How to Stay Healthy While Traveling… Naturally!

Tips on using herbs, vitamins, and good practices to stay well during your adventures 

 

No one likes being sick, but feeling under the weather on vacation is the pits! Not only are you away from the comforts of home, but you’re missing out on all the sites and experiences you worked so hard to visit. We hope the information on this page will keep you in tip-top shape and enjoying your adventures.

What do I know about health & travel?

Before we founded an international tour company, I was a Board Certified Acupuncture Physician with an extensive background in Western herbs & nutritional supplements. (I am still licensed, but my only patients these days seem to be street dogs in need of TLC!) I was adjunct faculty at a college for Acupuncture and Natural Medicine, I guest lectured at other holistic schools, and regularly gave classes about how to use herbs and vitamins at local health food stores. In fact, I worked in the natural foods industry for 13 years, helping people decide on the best nutritional supplements for their specific needs.

For over 8 years we have lived out of our suitcases exclusively (yes, all year long, for 8 years). Despite having to live within the confines (and airline weight allowances) of my suitcase, I still carry a giant bag of supplements with me. I carry almost all of the suggestions below with me year-round.

With over 20 years of experience between the world of natural health and long-term international travel, it’s a pleasure to share my unique insight and expertise with you!

This page discusses tips for

  • Traveler’s Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Motion Sickness
  • Aches & Pains
  • Sleep
  • Immune System
  • Altitude Sickness
  • General Health

Me in a former life; I’ve got the lab coat & headshot to prove it.

Me in a former life; I’ve got the lab coat & headshot to prove it.

We discuss tips for:

  • Traveler’s Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Motion Sickness
  • Aches & Pains
  • Sleep
  • Immune System
  • Altitude Sickness
  • General Health

About the suggestions on this page

This page was designed for those of us who like a little more context than “Take some Vitamin D.” If you’re a “research nerd” like me, this is the blog for you! Because this is a long post, I’ve created a sticky menu you’ll see as you start scrolling. You can use that to navigate to different sections if you want to skip around within the page. 

Skip to  Traveler’s Diarrhea  ·  Constipation  ·   Motion Sickness  ·  Aches & Pains   ·  Mood  ·  Sleep  ·  Immune System  ·  Altitude Sickness   ·  General

On this page you’ll find supplements and suggestions to help keep you healthy while traveling, all backed up by research. But remember: I am still a random person on the internet, and you should not take medical advice from me or anyone else online! You may have underlying conditions or may be on medications that interact with these products. This site is a good place to check on potentially harmful drug interactions. Please work with your own physician to decide what is best for you. Use this blog as a jumping-off point for your own research. For peer-reviewed, journal-published studies, PubMed.gov is a good place to start; you’ll see I’ve linked to many PubMed pages throughout so you can go directly to the source.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that natural means “safe.” Plants can have potent medicinal effects and should be used with respect and caution. In addition, don’t wait until you’re on vacation to try these supplements for the first time, in case you have an allergy or other reaction. Please try them at home beforehand. Also, please make sure to take a look at the serving size on your supplement packaging, it’s not always the case that one pill = one serving.

While this page focuses on natural remedies, I also mention a few important OTC (Over-the-Counter) products that can also be of benefit. Unless dosages are stated in linked journal studies, I do not recommend dosages because they can vary widely, depending on your weight, the desired effect, and what other remedies you may be using.

One more note to my fellow Americans: Outside the U.S. you can find most ‘prescription’ drugs without a prescription in pharmacies (including antibiotics); please take advantage of the professional pharmacists abroad, they are a true resource. However, it’s going to be harder on the whole to find natural supplements such as the ones mentioned below. Don’t count on grabbing any of these supplements on the road; it’s best to bring them with you. Bring them in their original bottles and there should be no problem with customs in any country, in my experience.

Traveler’s Diarrhea

Diarrhea looms large in the pantheon of Travel Boogeymen. It can be due to different bacteria, viruses, or parasites, depending on where you are in the world, although it is commonly due to e. Coli. “Traveler’s diarrhea” can happen at home, as well—anywhere that you encounter tainted food or drink. 

Yes, it’s an absolute bummer, but it doesn’t have to ruin your trip; as the Mayo Clinic says, “Fortunately, traveler’s diarrhea usually isn’t serious — it’s just unpleasant.

Click here for a deeper look into what causes traveler’s diarrhea, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. In our blog dedicated to traveler’s diarrhea, we’ll go further into how to choose safe places to eat and other simple tips to keep you safe.

Bismuth (Pepto Bismol)

Studies have shown that 1-2 chewable tablets of bismuth subsalicylate (which you may know as Pepto Bismol) taken with meals was an effective protection against traveler’s diarrhea. Although the liquid has the same properties, we recommend opting for tablets due to their ease of handling while traveling.

Important: Pepto Bismol may interact with doxycycline, an antibiotic you may using as a malaria preventative. Please ingest them 3 hours apart from one another.

Here’s a more complete list of drug interactions. It’s good to know that it also does not play well with the high-altitude drug Diamox.

Bismuth subsalicylate can be effective as a preventative, but you can also use it as a treatment in case you actually get traveler’s diarrhea (2 tablets, four times a day).

Probiotics

Probiotics are live yeasts and bacteria that your body needs to function properly. Probiotics are currently used in hospitals to prevent and treat diarrhea due to chemotherapy, Clostridium Difficile (C. diff), IBS, and more. There are many different types of probiotics and they each have unique properties. Although lactobacilli and Saccharomyces boulardii have been studied with traveler’s diarrhea, a good quality blend is a great solution.

My most important tip is to make sure your product says the probiotic count is valid until the expiration dateSo many companies make staggering claims of billions of live bacteria in each pill until you read the fine print; there is it revealed that the only guarantee is that they were alive at the time of manufacture, with no promise of how they will do in shipping (and sitting on warehouse and store shelves, not to mention your refrigerator or cupboard). That’s like ordering a bouquet of flowers that shows up completely dead and rotting & the florist says, “Well, they were fine when they left the shop!”

My recommendation: choose shelf-stable probiotics that don’t require refrigeration and guarantee potency through their expiration date. I like Jarrodophilus EPS or either of these two products (here and here) by Renew Life. Take them as recommended on the packaging, starting a week or two before your trip (and continue throughout your trip).

Bonus: if your destination has a fermented specialty, such as yogurt, kimchi, or natto, please indulge in order to consume healthy, local probiotics. 

Imodium

Chances are you already know about Imodium (sold by its generic name of Loperamide in most countries) and how effective it is at stopping diarrhea in an emergency.

The recommended initial dose is 4 mg (two 2 mg caplets) followed by 2 mg (one caplet) after each unformed stool. Do not take for more than 48 hours. Do not take if you also have a fever or bloody stools.

Some people don’t like Imodium because they feel it’s too strong and binds them up for too long. This will all depend on your constitution and your current situation, but you can always take less than the recommended dose if you feel that is appropriate for you. I would purchase the caplets/tablets which are already scored so you can break them in half easily, if need be. (Personally, I can get away with using half a tablet, but your mileage will vary.)

It should be noted that many sources recommend not taking Imodium with diarrhea due to bacteria; if you are laying low and have access to a toilet, consider letting the diarrhea run its course. However, other studies recognize that “Antisecretory/antimotility agents should be considered for travelers who prefer expedient relief of diarrhea. This is especially so when they have to travel for extended periods by air or ground.” The most important takeaway is to discontinue use in the presence of severe cramps or any fever and consult a doctor. 

Activated Charcoal

There are no studies to confirm the efficacy of activated charcoal for traveler’s diarrhea, but the anecdotal evidence of using charcoal is too great to ignore. Charcoal has long been used in hospital settings to adsorb toxins in cases of overdose or accidental poisoning; activated charcoal’s enormous surface area allows these harmful substances to bind to the charcoal and be escorted out of the body with the feces. People have taken this principle and applied it to traveler’s diarrhea, thinking that the offending bacteria will be bound up with the charcoal and neutralized.

Taken responsibly and short-term, there’s no harm in trying this. It’s VERY IMPORTANT to remember that everything binds to charcoal, including nutrients, so ingest it a few hours before or after any prescription medicine or other supplements you are taking. If you’re taking oral birth control pills, you may want to skip it entirely. 

Other good things to know: It will turn your poop black, don’t panic. And again, please do not use for extended periods of time, due to this extreme binding action. It can even prevent you from absorbing the nutrients in your food.

Water

Don’t forget to keep drinking lots of water to replenish what you’ve lost. If you’ve lost a decent amount of fluids through diarrhea, please add some rehydration salts (preferably), something like Emergen-C, or a local sports drink.

Constipation

Would-be travelers are typically so concerned with diarrhea that the thought of constipation never enters the equation! However, if you’re typically prone to constipation (or even if you’re not), jet lag, change of routine and diet, altitude, and dehydration can all lend themselves toward “vacation constipation.”

Magnesium

Magnesium is a wonder mineral, and can be a helpful, gentle solution for constipation. In an oversimplified nutshell, magnesium helps draw water into the bowels, softening them and allowing an easier passage

You may have heard of Milk of Magnesia before–this is how it works. If you prefer a straight Magnesium Oxide, this is a good brand (although, honestly, almost any brand will do). Please don’t take more than 2,000mg in one day; start with 500-1000 and go from there.

Herbal laxative tea (or capsules)

You may need gentle herbal laxative tea to help move things along. Almost all hotels in Asia and many countries across the world have tea kettles in rooms, which is great. The ingredients to look for include senna or cascara sagrada. You can also choose capsules, just remember to drink lots of water with them.

Water

Yes, I do recommend water for everything under the sun, and for good reason! In this case, water is the cheapest laxative there is and it may just be the easiest solution in some cases. Even if you think you’re drinking enough water, you might be in a drier climate than usual, you might be sweating more than usual, or your healthy water-drinking routine might be out of whack. Altitude can also dehydrate you, and constipation is not uncommon at high elevations.

Fiber

Your fiber intake might be different than usual because your destination might not have much in the way of salads and the greenery you’re used to at home. Do try to eat as many vegetables as you can, but if you know you tend toward constipation, bring a fiber supplement like psyllium husks in powder or pills; remember, if you take pills, drinks lots and LOTS of water!)

Motion Sickness (and all Nausea)

For decades, I never understood my friends who experienced car sickness or sea-sickness. Growing up and into my thirties, I could read in cars or sit backwards/upside-down/any-which-way in the backseat without care. And then, like a switch had been flipped, I started to experience motion sickness. Luckily, there are some great natural alternatives to Dramamine, which can make you super drowsy (no fun, especially on snorkeling trips). Here are some options to keep you feeling decidedly un-barfy on bus trips, boat rides, or any bumpy adventures in your future. These tips can also help with nausea due to food poisoning, altitude sickness, and even hangovers.

Ginger

Ginger is really a phenomenal medicinal root that’s been tested and found effective for motion sickness. Although science still isn’t sure of the mechanism, studies do show it works better than placebo.

It’s worthy to note that “Non-drowsy Dramamine” (not to be confused with “Less Drowsy Dramamine“) is 100% ginger and, if I may say, insultingly overpriced. At 31 cents a pill, it’s almost ten times more expensive than other brands of ginger in capsules at the same strength. For my money, I’d grab another reputable herbal brand.

Candied/crystallized ginger is great, too, if you enjoy the taste of ginger. While I do love The Ginger People brand, I just can’t justify the plastic waste with their packaging. Consider picking up some bulk candied ginger at your local grocery store or Amazon. It’s delicious and spicy, though; I inevitably eat too much and break out in a sweat!

Get Some Fresh Air

Get it if you can. It makes a world of difference. Roll down a window, move to a different part of the boat, whatever you can do.

Look at the Horizon Line

It helps if you can keep your eyes on the horizon line in order to give your brain a frame of reference. The horizon line is an easy, quick, and free help, although a French company did make a $100+ pair of glasses to help with this, too.

Sea-Bands

There is a “magical” acupuncture/acupressure point on the inner wrist that can be used for nausea of all kinds, whether due to pregnancy, chemotherapy, or even dental procedures. It is well-backed up by science, even if we don’t fully understand the mechanism.

Luckily, you don’t need to use needles to access the power of this point! You can put pressure on it yourself or use a product like Sea-Bands. Sea-Bands are elastic cuffs with a bead on the inside that puts pressure on this important anti-nausea point. Here’s how to located to magic spot.

If you only have one pair of Sea-Bands, you can still share with a sea-sick friend; we have found them effective even while wearing them on one wrist (although I will alternate wrists every 15-20 minutes). And if you’d rather just put pressure on the point yourself, without Sea-Bands, gently massage the spot with the pressure you’d use to push an old elevator button or a public drinking fountain; you don’t need to be aggressive for it to work. Do it for at least 5-10 minutes at a time, as needed.

Watch our 1-minute video below on how to properly position your Sea-Bands (filmed on a whale-watching cruise in San Diego). 

Musculoskeletal Aches & Pains

No matter how active you are (or aren’t) in your daily life, you’re probably a LOT more active on vacation! Hours of walking around new cities or hiking trails, long days of standing in museums, sitting on trains, carrying a heavier day bag than you’re used to—perhaps all of that in new shoes, to boot! All of that can mean sore muscles at the end of the day.

Here are some natural solutions for an achy body at the end of a long (but fun) day on tour. Keep in mind that none of these are as fast-acting as an NSAID like ibuprofen, but if you start these supplements a week or two before your trip and continue taking them throughout your trip, they will be more effective.

Turmeric (Curcumin)

Full disclosure: I am obsessed with turmeric, or rather, with one of its active components called “curcumin” (no relation to the spice “cumin”). Turmeric has been widely studied for its anti-inflammatory effect: The use of curcumin reduces the “intensity of muscle pain; reduces muscle damage…; increases muscle performance; [and] has an anti-inflammatory effect.” Before you grab this orange powder from your spice shelf, though, there are some things you need to know.

While I applaud the practice of eating whole foods, this is one time where supplements are going to serve you far better. You’ll find that fresh turmeric root or even the turmeric powder in your spice cabinet only contains about 3% curcumin. Good quality supplements contain 95% curcumin. The addition of piperine, a black pepper extract, increases bioavailability by 2000%. So, not only are you getting a bigger dose of curcumin in a supplement, but the addition of piperine (commercially known as BioPerine) means your body is using it 20 times more efficiently. I’m a fan of the Doctor’s Best brand.

Ginger

Since you may already have ginger on hand for motion sickness, it’s worth mentioning that it can also help with muscle soreness, too.

Legs up a wall (Viparita Karani)

I learned this trick when we were facilitating yoga retreats around the world. It’s the easiest yoga pose ever, almost! Find a comfortable spot next to a wall (even on a bed is ok) and put your legs up against the wall. That’s it! Here is a much more thoughtful, in-depth description for you.

From this article in Runner’s World, ”In essence, this inverted pose aids your overall recovery by draining fluids that are pooling in your legs, while also stretching your hamstrings and relieving a worn out lower body.” Even the folks over at Good Housekeeping are doing it!

If this position hurts your back or neck or you feel pressure in your head, perhaps it’s not for you. This pose should feel enjoyable, not cause you any pain or stress.

Zyflamend

If you’re looking for a good blend of anti-inflammatory herbs (including both turmeric and ginger), Zyflamend is a fantastic product by New Chapter. There are tons of studies as it relates to internal inflammation and lots of anecdotal evidence on aches and pains.

Mood

No matter how much we love it, crave it, and dream about traveling, there’s no denying that travel can be a little stressful. Or a lot stressful if you’re figuring it out on your own*. Tensions may run high when you’re tired, hungry, and it just started raining or the museum is unexpectedly closed. Sharing a small hotel room with a friend or partner can be a challenge, as well. Plus, some of us just know we’re nervous travelers, but the benefits of travel still outweigh our anxiety. Luckily there are things you can do (short of daily mid-afternoon Aperol Spritzes) to help happily roll with the punches. (*Might I propose that a quick fix to your mood on vacation is coming with us and letting us handle all the details!)

L-theanine

This is my favorite supplement, hands down. L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in tea. It’s the property in tea that balances out the caffeine and gives you that feeling of alert calmness, not the mania that can accompany coffee. What’s wonderful is that L-theanine manages to relax you without being a sedative.“L-theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness. It won’t make you sleepy, groggy, or dopey, it just takes the edge off (within about 30-40 minutes of taking it, and the effects last about 5 hours). 

There are plenty of studies about the effect of L-theanine for stress-related symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety, high blood pressure, and reducing cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.”  Heck, it’s also been tested in cats, chickens, and there are plenty of pet supplements that contain L-theanine.

I first discovered L-theanine when I would drink too much coffee at work and stress-spiral. Nowadays I use it when I know I’ll be under any added pressure or anxiety. It’s great for nervous flyers (or nervous boaters like me) and it’s a literal lifesaver with PMS. If you tend to feel overwhelmed in new situations, it can be a great support that keeps you alert and calm.

I’m partial to the Jarrow brand, but any brand that uses “SunTheanine” as its source should be fine. Aim for 100-200 mg as needed.

Magnesium

Please refer to the Magnesium notes in the General Health section to learn about magnesium’s role in depression and anxiety. 

B Complex Vitamins

There are 8 vitamins that make up what you may have heard called the “Vitamin B Complex.”  While my focus used to be almost exclusively on proper Vitamin B12 supplementation, supplementing the complex as a whole really does an amazing amount of good. Studies show it benefits people under stress, improve mood, and reduce depression. 

If you’re not already taking a good B supplement, starting one a few weeks before your trip (and continuing throughout your trip) might help make little inconveniences a bit easier to swallow. I like this blend by Jarrow; if you have your own favorite, please make sure it contains methylated forms of folate and B12, as they are used more readily by the body. The B12 should be in a methylcobalamin form, not the cyanocobalamin form (it will list it on the label).

Adaptogens

There is a class of herbs called adaptogens based on their ability to help the body adapt to stress–both physical and mental. Studies have shown adaptogens (such as Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, Holy Basil [Tulsi], Schizandra, among others) help protect the body from the effects of stress, particularly fatigue

Unlike a substance like L-theanine, which takes effect in half an hour, this isn’t a quick-fix. However, adaptogens are well worth incorporating into your daily life! I think this is a good blend to start with a month before your travels and to continue to take on your journey.

Sleep

Sleep can be a tricky thing for some people while traveling, between jet lag, sleeping in a strange bed, new routines, and general excitement about your trip. Certainly, everything listed in the mood section above will also help with sleep, so take the time to review that section. However, here are a couple more ideas for you.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone your body naturally secretes in rhythm with daylight and dark; “darkness switches on melatonin secretion; exposure to strong light switches it off.” This is why it’s helpful to supplement with melatonin at the “proper” times to help retrain your body to your new time zone.

You may have heard about melatonin (or even taken it), but it’s important you know about the proper dosages. Way too many products are needlessly strong which can backfire or leave you very groggy the next day. Some studies recommend between 0.5 and 5 mg, some studies (here and here) use 2 mg, and some studies have shown that the sweet spot is 0.3 milligrams.

We definitely think less is more when it comes to melatonin, which is why I like this low-dose time-released melatonin like this one taken 30-60 minutes before bed. If you need to increase the dosage, you can easily take another one or two, as opposed to trying to break up a 10mg pill into smaller doses. And, as always, check your own prescriptions for any interactions with melatonin. If you choose to try melatonin, please try it at home first so you know how it affects you.

Eyeshades

Avoid any light you can at night, which is getting more and more difficult with all the little lights on hotel air conditioners, TVs, clocks, fire detectors, and more. Wear a good set of eyeshades; this is BJ’s favorite sleep mask by far, and they don’t put any pressure on your eyes. 

Earplugs

There’s a good chance your hotel is going to be noisier than your bedroom at home, whether it’s barking dogs, traffic sounds, an air-conditioning unit, or rambunctious neighbors. We love Howard Leight earplugs to help with an uninterrupted night of rest. They’re also great for blocking out engine noise on the airplane. 

On a personal note, I am not a fan of wearing earplugs, but even I have to to admit that they really do make a huge difference. BJ wears them faithfully every night, blissfully unaware of the things that go “creak” in the night. 

L-theanine

You already know how much I love L-theanine, but I thought I would add one more sleep-specific study here to convince you entirely!

Immune System

When you think about getting sick on vacation, you probably think about traveler’s diarrhea, seasickness, jet lag, altitude sickness…but what about just a common cold or flu? Being exposed to so many new sites and surfaces—subway rails, stairway handrails, taxi and Uber handles, etc—gives you a heightened risk of catching a bug. It goes without saying–wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands, and also use hand sanitizer! But what else can you do before and during your trip?

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D levels have linked to a more robust immune system, which makes widespread Vitamin D deficiency even more unfortunate. Starting a Vitamin D3 (thought to be used by the body more efficiently than D2) routine at least a month before your trip is a great idea. A dosage of 1000 to 2000 IU is generally considered safe, although we recommend working with your doctor so you know your Vitamin D level baseline. We like Doctor’s Best brand but almost any D3 is going to do you well. 

Andrographis

Andrographis is without a doubt a powerhouse of an herb, used for millennia in Chinese Herbal Medicine (and known as Chuan Xin Lian) and one of my absolute favorites. Andrographis has broad-spectrum antiviral properties, in addition to “anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects,” according to this study. It has been shown to reduce the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection and reduce the intensity of cold symptoms. As of January 2021, Thailand is actually using andrographis as a COVID-19 therapy.

Personally, I use Andrographis when I start to feel cold symptoms coming on or when I know I’ve been exposed to a cold or flu. It’s one of the herbs I always make sure I am carrying in my first aid kit. While I wouldn’t advocate taking Andrographis every day all year long, taking it as a preventative for a few weeks while on vacation should be fine for most people. I like Nature’s Way Andrographis capsules.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms have been used in many traditions for thousands of years for their healing properties. Now we think the source of these immune-boosting properties are beta-glucans. Among other things, beta-glucans can help fortify the body against respiratory diseases. Although science isn’t exactly sure of the mechanism, it is widely accepted that beta-glucans can help stimulate our innate immune system.

Paul Stamets is an absolute hero in the medicinal mushroom world, so I would feel comfortable recommending anything from his line, Host Defense, although Daily Immune Support is a good place to start. This would be something you would want to start a month or more before your trip.

Counter Attack by Rainbow Light

I wanted to mention one more supplement I’ve personally used with good success. Although I tend to rely on Andrographis alone these days, I appreciate the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach of Rainbow Lights’ “Counter Attack.” It contains Andrographis, as well as some of my other heavy-hitting favorites such as isatis, coptis, and berberine, along with western favorites vitamin C and zinc. This is something I would take at the first hint of getting sick, or again, perhaps take as a preventative while on vacation.

Altitude Sickness

We have a much more in-depth look into how to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which you can visit here. There we explain the phenomenon a bit more in-depth, give you high-altitude itinerary planning tips and unpack some of the details below. Altitude sickness can be very a serious issue, so it’s good to arm yourself with as much information as possible. Don’t forget to read the Constipation section above, as this can be an issue at altitude, as well.

Diamox (Acetazolamide)

Diamox isn’t a “natural” treatment, per se, but it’s very important to know about, so I am including it here. 

Diamox is used both as a preventative and treatment (in higher doses) for AMS; its generic name is Acetazolamide. If you’re curious about the mechanism in a nutshell, Diamox (indirectly) signals to the body it needs to breathe more. In that way it doesn’t mask symptoms of AMS, it actually helps accelerate your body’s natural acclimatization processes.  If you want to know more about the fascinating process, read more over at CIWEC clinic, a favorite clinic of ours in Kathmandu, Nepal.

You can read about the side effects of Diamox here, and please check for any drug interactions with your prescription or OTC drugs here. Ideally, your prescribing physician will help you with this, as well. (Anecdotally: BJ and I both took Diamox to prepare for an overnight at 16,500 feet on the Tibetan side of Mt. Everest and we both noticed tingly extremities. It can also make carbonated drinks taste strange, oddly enough.)

Ibuprofen

Studies have shown that ibuprofen is effective in reducing the incidence of acute mountain sickness (AMS). The dose in the study was 600mg three times a day; it’s worth noting that we (and our guests) have success with 400mg three times a day. You can read more about ibuprofen’s efficacy in high altitudes from Stanford School of Medicine.

Start taking the ibuprofen 24 hours before the flight to your high-altitude destination. Continue taking it for 24-48 hours after you arrive and then see how you feel. Continue as needed. And all of this, of course, if only if you and your doctor have determined that ibuprofen is safe for you.

Remember: ibuprofen means ibuprofen. In the U.S., the brand names of ibuprofen are Motrin & Advil; plenty of companies also sell generic ibuprofen (Target, Walgreens, Walmart, etc).  Any ibuprofen is fine. This does not mean Tylenol or any other form of acetaminophen or any other NSAID (Aleve, aspirin, etc). 

Ginkgo Biloba

You might have heard of this herb before, used widely in brain health and memory supplements. However, it’s also been studied (examples here and here) for its effect of preventing altitude sickness. Animal studies even show it effective in preventing HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema). While there are some inconsistencies in the studies, much of that is attributed to differing qualities of the ginkgo used. I’m a fan of the brands Doctor’s Best and Gaia Herbs.

Water!

Make sure you’re drinking enough water, as some of the symptoms of AMS are the same as dehydration. Higher altitudes are often associated with dehydration because of increased urine output. Also, the air is typically dryer and your breath more rapid, leading to a greater loss of bodily fluids through the breath. It’s also best to avoid alcohol (or any central nervous system depressant) because of its effect of depressing the breath.

Chlorophyll

The use of chlorophyll is purely anecdotal but worth mentioning. Yes, this is the same chlorophyll that makes plants green! The theory here is that chlorophyll supplements fortify your blood cells, enhancing their oxygen-carrying capabilities (This short video is how the company Herbs, Etc explains the mechanism.) Only one study I can find remotely suggests chlorophyll’s blood-boosting ability, but it’s indirect at best. However, many people swear by it and for most people it’s a harmless natural product. Perhaps you can use this as an excuse to up your intake of green leafy vegetables with their abundance of nutrients and fiber, as well as chlorophyll.

If you decide to take chlorophyll, I would highly suggest getting the pills instead of the liquid if you are traveling, as the liquid stains if spilled. Remember that your stools may be tinted a dark green when taking this product—don’t be startled!

Coca Leaves

If you travel to the Andes Mountains in South America, chances are you will encounter coca tea, in a teabag or loose-leaf form. There’s evidence that humans have been using coca leaves medicinally for at least 3,000 years, although there isn’t a big body of modern research on the effects of coca on the body at altitude.

To answer your question, yes, this is the same coca that cocaine is made from (although cocaine is a highly concentrated and adulterated version of just one of coca’s numerous alkaloids. In our experience, coca tea gives you the same buzz as a cup of black tea. And to answer your next question…

Will Coca Tea make me test positive for cocaine on a drug test?

Yes, coca leaves and tea bags can create a positive for a cocaine drug test. You’ll often find “decocainized” tea bags; similar to decaffeination in coffee, coca tea can be decocainized. However, just as decaffeinated coffee retains a small quantity of caffeine, decocainized coca tea will still contain a small quantity of organic coca alkaloids.

General

What else should you consider to maintain your good health while on the road? Here are a few final thoughts. 

Multivitamin

Even if you don’t regularly take a multivitamin, you may wish to consider it on vacation to make sure your nutrient bases are covered while on your “vacation diet.” Remember to try them before your actual trip to make sure they agree with you; do take multivitamins with food, not on an empty stomach (unless otherwise directed). We are currently taking Nature’s Way “Once Daily” which comes in forms for women, women over 50 (the main difference is there is no iron in this version), men, men over 50, and one with a focus on energy.

Flu Vaccine

I’ve only had the flu twice in my life, which is two times too many. It sucks to have to call out of work and lie in bed being miserable, but it’s even worse when your “work” that day was visiting Angkor Wat (true story, circa 2014!) Get an annual flu vaccine. Protect yourself (and other tour guests, if you’re on a tour) and don’t miss a single second of your vacation.

Sleep

We know you’re excited to be in a new place, but you have to make sure to sleep enough! If you’re having trouble sleeping, check out the Sleep section above. Or, if you’re like me and you just have trouble setting a reasonable bedtime for yourself because of FOMO, well, try harder. Being well-rested is going to benefit your immune system, energy levels, and temperament throughout your entire vacation!

Wash hands

If there’s anything 2020 has taught us, it’s the power of proper handwashing. Do it, do it often, do it for longer than you think you should!

Wear a mask when you are sick

I sincerely hope that the rest of the world picks up a clue from East Asia and wears a mask in public spaces when they are ill. We experienced this in Japan, China, and Korea long before the COVID-19 pandemic and we were always touched by the kindness, practicality, and power of this simple, harmless, and effective gesture. We hope you continue this practice just in case you do pick up a bug on your vacation, and that you’ll protect your travel mates by wearing a mask.

Bonus: Magnesium

Magnesium helps with a little bit of everything, which is why I am including it in the General Health section. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with many chronic diseases, and yet we are getting less and less magnesium in our modern diet. Magnesium deficiencies have been linked to major depression, anxiety, as well as cardiovascular disease, migraines, and overall health of the body. What’s more, stress increases the loss of magnesium, and a magnesium deficiency increases stress, a most vicious circle.

There are many different forms of magnesium, but it’s thought that magnesium citrate* is the most readily used by the body. Getting ~400mg of magnesium per day, through diet or supplementation, is going to provide a healthy foundation for an adventure-filled life. Note that magnesium tablets tend to be pretty large, so if you’re not a big fan of large pills, consider capsules.

*The reason magnesium oxide (and not magnesium citrate) is used to help constipation is because the primary goal is not to use the magnesium in the body, the goal is to draw water into the bowels. 

Do I need Travel Insurance?

We believe the answer is Yes! We require our guests to carry travel insurance, and we think it’s an important safety net for all travelers. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind should something unexpected happen during your journey. Click here to find out more about where to start your search for travel insurance.

And remember what I said in the beginning—don’t take my word for it! Consult with your own physician & investigate these ideas for yourself.  All of the information here is for reference purposes only and is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed healthcare professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health condition or disease. If you are experiencing medical issues, you should contact your medical health care provider.

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