Stay Healthy While Traveling...Naturally!

Traveling can put you—and your immune system!—outside of your comfort zone. Here’s how to stay healthy while traveling, from preventing diarrhea and the flu to combatting motion sickness and altitude sickness.  Here are some suggestions, divided by bodily systems*:  Digestive System, Immune System, Musculoskeletal System, Altitude Sickness, and General Health and Energy. When there is a product link, that is a product I can personally recommend.  For information about Malaria in South and Southeast Asia, please see our blog over at RetreaTours.

Taking care of your digestive system: prevent diarrhea (and constipation!)

Perhaps the greatest fear while traveling is being chained to a toilet. However, there are some easy ways to prevent diarrhea on holiday. Most importantly, keep your mouth shut in the shower and brush your teeth with bottled water. Even if the local water isn’t harmful, per se, it still harbors different bacteria than your body is accustomed to. After spending 10—11 months a year overseas, the tap water in America still makes me a little ill for a few days whenever I go visit, and I grew up on the stuff! You may over time get used to “local water,” but when you only have a week or 2 for vacation, why waste any time feeling sick? To that end, also make sure your cups, plates, and serving utensils are clean and dry, not still wet with tap water. 

Here is our general diarrhea protocol: if you get diarrhea, take one dose of Imodium (something to stop the diarrhea). If you are still experiencing diarrhea in 24 hours, then consider moving on to an antibiotic like Cipro. Don’t jump immediately to the antibiotic because it could be a whole host of things causing diarrhea, from jet lag to new spices in the food, and no one wants to abuse antibiotics.

Conversely, some people tend toward constipation on holiday. Most often it’s due to not drinking enough water, from the plane ride to your destination to the first few exciting days. Make sure you’re still drinking ~6-8 glasses of water a day. If you know you tend to get ‘stopped up’ on holiday, make sure you bring your laxative of choice. Magnesium (~400-800 mg) is a nice gentle choice (read more below).

Here are some supplement suggestions for you:

  •  Probiotics.  These are the healthy bacteria that live in your gut; I recommend Jarrow brand Jarrodophilus EPS because it is shelf-stable (no need for refrigeration), has a good blend of bacteria strains, and has a guaranteed potency until the expiration date. You should be able to get this at any local health food store in the U.S. or online (it’s in an orange box).  If you can’t get that brand, get one that has a potency guaranteed until the expiration date and has at least 5 billion bacteria (if it is lower, you can just take several pills to get that amount); get a shelf-stable product, as you don’t want to have to worry about finding refrigeration on vacation. Probiotics will also be useful if you do find yourself needing antibiotics; taking them while you’re on antibiotics will replenish the healthy bacteria that your body needs. (Just take them as far away from your antibiotics as possible; for example, if you’re taking antibiotics in the morning and night, take the probiotics at noon.) This is also where local probiotic sources are your best friend, like the curd (yogurt) in India and Nepal, the natto and miso in Japan, the kimchi in Korea; the more fermented, the better!
  • GSE or Grapefruit Seed Extract. A powerful natural antibiotic, you can get this in liquid or tablet/capsule form (Nutribiotics is the best brand). The liquid has a very strong taste, so I recommend the tablets, and you can take 1-2 a day to stay on top of any “bugs” you may have consumed (also good for preventing cold/flu).
  • Activated Charcoal. This can be a more gentle alternative to Imodium, as activated charcoal capsules can help bind stools and also remove systemic toxins due to their generous surface area. It can turn stools black, so don’t be alarmed.  Country Life, Nature’s Way and Solaray are good brands.
  • Ginger.  If you are susceptible to motion sickness, consider ginger capsules or candied ginger as an anti-nausea for any car/train/place/boat rides. Sea-Bands are also delightful, as they activate a powerful acupressure point on the body that fights nausea.
  • Magnesium  Magnesium can pull double (or even triple!) duty in your travel bag. In higher dosages, magnesium can act as a laxative by drawing water into the bowels (just make sure you’re well-hydrated!)  Magnesium is an electrolyte that is crucial for healthy muscle action and can go a long way to relieving muscle cramping (be it from long days of walking on tour or some intense yoga sessions!)  Magnesium can also be very calming to the mind and helps some people get to sleep for readily. Talk about an all-purpose mineral! I prefer the Magnesium Citrate form.

Musculoskeletal aches & pains

Let’s face it—you tend to put your body through the ringer on vacation! More walking, exploring, swimming—you’re playing hard! And on a yoga retreat, you’ll be stretching your limit even more! Here’s how to keep your body happy.

  • Turmeric    This innocuous orange-tinted spice is one of the best things you can do for your body! A potent anti-inflammatory, turmeric also has tonic effects on the liver and brain. For your trip, though, you my want to consider turmeric supplements for any aches and pains and soreness due to extended walking, playing, or yoga sessions. Get a 95% standardized turmeric supplement (this assures a certain amount of the active ingredients, curcuminoids; otherwise, in regular spice mixes, these curcuminoids only come in at 1 to 5%). Also, your turmeric supplement should be mixed with a black pepper extract (BioPerine) that increases absorption significantly. (Click here for another piece I wrote about turmeric)
  • Arnica   This simple homeopathic packs a wallop on sore muscles and also bumps and bruises. You can take it internally (I like the 30x by Hylands) or use it as a cream topically (or better yet—both!)    If you’re interested in a topical arnica, I might recommend you look into Topricin; it contain arnica and so much more, and it a truly phenomenal product!
  • Magnesium (see above, in digestion, too)  This mineral helps defeat muscle cramps and soreness!  Aim for 400 mg/day for muscle-related usage.

Immune Boosting (PRE-TRIP!)

Traveling is stressful—even when it’s good stress, it still taxes the body. From the late nights packing to the long flights, you need to give your body as many resources as possible and make sure you are strong before the start of the trip.

Make sure you continue any regular health practices you have—yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, etcetera. Make sure you tell your Acupuncturist that you will be traveling so they can give you an immune tune-up before your departure!

  • Vitamin D   Consider a Vitamin D3 supplement to help boost your body’s defenses and modulate the immune system. If you’ve tested low in the last or you do not get much unprotected time in the sun, consider supplements 2,000 to 5,000 IU every day for a month before your trip. Please check with your doctor to confirm this would be appropriate for you. Read more here:
  • Astragalus   The herb astragalus is still relatively unknown in the west but is an enormously important immune booster in Chinese medicine (where it’s known as Huang Qi).  This is not something to start taking when you’re sick, but something to start taking about a month in advance to increase the body’s defenses. I trust the Gaia brand for this herb.
  • Reishi Mushrooms   Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) have long been used to enhance the immune system; this is something you can take both as a preventative and if you do fall ill. A mushroom blend (by the myco-master Paul Stamets) is also a good option.
  • Cordyceps Mushrooms   This specific mushroom is used throughout Asia for lung health and general stamina. If you know you’re headed to an area of the world that has particularly bad air quality (Beijing, New Delhi, etc) and you know your lungs are your weak spot, you may want to supplement with cordyceps leading up to your trip. Once again, I prefer Paul Stamets’ product line.
  • And most importantly—diet and lifestyle!  Make sure you stay well-rested and hydrated before your trip, avoiding too much sugar and alcohol (which inhibit the immune system).

If you DO get sick on your trip…

  • Andrographis    I don’t know what I would do without andrographis, another virtually unknown herb in the west! Called “Chuan Xin Lian” in Chinese medicine, this herb means business! A potent antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory, this is on my “must bring” list. Taking two 500 mg doses per day is a place to start (again, checking with your doctor that this works for you). This might be my NUMBER ONE supplement to take on the road. 
  • Counter Attack by Rainbow Light   This blend is wonderfully balanced, in my opinion (and contains andrographis, to boot!)  Jam packed with antibacterials and antivirals, as well as Vitamin C and Zinc, it’s handy thing to have in your medicine cabinet year-round. Read more here:
  • Homeopathic remedies   Homeopathic blends are nice a gentle, effective way to treat symptoms while on vacation. I love the “Flu” formula by Hylands, and I know of no better sinus clearer than “Sinusalia” by Boiron.  Check with a local homeopath or naturopath to see what other remedies might work best in your kit.
  • And most importantly…. rest and stay hydrated. Don’t push yourself too hard and make your self worse; I know you want to see and do everything on vacation, but better to miss one day while resting than to miss the whole thing because you’ve pushed yourself too hard! Also, bring along the medicines and herbs that you know work for YOU!

Altitude Sickness Prevention

This is definitely something you’ll need to start 1 to 2 months in advance of your high altitude trip.  Speak to your doctor for a prescription for Diamox if you know you are prone to altitude sickness, but try these preventative techniques, as well!

  • Chlorophyll    The theory here is that we’re building your blood with this concentrated chlorophyll, allowing the blood cells to carry more oxygen. I prefer the Herbs, Etc brand ChlorOxygen. Take as directed.
  • Ginkgo Biloba   This herb, most widely known for its effect on memory boosting, has proven useful in altitude sickness. 120 mg/day before and during your trip is the preferred does, and it is important you get a good brand of Ginkgo. I recommend Doctor’s Best brand. Read more here:
  • Rhodiola    This adaptogenic herbs grows in harsh climates, such as the Himalayas, so it makes sense that it helps people adapt to those areas and altitude. Anecdotally, people have been using for centuries it to prevent altitude sickness; more recent studies have shown it is effective in increased athletic endurance (another bonus when traveling in high altitude areas). Take this herb as directed on the bottle 1-2 months before your departure.
  • Aspirin or Ibuprofen  Taking aspirin or ibuprofen preventatively (starting 24 hours before you get to altitude) can help address high-altitude headaches; see more at

General Health and Energy

Depending on the length of your trip and your state of being, you may want to consider bringing some supplements for general health.  Here are some ideas:

  • Your preferred multi-vitamin    Some destinations may not have a wide rainbow of foods readily available, so you want to make sure you’re getting all your minerals and vitamins.
  • Sublingual (or chewable) methylcobalamin form of Vitamin B-12   Vitamin B 12 is only found in some animal proteins, and even then, absorbing B12 through the digestive tract can go awry in a few places. (Many people don’t create the hormone necessary for the stomach to pick up the B12, or the area in the small intestine where it is absorbed is compromised by IBS or another bowel issue). That is why it’s smart to get a sublingual or chewable lozenge (or to get B12 shots from your healthcare provider). My favorite is the 1,000 mcg (1 mg) lozenge by Jarrow.  B12 is going to give you that extra bit of get-up-and-go to make the most of your holiday!
  • Greens powder  Again, your diet may be lacking in greens during your trip, so taking along travel packets of your favorite greens powder to mix in water can be a nice pick-me-up! I prefer the Amazing Grass family of greens (the lemongrass or berry flavor is great with water; get the chocolate for when you get home and can mix it with a milk alternative!)
  • I’m not usually a big proponent of the flu vaccine, but getting the flu on vacation can be an absolute bummer, and I hate when it happens to our guests. So, you may want to consider getting your annual flu shot before the trip begins.

*All of the information here is for reference purposes only and is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed health care 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.