Traveling, whether for enjoyment or for work, can disrupt sleeping schedules and eating habits, and create more stress than we bargained for. I’ve been in airports where the only food to eat was a greasy Chinese buffet, and gone for two days straight without sleep due to cancelled and delayed flights; likewise, I’ve been on trips where I’ve had the opportunity to indulge in fresh, organic, local cuisine and slept for 12 hours at a time. Traveling doesn’t have to be a gamble, however, and there are tips you can use to ensure that you feel good, eat well, and ultimately have an enjoyable experience while you’re away from the comforts of home.
Here are 5 tricks to start incorporating on long flights, cross-country road trips, and everything in between.
1. Keep Moving
When planning for a trip, one of my priorities is to learn more about the natural area I’m visiting or traveling through. Are there nearby parks? Is there a safe place to run in the mornings before work or in the evenings before dinner meetings? Does the hotel I’m staying at have a gym? Staying active while traveling is essential. This study found that travelers who participated in active travel during their trips retained, and in some cases, improved upon, their health (although long-term effects on weight loss were less clear). Additionally, movement is necessary for relieving anxiety, keeping clarity of mind (particularly important for business travelers), and even staying regular, as this study found.
What to do: Before a flight or long driving day, try to squeeze in 20-30 minutes for some activity: a quiet sunrise run or a circuit workout done from the comfort of your living room will set your tone for the rest of the day. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, consider going for a walk or jog, especially if you’ve traveled through time zones. This article discusses the effects of exercise when experiencing jet leg. I myself have found that exercise can actually help the occasionally devastating affects of jet lag, especially for work travel productivity. If a gym or park isn’t accessible, making use of the hotel stairs or even the room’s furnishings (think tricep dips off the chair, or push-ups on the floor) can help.
2. Stay With Your Nutrition
Nutrition can be hard to stay on top of, particularly because large portions of the United States, not to mention abroad, are literal food deserts. Pre-planning can go a long way in ensuring that you’re receiving the necessary nutrients and calories to function well and strong. I like to prepare snacks so that I’m never without something to tide me over until my next meal. Hard-boiling eggs is convenient and easy, but can have an offensive odor to others on flight or in the car. Try packing a salad-in-a-jar, like the one described in this article, so that you only need to grab a packet of dressing, or some oil and vinegar, at the airport before your flight. Other options include Buddha bowls, like this one here, that can use any number of ingredients that need to be used up before you leave town.
What to do: Make a plan before you head out. Will your hotel, motel, or campsite have food available? Is there a small kitchen where you’ll be able to cook? It often pays both economically and nutritionally to bring along some staples like protein powders, oats, dried fruit, or bars in case your options are limited. When going out to eat, look for food that is most similar to what you’d make at home to avoid unhealthy oils, sugars, and in some cases, food poisoning or contamination. That isn’t to say that there’s no time to simply enjoy yourself and let loose, but if your work travel is consistent, it may pay to choose health over convenience.
3. Use Essential Oils To Minimize Stress
This one is self-explanatory and, while simple, extremely effective. Essential oils have become popular over the last several years and for good reason: they can be used to reduce anxiety, relieve pain, aid with digestion, and even help depression. Each oil, however, has a different use so it’s important to find one that works for you and your body. I like to bring lavender essential oil with me when I travel, especially on long plane rides when the air is stale and the smells are anything but pleasant. Dabbing a drop or two on my wrists or underneath my nose helps relax any nerves I may have about the flight. Not to mention, others around me often comment on the pleasant smell.
What to do: Experiment with various essential oils to find what works for you. Tea tree oil may be beneficial to those who are nervous about getting sick while on vacation, while eucalyptus strengthens the immune system.
4. Bring Along Sleep Supplements (it’s not what you think)
I like to use supplements to help me sleep my best, but they’re not what you think. I don’t bring over-the-counter sleep medicine or even use melatonin anymore. Rather, I try to incorporate the above solutions (diet, activity, de-stressing my travel in ways that I can) along with help from the less-subtle sleep distractions like technology, bright lights, and noise. Interrupted sleep can be minimized by simply avoiding electronics or television one hour before sleep time. Additionally, not-so-obvious light sources like flashing camera and phone chargers or under-the-door hallway light can mess with your body’s circadian rhythm. If your hotel window coverings let light through, simply drape a bathroom towel over the window to create total darkness. This will help your body remember that it’s dark, which means it’s time to sleep. Other helpful “supplements” are eye covers and earplugs. Loud noise and flashing lights can be eliminated easily with these two additions.
What to do: When you arrive at your destination, assess any potential disturbances and plan your sleep accordingly. Do you have loud neighbors across the hallway? Is there light from the street shining through the window? Turn off your phone, don your sleep mask, stuff in your ear plugs, and sleep!
5. Go With The Flow
I’m not someone who likes to go with the flow–I prefer to plan, rehearse, and prepare for most scenarios, but this can often be detrimental to my own health. If the thought of having to research where you’re going to eat, how you’re going to exercise, and how well you’re going to sleep stresses you out to the point of creating anxiety, it’s not worth the potential health benefits. Stress causes a number of serious health problems, not to mention it has the ability to ruin a fun family vacation or an important business deal.
What to do: Let go. Let go of any expectations you may have for what you’ll be able to eat and do and how you’ll sleep while traveling and be grateful when you are able to eat well, move strong, and sleep long. Traveling often brings to light many variables that are out of our control, but knowing that you’ll eventually be back home to your everyday routine can be reassuring.