How to Stay Healthy While Slow Traveling
2023 brought more travel adventures than I have ever experienced in one year. In the spring I took a road trip through California’s Central Coast and down to Los Angeles. In summer I flew to my second home in France, then slow traveled through the United Kingdom for six weeks, and returned to France. In the fall, I spent two weeks with family in Illinois before heading back to Portland.
Unfortunately, each journey brought an unwelcome travel companion — a nasty virus — one cold/chest infection and two bouts of Covid with bronchitis. I kept my vaccines up to date, masked up on planes, trains, buses and other crowded places, washed my hands often and used hand sanitizer. These were, and still are, good preventive measures, but they didn’t keep me from getting sick.
There are several reasons why we’re more likely to fall ill while traveling. We’re often in crowded places, exposing ourselves to new strains of Covid and other viruses. We tend to indulge more in unhealthy food and drink choices. After all, we’re on vacation. But when we're slow traveling for weeks, too many indulgences can take a toll on our health. Even though traveling brings us new experiences and delights, it can also be stressful. All these factors have a major impact on our ability to fight off an infection.
One of my resolutions (or intentions) for the New Year is to take better care of my health and boost my immunity — especially while traveling. From the lessons learned on my recent travels, I’ve come up with several ways to stay healthy and energized throughout the journey.
Stick to a healthy diet and don’t over indulge
Easier said than done, I know. When I travel, my healthy eating habits want to go on vacation too. I’m in a new country or city, and I may only be here once. Of course, I want to try the regional specialties no matter how sweet or fattening they may be. Why would I leave London without tasting a Cornish pasty and a pint at the pub, or the south of France without a chocolatine? Or Italy without a gelato? Not to mention all the other new and interesting temptations bombarding me every day.
It doesn't take long to stray from my normal no-white-flour, low-sugar, low-salt diet of mostly vegetables, lean meats and fish. And while it’s one thing to treat yourself during a week’s vacation, it’s quite another when traveling for several weeks or months. Too many indulgences can suppress the immune system and increase inflammation in the body.
All those treats are often a way of soothing myself. Because although I love to travel, it can be stressful at times. Now I limit them to once or twice a week and find other ways to pamper my body, mind and spirit, like taking a hot bath or getting a massage.
The best way to eat healthy while traveling is to…
Prepare your own food
Eating a healthy diet when the majority of your meals are from a restaurant is a challenge. Unless you’re in a large and progressive city, it’s hard to find healthy choices. Plus you have no control over the amount of sodium and fat, or even the types of fat, used to prepare that meal. You also increase your risk of a food-borne illness.
That’s one of the reasons I prefer to stay in a vacation rental rather than a hotel. Even a small kitchenette will allow me to prepare my usual breakfast of sugar-free muesli and yogurt with fresh fruit. And I can also make simple, healthy, one-pan meals of sautéed vegetables with meat, chicken or fish. If I can’t find organic produce in the supermarket, I shop the local farmer’s markets for the freshest vegetables.
Get plenty of sleep
Just as eating well while traveling increases your energy, your immunity and your enjoyment of your time away, so does getting a good night’s sleep.
Stick to your usual sleep schedule. Don’t buy early morning tickets to the museum if you’re not an early bird. There’s nothing wrong with taking it easy in the morning. Sit in a café, sip coffee and people watch. Or simply enjoy the view from your Airbnb accommodation. I’m often working while traveling (digital nomad style) and will spend the morning enjoying my healthy breakfast, catching up on emails and writing. Then I'll spend the afternoon exploring.
And don’t forget to pack a sleep mask so you won’t be woken up too early if your bedroom doesn’t have blackout curtains.
Don’t overbook your days
In addition to eating well and sleeping well, it’s important not to run yourself ragged. Slow traveling is a marathon, not a sprint. Pick one prominent place to see each day and leave time for meandering and spontaneous adventures. If you have one day when you know you’ll be walking for hours, plan a hop-on, hop-off bus tour or a museum visit for the next day. Schedule in a couple of days with absolutely nothing on your itinerary. This gives you time to explore places you discover along the way or that locals recommend.
By pacing yourself and keeping a lighter schedule, you’ll lower your stress level and boost your immunity.
Listen to your body
I left the most important tip for last and the one I learned the hard way last year. Listen to your body! You know your body better than anyone else. And your body knows you. Don’t ignore the signals it’s sending you. Your body will tell you it’s time to take a rest, even though your mind is determined to see the next attraction on your city excursion. Your body will tell you when you’re pushing too hard.
I’m resolved to listen to my body from now on, and to follow all of these tips on my next journey.
I wish you safe and healthy travels in the New Year. And don’t worry if you do get sick while traveling through Europe. Help is easily accessible. Look for my upcoming post on how to seek medical aid in a foreign country.