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How to stay healthy, alert, and stress-free while traveling

Written by Mr. WellCultured, Saturday, June 4th, 2011 in Culture, Fitness, Getting Things Done

Because traveling can be incredibly stressful and travel stops/airports commonly feature more junk food than they do good food, it’s incredibly difficult to travel and remain fit. Still, remaining fit while traveling isn’t entirely impossible — here’s how to fight against the inevitable.

When Flying

Flying is always a major hassle health-wise, as air travelers are always at the mercy of airport schedules and rarely get the opportunity to escape from pre-made meals and the like. Still, with a little bit of effort, you can stay healthy through the entire trip.

Eating Healthy

The most important thing to remember with flying is that no matter what, eat healthy and avoid junk food. Junk food is plentiful in airports/on airplanes and incredibly tempting, so avoid it all you can. High carb, high calorie, high sugar, and low protein snacks do virtually nothing for you other than give you temporary energy boosts that are followed by large (and incredibly tiring) crashes. Sweet sodas, pastries, pizzas, heavily fried Asian dishes, and typical “American cuisine” can all ruin your diet and make you feel incredibly sluggish — the last thing you want to feel on an airplane. If you must eat at an airport, stick to things like whole wheat sandwiches (wraps aren’t much better and often contain the same amount of carbs) with lots of meat and veggies, protein bars, healthy trail mix, and the like. Worst case scenario, carry protein bars or the like with you.

While eating healthy, make sure to stay hydrated. Airplane air is recycled and incredibly dry, and it can make life somewhat miserable. While a little bit of (diet) soda won’t kill you, try to drink water or other fluids often to prevent yourself from feeling sick. Don’t be tempted to get Gatorade or similar drinks — they are often incredibly calorie-dense, which is precisely what you don’t need when you sit around on an airplane.

Finally, carry gum. Chewing gum is a great way to avoid problems with inner ear pain that result from changes in pressure, especially during takeoff and landing. Don’t feel like you have to chew it all the time — just chew it if you begin to feel the pressure/pain.

Carry Less

The next big thing to remember is to travel light and avoid unnecessary hassles. Because bag checking fees can be exorbitant, many people now try to lug around two carry-ons (usually a briefcase and a mini-suitcase) in order to save money. Don’t do this: most planes cannot fit all of the luggage overhead, and the stress involved in hauling around everything and fitting it in is often not worth the hassle. Instead, it often is better to suffer the luggage checking fee and attempt to recoup the loss via other methods (like being flexible with flight time), effectively allowing you to carry less with you from airport to airport. Carrying less means you have to haul around less, makes you feel less burdened, and generally makes the whole process leagues less stressful than it sometimes can be.

No matter what you carry with you, carry as little as necessary. Chances are, you have no need to pack an industrial amount of toiletries or electronic gear — less is more, especially when you can get what you need on the other end from hotel clerks or family. Pack clothing that does double or triple duty — avoid specialty clothing and take with you only what you can use repeatedly in order to lessen the amount you have to pack. When possible, wear a single double-sided belt (ideally a dark brown/black one), wear shoes that work with all your outfits, avoid excess jewelry or the like, and pack the most versatile shirts you own. This is the kind of situation when “travel-sized” toiletries and “tester” cologne sizes are preferable, if you must carry them at all.

Make Life Simple

No matter where you fly, you will have to go through security, potential TSA bag inspections, and a number of other hurdles to get to your destination. Expect them, prepare for them, and learn to handle them.

Preparing for security checkpoints is a breeze. Wear as little metal as possible (no jewelry, no coins in your pocket, etc). Chances are your shoes and belt will always set off a metal detector, so take them off ahead in line and carry them with you. Slip-on shoes are nice, but not necessary — if you’re fast enough, it will never matter. Always expect to be stripped down to one layer of clothing, so remove blazers and jackets as well, keeping only your ticket and wallet. Once through security, grab your stuff, go to a nearby bench (as there are always benches a few feet away from the security exit) and put your stuff back on. Easy.

Similarly, make life easy when boarding/waiting on a plane. When the first boarding announcement is made (which is always first class, meaning you likely won’t have a reason to get up) turn off  your phone, put away everything, grab your boarding pass, quickly learn your seat number, and wait. Once you get on the plane, put your bag away, sit down, buckle up, and don’t mess around. Many people will be scrambling to put away their oversized suitcases and the like, so get out of their way as they cause trouble and hit other passengers with their suitcases.

Finally, this is fairly obvious but it should be noted: act normally. Don’t try to make a point by complaining if you get patted down or the like — while arguably the TSA is more about security theater than actual security, often halfassed “protests” do nothing other than inconvenience other passengers and irritate TSA officials who have nothing to do with Federal policy. Similarly, if you are traveling abroad, expect to be given the third degree — as an international traveler you are always suspect, so suck it up and prepare to be cordial. There are plenty of opportunities to complain about security or customs policy that do not involve making a line of sleep-deprived travelers wait on you.

When Driving

Driving is arguably a better way to travel for your health, as in many cases you have much more control over your activities and the like. Still, here are some things to keep in mind.

Avoid Food Temptation

For shorter trips, it’s always best to bring your own food — as lame as it may be to bring something from home, what you pack will always be healthier (and in some cases tastier) than what a fast food joint can provide. Much like air travel, small and healthy options like protein bars and tea can be great ways to stay healthy, hydrated, and relatively alert.

If you must give in

Of course, sometimes you can’t avoid stopping at a fast food restaurant — if you’ve run out of food supplies, are on a longer trip, or simply need a change of pace, there’s really nothing inherently wrong with stopping for food.

With that being said, be picky about where you eat. While all fast food restaurants have done a good job at making their food healthier (or at least relatively healthier), most still feature fried calorie bombs that do nothing but make you fat. Almost without question, healthier fast food chains like Chic-Fil-A, Subway, and Panera Bread are preferable to “fat farms” like KFC and Burger King. Don’t be deluded into getting a salad or the like — often, those meals are just as bad (if not worse) than the fattier options. Most, if not all, fast food joints now have menus with nutritional information available, so no matter where you go, you should be fairly equipped to choose what to eat.

As with any dietary option, look for options that have a lot of lean protein, a healthy serving of veggies, a little bit of carbs, and minimal oils, dressings, and the like. If you can, drink only water or diet drinks — avoid juices and sodas, which contain a high amount of sugar and caffeine.

If you’re entirely lost, just remember a few rules of thumb: Mustard is almost always okay, mayonnaise is almost never so. The more bread or breading, the worse it is for you. Most (if not all) fried things are not worth eating if you want to stay healthy. Salads are only good for you if you avoid the excess added dressing and cheese. The more cheese, the more fat and calories. Sugary coffees are just as bad as, if not worse than, sugary sodas. Beans, lean meats, and eggs are phenomenal sources of protein that are almost always a good bet wherever you are.

Staying Awake

We’ve all heard the horror stories about truck drivers eating pep pills and drinking coffee to stay awake — don’t be that kind of person.

First off, make planned, deliberate stops. If you’re traveling for longer than maybe two hours, plan to make stops at certain locations in order to take breaks, relax your legs, eat, use the restroom, and generally take a breather. Never drive more than about 10 hours per day, and arrange your travel schedule such that you have a hotel to stop at every 10 or so hours of your trip (if not sooner). Driving marathons are pointless, unrealistic, and often result in drowsy, dangerous driving — stop to smell the flowers and you won’t end up wrapped around a telephone pole near them.

Second off, caffeine is fine — in moderation. As a general rule, there is nothing wrong with a little coffee or soda to keep you awake, just avoid consuming it in excess and avoid drinking/eating too much sugar along with it. Too much caffeine can make you feel sick and queasy, and it often dulls your body to its effects over time. If sugar is eaten in tandem with caffeine, it can often result in a huge “crash” that makes you drowsier than you were before — so skip the sugary sodas, coffees, and teas. To be honest, your stimulant consumption should go no further than caffeine — most other stimulants are not only illegal, but they are also incredibly unhealthy. As expensive as they are, small energy “shots” like Five Hour Energy are actually preferable to larger drinks like Rockstar and Red Bull — the latter tend to contain more sugar and more liquid with no more caffeine than the former, meaning the former is preferable so you can get back to healthy drinks like tea, coffee, or water faster.

Finally, if you can, have someone else drive for a while. Sharing the burden often results in a better ride, and it allows you to take breaks to play portable games or something to relax your mind.

Pack Light

As a final note, just like I mentioned in the air travel section, pack light, even if you have room otherwise. Many people tend to overpack if they can, since they can fit a huge amount of stuff into their vehicle. Don’t do this — it’s pointless and excessive, and few people would ever need as much as many travel with. Minimalism is the name of the game — it gets you better gas mileage and allows you much more flexibility in your travel. It should also be noted that many people return from trips (especially vacations) with more than they left with, so leaving room is preferable if you plan to bring home souvenirs.

When Riding

As a final note, many of the above rules apply in the context of bus/train travel as much as they do with plane travel or driving alone. Naturally, the context may vary — you may have to pack more, less, or generally expect different circumstances. Moreover, in many cases, you won’t have a choice of where to eat. Still, the same rules apply — eat as healthy as you can, carry food with you if you’re worried about your diet, pack less to worry less, and generally be prepared for any sort of administrative crap you’ll have to put up with.

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