How many times have you come home from a great vacation with an unwanted souvenir in the form of a nasty cold or stomach bug? Or even worse, started feeling sick before your trip was over? You might be doing some of these things that sabotage your health -- both with a temporary illness, and in the long-term, with far-reaching implications -- while traveling. Here's how to avoid those health-ruining pitfalls.
1. You Don't Wear Sunscreen
Just because it’s cold or overcast outside doesn’t mean you can get away with skipping the sunscreen. Although you might be mostly covered up, your face is still getting exposed to dangerous UV rays. Be sure to pack (travel-sized) sunscreen even on cold days. Skiers and snowboards should take extra care—according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “UV rays can be every bit as damaging on the slopes as on the beach. Higher altitude means increased risk of sun-induced skin damage, since UV radiation exposure increases 4 to 5 percent with every 1,000 feet above sea level. At an altitude of 9,000 to 10,000 feet, UV radiation may be 35 to 45 percent more intense than at sea level. In addition, snow reflects up to 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, meaning that you are often hit by the same rays twice. This only increases the risk for damage.”
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2. You Overeat
You’re on vacation, so it’s no holds-barred for eating whatever you want, right? You’ll resume that diet when you get home, after all. Well, you might find that it’s not so easy to bounce back from over-indulging on vacation. Not only will you suffer from heart burn and acid reflux on your trip, but you’ll find it much harder to get back into healthy eating when you return. According to NPR, overeating can actually cause “biological changes in the body that can lead to more food cravings and cause your stomach to send mixed signals about when it’s actually full”. This means when you come back home, you’ll still be craving that high-fat junk food you were enjoying on vacation, and you’ll be hungrier than normal.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t enjoy the local delicacies while on vacation — just take more of a tasting mindset than a gorging mindset. Also, try to reserve at least one meal as a light, healthy one each day (breakfast is usually the easiest for that).
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3. You Don't Get Enough Sleep
Whether it’s due to jet lag or not wanting to miss last call at the bar, it’s easy to slack off on sleep while on vacation. Most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. And if you don’t get it? According to one study, subjects who got less than six hours of sleep for a week straight showed changes in over 700 of their genes. Even just one night of missed slumber can cause you to crave junk food and make unhealthy choices, as well as impair your memory.
Here are some tips for fighting jet lag, which can help you reset your body clock on a longer trip. If your problem is staying out too late or getting up too early, try to compensate for it by going to bed earlier or getting up later. That’s why hotel rooms have blackout curtains!
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4. You Didn't Get the Vaccines
Even if you’re not heading anywhere exotic, make sure you’re up to date on your routine vaccines before you travel. The CDC recommends that all travelers have the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. Remember that many of these take a few weeks to become effective, so don’t leave this to the last minute.
If you are heading somewhere that’s more off-the-beaten path, check the CDC’s handy website for travelers, to figure out which vaccines you’ll need to get to stay safe.
5. You Sit Too Much
We’ve all heard about the dangers of blood clots on long-haul flights, but did you know that you’re also at risk for them when you’re traveling for more than four hours via trains or cars as well? Basically, any time that you’re sitting in a confined space for more than four hours, you need to make sure that you get up and move around every so often. If you can’t stand up and walk, you can stretch your legs while sitting down by straightening out your legs and flexing your ankles, or by pulling your knee towards your chest and holding it there. (Don’t attempt while driving, obviously.)
6. You Expose Yourself to Germs
We’ve told you how dirty airplanes and hotels are, so don’t expose yourself unnecessarily to germs by traveling without hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes to cleanse the surfaces around you on your flight or in your room.
Steer clear of bacteria in your food as well: remember that if you’re in a place where you can’t drink the water, you should avoid eating things that have been washed in the water (like salads), having drinks with ice in them, and using utensils and plates that haven’t been washed in hot enough water (like at a food cart).
Related Link: Five Simple Tips for Staying Flu-Free on Vacation
7. And Bedbugs, Too
Although bedbugs don’t transmit diseases, they can take a toll on your mental health (and cause plenty of discomfort via bites). Always remember to inspect your hotel room’s bed, luggage rack and furniture for the pests as soon as you check-in.
Related Link: One Surefire Way to Spot Bedbugs in Your Hotel Room
8. You Don't Drink Enough Water
It’s hard to stay hydrated while traveling! You might not have easy access to clean water, bathrooms might be few and far between, and it can be annoying carrying around a bottle of water all day. But even mild dehydration can mess with our health, causing fatigue, headaches, and bad moods.
A small, collapsable water bottle can be easier to carry around than a plastic one (and is cheaper, if you have access to clean, public water). Or, just choose plain old water over coffee, an afternoon cocktail, or juice, to more efficiently hydrate when you do stop for a break or a meal.
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