Travel is exhausting – our bodies are stressed by airplane germs, long days of touring and unusual foods. And when we’re in vacation mode, we may over-indulge in rich foods and alcohol, while we relax our fitness routines. Staying healthy while traveling is especially challenging as we get older! We are more susceptible to airborne germs and slower to bounce back after illness. After falling sick on several of our adventures, we learned to be proactive. We scoured the internet for information about staying healthy while traveling and incorporated some supplements and routines into our travel lifestyle.
Some health challenges are impossible to avoid, but staying fit on the road, and taking some simple health precautions can help us older travelers stay healthy and enjoy our retirement adventures.
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The best defense is a good offense. Stay Healthy while Flying
Boost your Immunity
Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables for a week before you plan to travel. Your body will draw lots of important nutrients from a healthy diet and will be better prepared to handle the stress and germs inherent in air travel. We have begun to take Emergen-C before a long flight. Usually one dose the day before and another at the airport. The extra vitamin C and antioxidants has kept us healthy while flying so far!
To prevent cramping and other symptoms of dehydration, keep your electrolytes in balance. We carry packets of Gatorade powder or Propel powder and add them to our water bottles on long flights as well as after a hot or very active day.
Clean those tray tables
Bring a pack of antibacterial wipes in you carry-on and do a quick swipe of the tray table (and seat-belt buckles) before takeoff. You don’t want to know what previous passengers may have done with that tray table.
Illnesses on cruise ships spread easily. Keep those antibacterial wipes handy for your stateroom. Don’t forget to clean the remote!
Consider wearing/carrying a mask if you’re susceptible to colds and pulmonary infections. Even if you don’t find yourself seated next to a sniffling passenger, the dry, recirculated air on planes can spread germs. I carry a simple paper mask, but there are some silk ones available, some even with travel designs!
Don’t just sit there: move to prevent DVTs while flying
Older adult have a greater risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis, DVT, which can be a life-threatening condition. Most of us don’t need to worry about this on short hops, but long flights overseas can be problematic. Make sure to get up and move every 2 – 3 hours, and wear compression stockings during flight. Consult your doctor if you have risk factors for DVTs.
Last resort – Face masks, etc.
With recent outbreaks of new viruses, wearing a face mask might be advised if you’re traveling to parts of Asia. The recirculated air on a plane increases the likelihood of germ transmission. And similarly, wear a mask if YOU are ill. Be considerate of others on your flight.
Fitness doesn’t take a vacation – Keeping Fit on the Road
Take the stairs
This is our golden rule, especially important on cruises! We may not have time to get in a gym workout but we can get a bit of exercise if we skip the elevator. If you’re cruising on a big ship this may be impossible, but you can certainly do two flights before hitting the elevator button! Every little bit will help you maintain fitness while traveling!
Look for an active tour
Exploring by bike is probably our favorite way to see a new place. We enjoyed the Fat Tire Bike tour in Paris so much that we signed up for the Versailles tour before turning in our bikes. Fun and fitness in one! Biking isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy it, you will love biking in Europe with the well marked bike lanes.
Walking tours are offered in every European city. Seeing a town or city on foot really gives you the opportunity to feel like a part of the city. And, don’t worry, most walking tours include rest stops. We enjoyed an outstanding walking foodies tour in Istanbul, which was the highlight of our time in the city.
If you’re a cruiser, look into active excursions. Most lines now offer these tours – hiking, kayaking, etc. Try something new. Consult the ship’s shore excursion staff to see how difficult the outing would be for an older adult.
Some lines offer on-your-own equipment for use while in port.
- Uniworld Cruises keeps bikes on-board for its river cruise guests
- Windstar Cruises watersports platform offers kayaks and paddle-boards
You might just find a new favorite activity, but even if you don’t, you will feel virtuous as you approach the buffet line. And you’ll be able to share with friends that it is possible to stay fit while cruising!
Challenge Yourself with a fitness monitor
Keep up your daily step or calorie goals, or better yet, aim to increase those goals by 10%. This is not a hard thing to do if you’re touring cities, but might require a bit more imagination if you’re on the beach. In that case you could aim for meeting your goals every other day, waking early for a beach walk or bike ride.
Once you’ve committed to a goal, a fitness monitor will keep you honest.
Find time for the gym
Most hotels and cruise ships have a gym, and many of these have gorgeous views. Take 30 minutes from your day to exercise. Leave the pool area for a half hour, or fit in a workout before dinner. As we usually are doing a lot of walking during the day, I use this time to stretch and do some upper body work. Maintaining fitness while traveling will pay off during the trip and when you’re back at home.
If you don’t expect to have access to a gym, take a brisk walk, and bring a resistance band so you can do a simple workout in your room. There are lot of sample workouts online if you’re stumped with what you can do.
Food for thought
Unless you are a long term traveler, don’t be super strict with your diet. Food and dining is a big part of every culture and you should explore that, just as you’d explore the arts and history.
But be careful with street food. Locals may have no issue with foods offered by street vendors, but it’s just not worth the risk for most of us. Stomach issues can ruin a great trip. An exception here is to take a reputable food tour. We loved our Istanbul on Food tour where we sampled authentic Turkish foods with no bad consequences.
But do eat a balanced diet
Fill up on fruits and vegetables when you can. And drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. You’ll be able to enjoy the desserts without overindulging.
Note: investigate water quality before your trip and carry a reusuable bottle with you. If you’re traveling to an area with less than sanitary conditions, include a water filter in your packing, or fill your reusable bottle in the hotel gym. Avoid buying water bottles as 1. they only add to the plastic pollution of the country you’re visiting, and 2. there have been reports of vendors refilling water bottles from local sources.
Be Prepared – in case you don’t stay healthy!
Pack a Pocket Drugstore
Carry some basic medicine and first aid supplies with you. We prepare a small pouch (cubelet by Tom Bihn) with aspirin, antihistamines, Imodium, throat lozenges, etc., – enough for 24 hours. Though pharmacies are usually easy to find, it’s not something we want to do at 1 am.
If you are traveling overseas with prescription medicine, have a copy of the prescription or the original pill bottle with you. If packing space is restricted, take a picture of the pill bottle to have on your phone.
If you are traveling on safari, or to a similarly remote destination, ask if your doctor recommends a prescription of ciprofloxacin or similar, an antibiotic that will treat most bacterial infections. We’ve carried one on all our adventure trips, but thankfully, haven’t needed to take it yet!
Traveling is exhausting and a tired body is more susceptible to illness. As older adults we need to be particularly careful not to over-schedule our days. This can be difficult as there’s so much we want to do and see, but it’s important to allow your body to recover.
Take a day off touring occasionally. Schedule in a spa day, or a beach picnic. Your body (and your mind) will thank you.
Try to get enough sleep. This isn’t always easy if you’re away from home. I pack a pillow case (or a pillow if it’s a road trip) that helps me fall asleep. A little bit of home on the road.
Traveling is one of the greatest pleasures in retirement. But it is important to accept that staying healthy while traveling is more difficult as we age. These simple steps for the older traveler should help you keep fit and happy on the road!
Read also: 10 Tips for Worry Free Travel
How do you stay healthy while traveling? We’re always looking for good suggestions!