Tips & Tricks: Healthy Travel Hacks

Updated: Oct 29, 2018

[Written Somewhere Over the Pacific Ocean]

Travelling can be a nightmare for passionate [mildly obsessive] health enthusiasts like myself. In my normal daily routine, I enjoy taking care of my mind + body by spending the time to prepare and eat healthy whole plant foods, drink plenty of filtered water, get enough quality sleep, exercise regularly, and do 10 minutes of meditation on one of my many 'mindfulness apps', all in the hopes of becoming that 'super hero wellness ninja warrior' everyone is striving to be... (No? Just me?)


I like to be in control (can you tell?), so being forced to stand in endless queues, talk to grumpy airport staff, eat terrible airplane food, wait in never ending lay overs, sleep in awkward and unnatural positions for hours on end (or not sleep at all for 2 days straight!), is not my idea of fun, and makes me feel like a less shiny and less dignified version of myself than when I left. 

Circa 2005, when I didn't have a clue about health. And when pilots let randoms into their cockpit.

But, I love to travel, so what can I do to make it better ?

I mentioned before that I have had my fair share of flying experiences, visiting every country in the world (except Antarctica) and sometimes getting the incredible opportunity to travel for work. This year alone (2017), I have been on 11 flights, both international and domestic, and it's not even May yet. Luckily, I have managed to finally figure out the 'Fibonacci Formula for Flawless Flying' (see what I did there? 😉)

Okay, seriously now.

I've thought of a quintessential 'Top Ten Tips' to share with you from what I've learnt, and help you not only tolerate travel, but even enjoy it, and hopefully come out the other end feeling (dare I say) human.

1. Check-in This is probably obvious to everyone, but I never used to check-in online before my flight, and I would always get stuck in the crappy middle seat and feel sorry for myself the entire flight [#firstworldproblems]. Checking-in early means less waiting at the airport and an increased likelihood of getting an isle seat, or even an entire row of seats for yourself (which happened to me on my recent red eye flight to New Zealand. Heck yeah to normal horizontal sleeping positions in Economy!).

2. Sleep Speaking of which, sleeping a lot in the days leading up to your flight will help immensely when you inevitably become deprived over the days of flying/transport to the next destination. Sleep is essential for the optimal function of every single part of your mind & body; It affects how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others. Without adequate sleep, you are more likely to have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behaviour, coping with stress, balancing your hormones (especially with appetite and insulin responses), and fighting off common colds/illnesses, just to name a few.

We all suffer from 21st century sleep disrupters --> smart phones, laptops, televisions, caffeine overload, processed junk food, and an ever increasing pressure to 'get more done'. Whatever is your major villain, it's essential to identify and rectify it as soon as possible. Luckily there are some things to help in the meantime: 

- Herbal sleep supplements can be useful. I like 'Sleep Complex', a natural supplement by Swisse, which has magnesium, valerian, licorice, hops, China root, and anemarhena asphodeloides. Speaking of magnesium, it is also very important to use in higher doses for sleep troubles (see Tip #7). I would avoid taking melatonin regularly as it disrupts your body's natural melatonin hormone release, and instead learn to naturally balance this process instead. 

- Avoid caffeine after 2pm. - Avoid technology screens two hours before sleep [I definitely need to take my own advice on this one].

- Try some deep breathing techniques to promote relaxation.

- Try incorporating some herbal teas into your nighttime routine. Chamomile, valerian, lavender, lemon balm, and St John's Wort tea before bed are a few of many great sleepy time tea options (Pukka teas are my favourite). 

3. Food

I mentioned before that I eat a plant based diet; this is for a number of reasons which I will explain in more depth in an upcoming post. But in the meantime, I recommend reading this article, or watching this great TEDx talk from dietitian Julieanna Hever, or, if you have time, this longer but oh so epic talk by Dr. Michael Greger.

When you shift your diet to natural whole plant foods, you not only dramatically decrease your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, you will gain so much health and vitality, and almost immediately notice the difference - gaining energy, clearer skin, easier and more frequent bowel movements, better sleep, better intimacy, fewer colds/illnesses, easier weight loss and muscle gain, and have fewer ailments in general. This is because you are eating the diet most natural for the human anatomy + physiology, and you're filling your body with all your macro and micro nutrient requirements, along with fibre, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. 

Whole foods plant-based meals are now options on most airlines.

When travelling, always order the 'Vegan' option online (usually marked 'VGML'), and/or call the airline up the day before your flight to confirm your order. 

For domestic flights, it's a good idea to eat before at home and/or even bring some easily transportable goods with you, such as oats + cinnamon and a ripe spotty banana(s) in a Tupperware container (just ask for hot water and voila!), or a hummus / beetroot / mustard / lettuce / tomato sandwich. Otherwise you might get stuck with some mystery ingredient food science experiment like this: 

What even is this???

Thanks, but no thanks.

For international flights, some airports have decent plant based food options available (like avocado sushi rolls sans mayo, or vegetable soup) that you can grab before the flight. It's better to fill up on healthy items beforehand so you aren't tempted by all the processed junk food that's handed out in the flight.

Skipping a meal/intermittent fasting until you arrive at your destination is even better, as it will decrease your jet lag overall, although I'll be the first to admit that I often struggle with this strategy, which is why I strive to fuel my body with the best options around.

4. Water Due to the humidity being lower at high altitudes, the oxygen pumped into the plane is 10-50% more dry than what us land dwellers are used to, which leads to quicker dehydration. In addition, the sparing amount of water offered on board, along with the overly salted meals provided, contribute to this problem even more. Dehydration (and low humidity) from flying causes headaches, fatigue, constipation, worsening jet lag, dry eyes and lips, wrinkles, and increases the susceptibility for colds/illnesses. The obvious solution: drink more water. More specifically, focus on filling up your hydration levels before your flight by drinking as much as you can in the hours before boarding (I aim for around 2 litres in the 2 hours pre-flight). Then, fill up your water bottle from a fountain at the airport to bring on flight and sip in the duration. Avoid alcohol and coffee (and soda and juice ect) which are diuretics and contribute to dehydration, and instead opt for water every single time you are offered. Eat water rich fruits and vegetables as often as you can (see tip #3). Ask for a cup of plain hot water and steep one of your own herbal tea bags; I've never had an airline host get annoyed by this request (to my face anyway). Then, after you land, drink another litre or two during the rest of your day. It may seem excessive, but when you realise how much better you feel, it's completely worth the extra trips to the loo.

5. Clothes Trust the girl who has worn one too many yoga pants on a flight when she says that wearing loose breathable clothing is essential for an optimal flight experience.  

Tight clothing restricts blood flow and lymphatic drainage (which is exacerbated by sitting for prolonged periods of time), and also puts pressure on your abdomen and pelvic organs, which can cause general discomfort and maldigestion, but more seriously, it can put you at risk of developing a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and even permanent nerve damage or testicular torsion in some extreme cases ! You will feel the difference by simply switching to light, breathable, loose clothing. I pack some clothes to change into on the plane so I don't need to wear my baggy get up around the airport. I also recommend bringing layers, like a light jumper, to adjust to the flight temperature. There's nothing worse than shivering (or sweating) on a long haul flight when all you want to do is relax.

6. Comfort Packing a few lightweight but comforting items in your carry-on can make a huge difference to your journey.  

Lightweight travel sheet, eye mask, ear plugs, and a variety of teas are my essentials for every flight.

- I always bring with me a variety of herbal teas (green, mint, chamomile, and usually another random one) so I can keep up my hydration but also help digest food/sleep better/feel energised, ect.

- I always pack an eye mask and ear plugs (we've all sat behind a screaming baby before - mad respect to the parents out there in those situations!).

- I also recently bought a lightweight travel sheet which I've used on every single trip this year, and it's so nice to feel warm when freezing air is blasted on you.

- And lastly, essential oils can come in handy: make sure they are organic and can be used on skin (like the DoTerra or Young Living brand). Lavender, peppermint, cedarwood, and eucalyptus are some of my favourites that I like to keep handy.

7. Magnesium This magnificent mineral is abundant in our bodies and is required by all cells and organs for optimal functioning. Some of its main jobs include protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation, contributing to the structural development of bone, and is required for the synthesis of DNA + RNA [kind of bloody important if you ask me]. Our modern lifestyles unfortunately contribute to the depletion of this vital nutrient - travelling being a big culprit I'm sure!

I use an organic magnesium chloride spray which is absorbed topically, spraying it on areas of tension (like neck/shoulders and stomach).  

I also take magnesium oxide tablets to help keep 'regular' when shifting time zones.  

It's also been studied (although not published/peer-reviewed) that floating in Epsom salts/magnesium sulfate (like those trendy 'Floatation Sensory Deprivation Tanks' offer) can rapidly assist in topping up magnesium levels, if you can afford the pricey (but worth it!) sessions. 

Float Tanks can be a good way to absorb magnesium and combat stress.

8. Movement We all know that exercise is good for you, but you can hardly do a BodyPump or yoga class on a plane. I've found that by doing some moderate activity before a flight, or as soon as I land, is the BEST treat I can give myself to get over jet lag asap. Doing some hill/stair sprints, a fast paced yoga sequence of sun salutations and standing postures, or some basic body weight exercises (squats, lunges, push-ups, planks) is like magic for your body when you're travelling, and requires no equipment (just some motivation and inspiration). En route, it's essential to stand up and walk around as often as possible - I usually get up every hour and walk to the back of the plane (near the toilets) just to stretch and move my limbs. The more you move, the easier your food will digest and lymphatic system will pump, reducing bloating, swelling, and fatigue.

9. Organise I already explained this in my previous post, but it's so important that I'm talking about it again. Organising your belongings, especially in your carry on luggage, means finding things easily/quickly and decreases the chance of losing things too. This creates less stress, and we all know by now that stress = bad news bears.

My carry on items are always neatly packed and easily accessible for an easy breezy flying experience..

10. Breath Which brings me to my last tip. I know what it's like to feel stressed and anxious, so much so that for a large part of my life it unfortunately became my natural state. But lately, I've been able to flex my mindfulness muscle more often and can see and feel the difference. There are so many free apps that can assist with breathing techniques: '3 Minute Mindfulness', for example, guides you through the deep breathing process until you can learn to make this habit on your own. 

By taking a few moments to breath deeply and presently, which you can do at any time, you immediately shift your 'flight or fight' state to 'rest and digest' mode, which allows you to make more clear, rational decisions and even enjoy the experience you're having. 

Just a few minutes of conscious breathing a day, especially when travelling, can be the difference between a wonderful and disastrous trip.

Exploring new places is one of the most amazing gifts and privileges I am blessed to have in my life. I want to start (and end) all my journeys on the right foot to gain the maximum amount of positives experiences - I hope you will too! Let me know if any of my suggestions have helped.

"To travel is to live." - Hans Christian Anderson



[p.s. what goes around comes around... so let's be kind]