthy. This may include:

  • passing health examinations 4–8 weeks before take off
  • record vaccinations if required
  • reading travel tips for the country of destination
  • obtaining travel health insurance to cover the cost of any medical treatment one may require
  • packing a first aid kit, which may contain plasters, antiseptic, a thermometer or other items
  • packing any drugs or medical supplies one needs, making sure there is enough to last the trip
  • gradually adjusting to the time zone of the travel destination in the days before departure

Eating a balanced diet while traveling can sometimes be a challenge. It may help to try:

  • packing healthy snacks such as nuts or dried fruit
  • researching the local cuisine to find out which dishes are the most nutritious
  • you search for local restaurants or grocery stores to see what’s nearby
  • a choice of self-catering accommodation where one can cook their own meals or meal packages which offer a range of options

Food safety is also an important consideration. Some of the foods that are generally safe to eat while traveling include:

  • hot foods
  • packaged or dried foods

Some of the options that carry a higher risk include:

  • Raw foods: Pre-prepared raw fruits and vegetables, such as those in salads or salsas, can contain germs that are difficult to wash away. Eating raw meat or seafood, such as sushi and ceviche, can also be dangerous.
  • Street Foods: Depending on the location, street vendors may not use the same food safety practices as local restaurants. Hot food that one sees coming straight off the grill may be safe, but if it is not possible to see the cooking method or the food is cold, it may not be.
  • Bush meat: Meat is wild game that people hunt in the local area and may include animals such as rodents, bats or monkeys. This can be a source of animal-to-human disease spread, such as Ebola. Don’t eat meat while traveling.

It can be easy to forget to drink enough water while traveling. Visiting a hot climate can also increase thirst. Drinking enough water is important to prevent dehydration.

When traveling, one can hydrate by:

  • buying some water or filling a water bottle before waiting in line for transport
  • taking regular sips during the journey, even if one is not thirsty
  • eating foods that contain water, such as fruit
  • avoiding alcohol and caffeine

Water safety

In some places, tap water is not always safe for travelers. Even if the water looks clean, it may contain germs that cause waterborne diseases.

Factory-sealed bottled water is a safer option and may be the most convenient. People may need to use this exclusively for drinking water while in some parts of the world and avoid drinking tap water.

Other drinks that may be safe include:

  • canned drinks
  • hot drinks
  • pasteurized milk
  • alcoholic beverages from sealed bottles or cans

People should avoid:

  • drinks that contain ice
  • drinks from sofa fountains or dispensers as they 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 water for 1 minute or 3 minutes at high altitude
  • water disinfection using a chemical disinfectant, such as iodine tablets
  • water filtration using a portable water filter
  • using portable UV lamps

Frequent or long trips can make regular exercise difficult. Likewise, jet lag can hinder a person’s ability to make it to the gym or take fitness classes when they land.

Some tips that can help with this include:

  • walking or stretching while waiting for transport
  • learning some equipment-free exercises that one can do anywhere, such as in one’s hotel room
  • doing local activities that involve movement, such as hiking, running or cycling
  • use of 24-hour gym, if available

Sitting still for long periods can also increase the risk of blood clots in the legs. People can help prevent blood clots while traveling by:

  • choosing an aisle seat on planes to stretch your legs
  • getting up and walking every few hours where possible
  • regular stopping while driving in a car
  • do leg exercises and stretch while sitting
  • wearing compression stockings

Traveling can be stressful at times. This can be due to disruption of daily activities, culture shock, language barriers and unexpected situations.

People can reduce travel stress by:

  • Managing expectations: Planning is important, but no amount of preparation can guarantee that a trip will go perfectly. It is also important to recognize the physical and mental limits to how much one can do while on vacation. Evaluate travel plans to ensure there is space and time for problem solving or rest and relaxation.
  • Learning about 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 one feel lonely. To reduce culture shock, it can help to learn more about the culture before traveling. Learning some of the language can also help.
  • Practicing relaxation: There may be aspects of travel that are frustrating, confusing, or beyond one’s control. Learning how to calm your body and mind in these situations can help reduce anxiety or anger. A person may want to learn breathing techniques or other calming exercises to help them cope.

Also, people may find it helpful to have an extra day or two off work when they return so they can adjust to being home.

Between 43 and 79% of people who visit low- or middle-income countries experience travel-related illness. Most travel-related illnesses are mild but can be devastating. In some cases, people need medical attention.

Some examples of conditions that people may experience while traveling include:

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 diseases by:

  • following food and water safety advice
  • always wash hands with soap after using the bathroom or before touching food
  • avoiding the sun during the hottest hours of the day
  • wearing sunscreen and reapplying it after getting wet
  • using an effective insect repellent
  • keep up with vaccinations, such as flu

Talk to a doctor if unusual or severe symptoms occur during or after travel.

Traveling can be good for 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 adjust their diet, exercise in different ways, or consult a health professional to prevent certain illnesses before traveling.

People who want individual advice or who have chronic conditions that require ongoing treatment can speak to a doctor or travel health professional about this.

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