There is plenty of evidence that taking naps, enjoying nature walks and meditating have the capacity to increase productivity, deepen memories, sharpen attention and encourage personal creativity, according to an article in Scientific American in 2013. In light of this, taking a vacation must represent the ultimate opportunity for making the most of mental and physical downtime – for deep relaxation, enjoyment of new cultural experiences and the chance to recharge one’s batteries. Unless, of course, a health problem occurs, in which case stress can kick in, big time. Here are a few things to stay healthy on vacation about before setting off.
Travelers should research local healthcare provision before going abroad and really think about what to pack when it comes to the first aid kit. A three-day course of probiotics before a trip is a good preparation to ward off tummy troubles as they keep the gastrointestinal tract in good shape. More than one in five people who travel by plane catch a cold within one week so it’s also a good idea to bolster the immune system by getting between seven and eight hours sleep at night for several nights before leaving.
It may be very pleasant to lounge in a hammock for some of the time but it’s important to try to stay active so that excessive weight gain doesn’t become a problem. Just 30 minutes of activity will make all the difference and ensure calories are burned successfully. Sightseeing, hiking, cycling, and swimming are all great ways to exercise on vacation. The same goes for paying attention to diet as it’s great to eat well on vacation and this is possible without consuming high-calorie foods at every meal. Picking one meal a day as a treat, and focusing on lower-calorie foods such as fruits, lean meats, fish, and vegetables, is a good compromise.
Someone who is otherwise in general good health might nevertheless find they suffer from one or more of the common illnesses that afflict travelers; stomach upsets (gastrointestinal illnesses) can affect up to one in five vacationers in many parts of the world. There are some simple precautions to take – for example, washing hands thoroughly before eating and after using the toilet. Water is best consumed from sealed bottles, while hot drinks such as tea and coffee should present no problems. The same is true of processed drinks such as soda, beer and wine. Cooked vegetables are safer than salads and all fruit should be peeled. It’s best to avoid local dairy products, especially cheese and ice cream, both of which can cause diarrhea. People living locally can probably give useful advice on what’s safe to eat and it’s best to remember that shellfish and other fish, even if well cooked, may be hazardous.
Sun and sangria
If traveling to a hot country it is important to guard against sunburn as this can lead to skin cancer. Being out in the sun between about 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. is best avoided. Travelers should use a high factor sunscreen, cover up when necessary, and remember to wear a sunhat and shades. They should also beware of excessive alcohol consumption, especially if sunbathing is a significant part of the vacation plan. Alcohol and sunbathing are not a good combination as alcohol dehydrates the body; partying and excess alcohol intake should be matched with lots of (safe, bottled) water.
People who are not allergic will have an unpleasant but transient experience from a wasp sting whereas some mosquitoes carry malaria and can make travelers very ill indeed if they are bitten. This problem is most common in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Travelers to one of these destinations must purchase medication to combat malaria beforehand. It’s possible to take anti-malarial tablets before traveling and the potential side effects are negligible compared with the disease itself. Using a mosquito net around the bed at night, packing strong insect repellent, and keeping bare skin covered up from dusk until dawn are all important preventive measures.
It’s important to practice safe sex when abroad; bringing home souvenirs and great memories from a vacation is fine, whereas returning with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is highly undesirable. Condoms should be included on the vacation packing list; these must be stored in a cool, dry place away from oil-based products, such as baby oil, suntan lotion and lipstick that can damage them. They should always be easily available when needed, especially if planning on going out.
First aid essentials
A durable plastic container is perfect for assembling a travel first aid kit – preferably the sort that is compartmentalized so that individual items can be located and retrieved quickly. The kit should include strip bandages, antiseptic ointment and wipes, gauze pads and medical adhesive tape – especially if a lot of outdoor activities are planned. Tweezers and scissors are useful for dealing with splinters and minor wounds, while painkillers will give comfort if needed. Tablets can help with water purification and hydrocortisone (anti-itch) cream will soothe irritated skin.
Additional personal items can be added depending on individual requirements. For instance, the risk of catching a stomach bug is increased in developing countries and anti-diarrhea medication and oral rehydration salts should be used to prevent dehydration and limit diarrhea. Travelers with a history of motion sickness might want to pack tablets to prevent this and including cold remedies is also a good idea.
One or two extra items may come in handy. For example, spare syringes may be useful, particularly if a hospital trip is necessary. This is because in many poorer countries the cleanliness of hospital syringes cannot be guaranteed. Butterfly closures are useful in the event of a deep cut – in this case a QuikClot sponge to stem blood flow will also prove useful. An antihistamine, to guard against allergic reactions, and sanitizing wipes for general use are also recommended. Finally, travelers using prescription medications should always take more than needed in case of delays.
With a little bit of forethought and some simple preparation, the vacation can be trouble-free and any health problems that are encountered can be dealt with promptly and effectively.