Traveling is a beautiful thing. It challenges beliefs, changes perspectives, keeps us present, and irreparably stretches our mind in response to new, challenging experiences.
And while I love travel as much as I do, it’s not always the healthiest way to live. To help you travel as healthily as you can, and prevent you from falling into detrimental habits, I’ve put together a list of some of the best ways to stay healthy while traveling. I hope it’ll be helpful!
Let’s get to it.
1. Stay Hydrated
Keeping hydrated is a simple way to promote good health, and by now, most of us know that. Our body needs water for pretty much everything – regulating body temperature, maintaining a healthy blood volume, removing waste, transporting nutrients throughout the bloodstream, creating saliva, cushioning the brain and spinal cord, lubricating joints, and much, much more.
When you don’t get enough water, many of your bodily processes suffer. And while short bouts of mild dehydration won’t hurt you too much, periods of prolonged dehydration can lead to a host of bad things like constipation, bad breath, chronic fatigue, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and premature aging, to name a few.
All that being said, I know how hard it can be to remember to stay hydrated, especially on the go. You’ve got so much going on around you, and it’s easy to lose track of things. Here are a few tips I use while traveling (and at home) to help myself remember to drink water:
- Set reminders on your phone. I have one set for every two hours.
- Carry a water bottle around with you and refill it every chance you get. As they say, out of sight, out of mind. This has been especially helpful for me, and I find it’s easier to stay hydrated when you have a full bottle of water right beside you.
- When traveling, bring a filtered water bottle. You’re not always going to have access to safe drinking water. You’ll be better off with a filtered bottle, and you’ll have more opportunities to refill it.
2. Limit Junk Food
I feel like this is especially applicable, and at the same time, difficult for travelers. With what seems like an endless supply of delicious junk food to be tried all over the world, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out if you don’t try every single delectable looking morsel you come across. But as much as I love baklava, churros, funnel cake, poutine, takoyaki, and fresh sugarcane juice, none of them are something that’d be healthy to consume every day.
Try to limit your junk food intake to 2-3 times a week, and opt for it as a treat rather than a main staple of your diet. You and your body will be thankful in the long run.
3. Eat More Produce
I’m a huge proponent for plant-based diets, at home and on the road. They’re more sustainable, more affordable, and the longest living people on Earth typically have this type of diet in common. If you adopt a similar diet, you’ll live longer, be healthier longer, and your future self will thank you.
(If you’re interested in finding out more about how the longest living people in the world live their lives, I recommend The Blue Zones. It’s a phenomenal book, and 10/10 would recommend.)
I don’t have an entirely plant-based diet – I throw in some seafood, poultry, and healthily cooked pork now and then. But I don’t rely on them as my main source of protein, and instead choose to eat an 80-90% plant-based diet.
If you’re not interested in eating that many veggies or cutting out that much meat, that’s totally cool, I get it. Just incorporating more beans, leafy greens, and fruits into your diet than you currently do is a great place to start. Also, limiting things like processed meat and refined carbs will do you a lot of good in the long run.
4. Watch What You Eat & Drink
Watching what you eat and drink is imperative when traveling to less developed countries. Not all parts of the world have safe drinking water or food regulation agencies, so if you’re not careful, getting a serious bout of food poisoning can be easy as pie.
Here are some tips that I use when traveling to less developed countries that might help keep you from getting sick:
- Bring a filtered water bottle.
- Avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables. I know, no fresh fruit from the stall on the side of the road, a total bummer. If you really want some though, make sure whatever raw produce you eat is thoroughly washed, preferable with soap.
- Only eat meat that is thoroughly cooked and served hot. This goes without saying – having a parasitic infection is zero fun.
- Be wary of dairy, and only eat it when it’s been cooked. Another thing to watch out for is dairy that has been thawed and refrozen, like ice cream. This frequently gives bacteria time to flourish.
- Eat at busy restaurants. Odds are, if tons of locals are willing to eat there, the food is safe to eat AND delicious.
5. Keep Your Eye Prescription up to Date
I went years without knowing I needed glasses, and when I finally ended up finding out at an eye exam, I was told I couldn’t drive home because my eyesight didn’t meet the legal vision standards.
When I started wearing my first pair of glasses, a whole host of symptoms that I’d been having (which are now attributed to eye strain) disappeared. Headaches, tense muscles, red eyes, and at one point, light sensitivity that was so bad I almost had to pull over on the side of the highway because I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
Moral of all this? Keep your eye prescription up-to-date. Go to the eye doctor every one or two years so you don’t end up putting unnecessary strain on your eyes. If you live in the United States, it’ll likely be cheaper overseas anyway!
6. When You’re Sick, Go to the Doctor
This shouldn’t need to be said, but it does – if you are sick or injured, don’t be afraid to go to the doctor. It baffles me, but for some reason, many travelers avoid going to the doctor abroad like the plague.
I’m not saying you should go to the ER for a common cold or seasonal allergies. I’m talking lingering unexplained symptoms or sudden, extreme symptoms. Reoccurring night sweats and unexplained weight loss? Schedule an appointment with a doctor! An extremely swollen lymph node? The most sudden, painful headache of your life? Go to the ER.
Going to the doctor might cost you some money, but at the end of the day, your health is all you have. Take care of yourself!
7. Maintain Your Yearly Checkups
Annual checkups are important, especially when you start getting older. They’re the only way you can catch potential health issues before they become problematic, which is crucial for both short-term and long-term health.
Finding illnesses early gives you the best chance of getting effective treatment quickly without complications and avoidable damage, so whether you’re at home or in the Netherlands, get a yearly checkup.
8. Take Care of Your Teeth
In the same vein as getting a yearly checkup, getting your teeth cleaned often is an important part of staying healthy. Due to nonexistent dental hygiene and a high-sugar diet in my childhood and adolescence, I have a significant amount of tooth decay for someone my age. Take it from someone who knows – you only have one set of teeth. They don’t grow back, and once they’re damaged, you can only do so much.
And losing your teeth isn’t just a cosmetic issue, either. If your teeth get to the point where they need to be pulled or root canaled, if you live in the United States, it’s going to cost an arm and a leg. I’m talking 1-3k per tooth. I have two root canals, and both were huge expenses that I’m expecting to have to pay again in 15-20 years once the root canal is no longer effective.
Not only is it a financial burden, tooth decay and gum disease take a massive toll on your health. Untreated, they both increase your risk for all kinds of other health issues, like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even Alzheimer’s. And if you decide to forgo an implant or root canal and just get your tooth removed (which would be cheaper) you’ll have to deal with bone loss in the jaw, which increases your risk of fracture.
So take care of your teeth folks! Go to the dentist at least once a year, get cleanings as regularly as you can, and brush/floss twice a day. And if you decide you want to go to the dentist while overseas, for a US citizen, that’ll honestly be a good thing. In the large majority of countries it’s going to be much cheaper, and in many, better service. There’s a reason tons of celebs go to Mexico and Thailand to get their teeth done!
9. Get Vaccinated
Ensuring you’re fully vaccinated before going overseas is always a good idea. It’ll keep you safe, keep others safe, and make the world a healthier place. Get boosters for your routine vaccines like measles and the flu (and as of 2021, Covid-19) and before you start traveling, get vaccines for illnesses that don’t normally affect your country but are common in others such as:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Typhoid and paratyphoid fever
- Meningococcal disease
- Yellow Fever
- Japanese Encephalitis
These illnesses can all lead to lifelong disability or death (and a humongous hospital bill if you don’t have insurance) so stay safe and get your vaccines.
10. Keep Active
You might be surprised by how sedentary the life of the average traveler is. It requires a lot of sitting, and not as much activity as you’d think. You sit during transportation; you sit during meals; you sit if you work remotely – most of your daily workout comes from the activities you choose to partake in, and if said activities don’t require you to break a sweat, your day’s been spent seated and inactive.
That’s not great considering how many doctors now call sitting the new smoking. Similar to the effects of smoking, sitting and laying down too much increases your risk for chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, abnormal bowel function, premature degeneration of the spine, blood clots, stroke, and some cancers.
And as someone who spends a good chunk of my time on the computer, when I first found that out, I was alarmed. It prompted me to change the way I do certain things to limit my time spent sitting while traveling. I’ll share some of these with you now:
- Choose to walk and bike as transportation as often as possible. They’re a cheaper way to get around, are much better for you, and are a wonderful way to see the scenery of your destination at a slower pace, which is something I truly enjoy.
- Stand up on public transportation. You can also get off a stop early and walk the rest of the way there.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
- Walk around when you’re talking on the phone.
- Instead of sitting down to read, listen to audio books while you walk.
- When working remotely, follow the 20 minute rule. Set a timer on your phone to go off every twenty minutes, and during this time, walk around and stretch for a couple of minutes. This’ll help mitigate some of the damage sitting for prolonged amounts of time does.
11. Get Travel Insurance
I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how careful you are, I don’t care if you’re as healthy as a horse, you should get travel insurance. Things happen – people get sick, people get injured, things get broken, luggage gets lost, equipment gets stolen, and accidents happen.
It’s just a part of life, and it’s better to be prepared beforehand rather than be left between a rock and a hard place when you’re at your most vulnerable. Don’t make urgent medical conditions more stressful than they already are.
12. Take Your Daily Multivitamins
Taking a daily multivitamin while traveling is important. Unless you’re carefully planning out each meal, a traveler’s diet isn’t exactly the most balanced. It’s also easier than you’d think to become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, so It’s better to err on the side of caution and take your daily vitamin.
On that same note, it’s a good idea to stay stocked up on painkillers and antihistamines. I promise you’d rather have them and not need them, then need them and not have them.
13. Wash Your Hands
The environment you’re subject to when traveling is perfect for the transmission of all kinds of nasty illnesses – the common cold, the flu, strep throat, fungal infections, you name it. The more people (and items touched by people) you come in contact with, the higher your chances of getting sick are, and when you’re traveling, you’re almost always around people.
Honestly, you’re almost never alone. If you decide to splurge a little and opt for a hotel instead of a hostel, you will at least have a private room to yourself. But considering you’re around people during transportation, during activities, during meals, and pretty much every other aspect of your day, your chances of contracting contagious diseases skyrockets when you travel.
One of the best ways you can combat this is to wash your hands frequently. I make it a habit to wash my hands or at least use hand sanitizer every time I enter a room, and never, ever touch my face or eat something with my hands without making sure they’re thoroughly washed. This won’t prevent you from breathing in droplets or airborne particles, but it’ll prevent you from getting sick via contaminated surfaces.
Also, if you end up getting sick (which will be unavoidable at some point) make sure to lie low for a few days while you’re contagious. This’ll help prevent others from getting sick, and will give your body the rest it needs to get over whatever it’s fighting. If you must go out, if possible, wear a mask while you’re still symptomatic and contagious.
14. Wear Socks at Airports
Another effective way to avoid getting sick that’s much less talked about is wearing socks at the airport. The floor is where most droplets, airborne particles, and fungal spores eventually end up, and walking around barefoot on a floor that sees thousands upon thousands of people walking on it every day isn’t the best idea.
Not all airports make you take your shoes off, but a good chunk of them do, so I make it a habit to wear a pair of socks and easily removable shoes every time I visit one.
On a similar note, if you’re not keen on getting athlete’s foot and other fungal infections, wear flip-flops when entering shared bathrooms.
15. Wear Compression Socks While Flying
If you’re at risk for developing blood clots (you smoke, you’re pregnant, you’re overweight, you take birth control pills) wearing compression socks is a great idea.
Prolonged periods of sitting such as a 12 hour plane ride provide the perfect opportunity for blood clot formation. Wearing compression socks while flying helps prevent you from developing DVTs in your legs, and one study found that wearing them may provide a reduction by more than twelve times. So wear your compression socks!
16. Wear Sunscreen
Wearing sunscreen is extremely important. Unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays causes of variety of awful things, including premature aging, eye damage, immune system suppression, and cancer, to name a few. And considering skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the US, if you don’t wear UV protection, your odds of developing it are quite high. (especially if you’re on the lighter end of the skin spectrum)
It’s especially important that travelers wear some sort of sun protection because they are frequently out in the sun for extended periods of time, which is the prime opportunity for a serious sunburn. So apply your sunscreen, and if you aren’t a fan of wearing it, invest in a good set of clothes with ultraviolet protection.
Wearing clothing with UPF is my favorite “sunscreen”. They are just as effective at preventing UV damage as traditional sunscreens, don’t have to be reapplied, and only have to be purchased every few years at most. They’re also much better than normal apparel at temperature regulation on sunny days, which doesn’t hurt.
17. Wear Condoms
If you’re someone who is single and ready to mingle, it’s very possible that you might have a fling or two while traveling, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Power to you, enjoy your life.
That being said, when you choose to have said flings, please, please remember to wear a condom. Sexually transmitted diseases are so common – approximately one in five people in the United States has an STI, to put it into perspective.
And they’re no fun to deal with. Some can put you in the hospital, some will never go away, and some can even cause cancer. One of the most common, HPV (which is estimated to infect about 80% of all sexually active people at some point in their lives) can lead to anal cancer, oral cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, and most commonly, cervical cancer. You can be a carrier without even knowing it, particularly for men, so if you don’t want to protect yourself, at least protect your partner.
18. Invest in Sleep Masks and Ear Plugs
What do loud children on airplanes, snoring in your shared hostel room, and midday sunlight have in common? That if you’re a light sleeper, you can kiss your chance of good sleep goodbye. Seriously, if you aren’t a heavy sleeper who can sleep through just about anything, I’d recommend bringing an eye mask and earplugs.
19. Pack Less Stuff
This is easier said than done, but try to pack as little as possible. The lighter your luggage is the better it’ll be for you in the long run, both physically and mentally. Really think about what you’re packing, and ask yourself:
- Will you need it on the daily, or are only packing it on the off chance you might need it one day?
- Can you easily buy it at your destination on the off chance that you’ll need it?
A few things that fall into this criteria for me are bug spray, first aid kits, and umbrellas.
20. Write in a Journal
I’m a big proponent of journaling. It relieves stress, helps keep your thoughts organized, allows for self-reflection, and helps you understand why you feel the way you feel about things.
Journaling is great for travelers because it gives you a way to remember things that would normally fade with time. Everything you write down, every emotion and memory, can be re-read years later and allow you to almost relive the experience.
It doesn’t have to be an everyday thing, either. You can do what I do and write about any experience you don’t want to forget. I like this type of journaling because it’s less monotonous, and helps you hold on to the memories that are most dear to you.
21. Take Time off When You Need It
This is one of the most important tips on this list. Travel should be something that you enjoy, and if it’s gotten to the point where it’s not, you need a break.
Take breaks when you need them, and for however long you need – a day, a week, a month, or even a year. Long term travel can be taxing, both physically and mentally. Not having a place to call home, a lack of normalcy, the difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships, and all the other stressors that come along with travel can make it unenjoyable at times.
So if you ever find yourself dreading your day ahead for no particular reason, you’re more than likely burnt out, and would do well with some rest. Maybe stay at your accommodation for a couple weeks longer than planned and relax. That might be all you need to bounce back, but if it’s not, there is zero shame in going home or staying with a family member for a prolonged amount of time.
Forcing yourself to continue will do nothing but make you miserable – take as long as you need until you’re looking forward to traveling again.
Those are all of my current tips for staying healthy while traveling. I’ll be adding to this list as things come to mind. I’m sure I’ve missed some tips, so if you think of one I should include, feel free to let me know about it in the comments below!
Please note that this article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of them, I earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I 100% stand behind.
Hi, I’m Ash!
I’m a laid back traveler who loves experiencing new things and spontaneity. My favorite hobbies are hiking, gardening, skincare, and all things tea.
My biggest goal is to spread the word about sustainable travel and show everyone how easy it is to partake in. If you wanna learn more about that or get to know me better, feel free to click here.