Travelling can be a beast – between the sun-cream, sweating, insect bites, insect repellent, pollution, smog, fried food, congested cities, old exhaust fume-filled rickety buses and many, many others things, it can feel like a mission to stay healthy on the road.
I have certainly felt this in relation to all aspects above. All the exhaust fumes are a lot to handle but even more so are the insect bites. At this stage I´ve been bitten by mosquitoes, sand flies, a spider and more recently bed bugs (by far the worst because there is also the added fear of them getting in your stuff and bringing them with you on your travels!!). Gone are my fearless check-in´s to hostels and blissful nights of sleep. Now my routine consists of scouring the room, lifting up the mattress and covers, inspecting all the frame and generally going round and round to try and look for any tell-tale signs. Since been bitten, it has been an education! In all my years of travel I have been unaffected (and I really hope I have that box ticked and never encounter bed bugs again in my life!).
Also gone are the days of enjoying your freshly cleaned skin after a shower. More times than not after a shower, either a clammy layer of sweat appears almost instantaneously due to the humidity, or it is necessary to dose yourself in insect repellent to try ward off any critters looking to feed on your skin.
I struggle a lot with the insect repellent because at home I am so conscious of what products I use on my skin and try as much as possible to avoid the nasty chemical laced products. For example, I buy natural/organic products for my shampoo, toothpaste, face cream, conditioner, shower gel, make-up, face wash etc and the same I try to apply to food (as unprocessed as possible), so it´s a battle for me. But I look at it in the form of damage limitation and sometimes the insect repellent is a necessary evil, but I have found a system which ensures I´m not using it everyday.
Food on the other hand, no more than at home, often comes down to being prepared. I find if I´m out and about without prior planning, I end up reaching for some cheap and cheerful street food (which is usually a deep fried empanada or some other grease encased food). However, with a little research in advance, there are some amazing, cheap vegetarian/healthy restaurants/cafes to be found in each place I´ve been so far. Colombia especially has really impressed me with the food quality and options available. Most countries I´ve been too so far, all have street vendors that sell freshly chopped fruit and juices, so it´s always good to look out for those spots as well.
So after a few two months on the road, below are my tips to try and stay healthier(!) while travelling:
- No matter what, always use a high quality SPF cream for your face (I brought the Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF 50 with me)
- Thoroughly wash your face morning & night (all that pollution builds up)
- Pay attention to trends and what´s happening to your skin/body. For example, I´ve noticied when I go to a new place, the insects love to feed on me so I need to use insect repellent for the first day or two and then I´m fine (saves having to use it unnecessarily everyday)
- Try to stock up on some supermarket basics so you always have a snack between meals (crackers, peanut butter, nuts, fruit)
- Google good, cheap restaurants options where ever you are (some of the best places I´ve found weren´t in the Lonely Planet)
- Talk to the locals, tour guides or reception staff for any good healthy recommendations for food
- Buy a tea-tree bar of soap for showering with (I feel it helps with any bites etc while also not being so sweet smelling to help attract more insects)
- Have your main meal in the middle of the day. Most restaurants have a ´Menu del Dia´where you get a starter, main and juice (some places also offer a dessert as well). Usually this is typical, local food (soup, rice, salad & meat, most places can offer a veggie option as well like beans!) but I´ve found it´s pretty tasty and it will help save funds as well (as opposed to overpriced ´Western´food).
- Hold your breath for a couple of seconds when that crazy chicken bus passes you, pumping out thick black smoke
- Look for activities in each place. Generally I find when travelling you move more anyway as you are exploring various places but often I will actively seek out yoga or salsa classes as well for the extra benefit
- Most hostels offer free breakfast included (often bread, fruit, cereal etc) I usually just opt for the fruit option but some hostels give eggs which is always a bonus!
- Look for hostels that offer free activities as well (often lots do!)
- Always carry lavender, tea tree, tiger balm or some antiseptic cream, so when you do get bitten you can react quickly and try lessen the itch and longevity
- And when that itch kicks in…I wish I had a solution!!! Do ANYTHING to distract yourself from scratching…it´s brutal!
- Take some respite every now and again in the mountains/highlands to recharge and breathe fresh air in your lungs