There’s nothing quite like getting sick on vacation. Whether it’s changing time zones, the associated sleep deprivation, travel stress and all the exposure to new bacteria and viruses en route, I often have a day or two when I feel “low” on a trip.
Then there are the very unfortunate times when illness actually takes hold. About seven years ago, I got a full-blown flu in Europe. Much of that trip is a blur of steaming hot showers in various hotel rooms, the worst sore throat I’ve ever experienced in my life and floating in and out of consciousness while passing through several cities in Eastern Europe. I took some drugs a pharmacist in Poland gave me and got better halfway through the trip. I have no idea what I took. I probably should have paid attention, but I was so desperate to get well that I didn’t really care.
Then there are those bugs that reveal themselves after you get back from a trip. I have gotten parasites after overseas travel that left me praying for death on my bathroom floor. In fact, a few months (and a frightening 20 lbs down) after one trip, I was diagnosed with an unusually aggressive case of blastocystis hominis along with a suspected giardia infection. It took an absolutely miserable round of Flagyl and Yodoxin to clear it up…and then another year to heal my completely battered digestive system.
Needless to say, I’m all about preventing illness, before, during and after overseas travel. Since the experiences above, I’ve traveled to a dozen different countries (some with very questionable water supplies) without any major incidents. Here is what’s in my nutritional first aid kit:
1. A good probiotic
Intestinal bugs are all too easy to pick up when we’re exposed to food, water (and by extension, bacteria) that our bodies just aren’t used to. I start taking a probiotic two to three weeks before overseas travel. I also up the amount of fermented foods I’m eating (think kombucha and sauerkraut). This allows enough time for those colonies of “good” bacteria to take root and prepare for battle with any potential “bad guys.” Once abroad, I’ll usually double my dose to whatever the maximum is on the package and keep it up until I return. A couple of brands that I like are Integrative Therapeutics – Probiotic Pearls and Jarro-Dophilus EPS–mostly because they do not require refrigeration (something that is not practical on long flights or while on the road).
2. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
I was raised on this stuff as a household remedy so people often laugh that it’s part of some cure-all mythology–my personal Vicks VapoRub or Windex, if you will. But I’m definitely not alone. Many people drink ACV daily (straight or in water) to improve digestion and boost the immune system. Bragg’s Raw Organic ACV with “the mother” is probably your best source since it hasn’t gone through any filtration, pasteurization or chemical processing. If you must, ACV is also sold in capsule form, though the effectiveness of taking ACV pills is murky. I personally find that drinking ACV right before meals helps me better digest my food and even reduces bloating and discomfort after large meals (a common occurrence if you eat like I do while on vacation). ACV can also be used in a soak to clean fresh fruits and veggies before consuming them–a plus if you’re traveling somewhere where you’ll have a kitchen or be prepping some of your own food.
Most people have heard of the Polynesian superfood, Noni. Morinda is just another name for it. Noni is often touted for its use as an anti-inflammatory as well as a helpful tool in lowering high blood sugar. However, it has also been shown to have immune system enhancing properties and is antibacterial, antifungal and antiparasitic.
Many noni juices on the market are pasteurized, fermented or mixed with other fruit juices to make it more palatable. For this reason I prefer taking it as a pill which is just the raw fruit in powdered form. Morinda Supreme is the brand that I use. Taking it three times a day (with meals) while abroad helps me keep illness at bay, whether from the environment or from food and water.
Takesumi is just carbonized bamboo (think activated charcoal). This is not something I take every day unless I’m actively detoxing. However, if I’ve eaten things I’m sensitive to (for me that’s usually dairy or gluten) or had a bit too much alcohol, takesumi really helps cut the reaction in half. I’ll take a quarter teaspoon in water after eating the offending food and then again the morning after. Similar to charcoal, it binds to what you’ve eaten and helps prevent it from being fully absorbed. That said, do not take takesumi with vitamins or other supplements since you absolutely DO want to absorb all those nutrients.
5. Oil of oregano
If you feel like something resembling a cold or flu is brewing, oil of oregano is basically your natural antibiotic. If you want the fancier explanation, it contains thymol and carvacrol, two phenols that are known to fight off fungi and bacteria, respectively. They sell oil of oregano in capsule form if you can’t handle the strong flavor, but I find the straight oil to be a bit more potent. If you do opt for the oil, be sure to dilute it in plenty of water or juice. It will burn your tongue if taken straight.
In addition to those five must-haves, I always carry disinfecting wipes for cleaning my tray table, arm rests and pretty much anything else in my immediate area if I’m traveling on a plane or train. You just don’t know who sat there before you or when the area was last disinfected. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? If you can lower your exposure to potential pathogens and build up your body’s defenses with natural foods you have a good chance of staying healthy on your trip and getting to do exactly what you should be doing–relaxing.
Note: The opinions expressed on this blog are based on my own thoughts, knowledge, and experiences. The information presented in this post is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with an appropriately licensed, qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.