How to Stay Healthy While Traveling

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As many of you know, I’m currently on a 16-city tour to promote my new book, Your Personal Paleo Code. I’m a little over a week in, and I have about two and a half weeks to go. Needless to say, the travel schedule is pretty hectic, but I’m happy to report that I’m feeling great and continuing to enjoy myself. (We’ll see how I feel at the end of January!)

With an itinerary this grueling, self-care becomes even more crucial than it is in my day-to-day life. Here are my top tips for staying healthy and sane while on the road.

#1: Stay active

Staying active can be difficult while on the road, since travel often involves long periods of sitting (whether in airplanes, trains, or cars). Yet I’ve found that it’s one of the most important things to make sure doesn’t slip while I’m away from home. Exercise stimulates the immune system, releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals), and keeps your brain sharp. Here’s how I stay active during my travel:

  • Head to the hotel fitness center. Whenever I book a hotel, I make sure it has a good fitness center—or at least a connection to a nearby fitness center if there isn’t one in the hotel itself.
  • Walk as much as possible. When you’re in a walkable city or town, walk to appointments, restaurants, etc. rather than taking a cab.
  • Do chair squats. If I have a long flight I will often do some chair squats to give my muscles some stimulation. (Hat tip to Dan Pardi for this one!)

#2: Wash your hands!

One of the biggest challenges of air travel during the winter is protecting against colds and flus. Being on an airplane with a bunch of people coughing and sneezing is a great way to get sick. But frequent hand washing (or use of hand sanitizer) can make a real difference and help keep you well. I keep some hand sanitizer in my bag for those times when a faucet and soap aren’t available.

#3: Eat well

This can be a real challenge when you’re staying in hotels and don’t have much time to cook. But there are a few things that can make it a little easier:

  • Bring snacks. I travel with a LunchBots stainless steel food container. I load this up with Paleo-friendly snacks like beef jerky, macadamia nuts, berries, olives, and dark chocolate. When I’m running low, I head to the local health food store to replenish.
  • Eat a big meal before you travel. If I have a long travel day, I’ll make sure to have a hearty breakfast and/or lunch before getting on the plane. Then I’ll just eat the snacks in my LunchBots container while traveling. This saves me from terrible airport food (which is, admittedly, getting better in many places).
  • Don’t be afraid to fast. Sometimes if there’s nothing I want to eat available I’ll simply fast. Occasional fasting was certainly built into our Paleo ancestors’ lives, and I think travel is one of the best opportunities to give it a shot.
  • Plan in advance. I typically choose hotels that have at least a kitchenette, and preferably full kitchens. While I may not have time to shop and prepare full meals, this allows me to at least have hot tea and pick up some kombucha or kefir that I can keep cold. I will also choose hotels based on the menu of their restaurant, or the proximity of other restaurants I’ve checked out nearby. That way I don’t get myself into a situation where I’m starving and the only thing available to eat is something that won’t make me feel well.

#4: Meditate

Meditation is a great way to reduce stress, sharpen your mind, and increase your awareness. I’ve had a sitting mediation practice for more than 20 years now, and it’s an essential part of my daily routine. Whenever I’m on a plane, I designate the first 25-30 minutes of the flight to meditation. I can’t quite remember when I developed this habit, but it has stuck and it serves me well.

#5: Rest and sleep

Just as exercise is especially crucial while traveling, so is rest. Travel is inherently stressful, and it can be difficult to find downtime especially when you’re traveling for work. What works for me is scheduling periods of rest into my day, just as I would schedule any other appointment or commitment. That way, when things get busy and I would otherwise forget to rest, I get a little reminder on my computer or phone that tells me it’s time to take a break.

Along the same lines, I do my best to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep on the road—just as I do at home. This isn’t always possible, but it makes a big difference in keeping me healthy.

#6: Get TSA Pre-Check

TSA Pre-Check makes air travel like it was before 9/11. After signing up and getting approved, you get a “known traveler ID” that you provide the airline with when buying your ticket. You can then use a special TSA Pre-Check security line (which is almost always completely empty), and pass through the security process without taking off your shoes, belt or jacket, or removing your laptop or liquids from your bag. This was hands-down the smartest thing I did in preparing for my tour. I regularly passed through security at large airports like O’Hare, SFO, Denver, etc. in less than one minute. (I am not exaggerating.) Seriously, it’s the best thing ever.

One tip for the sign up process. After you fill out the application, you’ll have to visit a TSA office at an airport to get fingerprinted and complete the application. The first appointment time I was offered was four months away! I was devastated because my book tour was only four weeks away. But I found out that if you go to the TSA website to reschedule your appointment, you can usually find cancelations that are much closer. I was able to find an appointment only a week away from when I completed my application.

#7: Be flexible and adaptable

Let’s face it, things don’t always go the way we want them to when we’re traveling. From delayed or canceled flights to mixups at the hotel to bad food experiences, travel can be a real drag. But rather than struggle against things that are beyond your control, why not use these unpredicted events as opportunities? Flight delayed? Maybe it’s time to catch up on those phone calls you’ve been putting off, or write that email or blog post you’ve been procrastinating on.

And don’t forget the 80/20 rule—it’s especially important while traveling. If you’re starving and feel shaky and agitated because you haven’t eaten, but there’s no 100% Paleo-friendly food available, sometimes it’s better to go ahead and eat anyways so you’re not miserable for the next several hours on your flight. In most airports you can at least get a salad with some chicken on top or perhaps a burger with no bun and some lettuce and tomato. Not particularly appetizing, but it will tide you over. Along the same lines, while you may not have time for your full exercise routine, even doing 15–20 minutes of activity in the gym will often make a big difference in how you feel that day.

I hope this helps you to stay sane and healthy during your next trip. Now I’d like to hear from you. What are your top travel tips?

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  1. says

    Great tips! We’ve been traveling the world as a family non-stop for the last 8 plus years ( 46 countries on 5 continents on $23/day pp so far)…so we have become experts at finding ways to do this.

    I’ve written extensively on this topic, but just wrote this that might help some: http://www.soultravelers3.com/2014/01/travel-and-paleoprimal-grain-free-gapswapf-healthy-eating.html#more

    Traveling in foreign lands makes things harder and so does doing fast travel or doing it as a family. We used boiled pastured eggs as the key to both our 35-plus-hour-4-flight trip picnic for 3 from Asia to California and our current winter road trip through California, Grand Canyon, Santa Fe and Texas.

    Vital Choice canned salmon and grass fed beef and Turkey Nick sticks are handy easy treats and avocados and organic veggies are pretty easy to find. Almond flour crackers or small packs sweet potato chips in coconut oil are treats we sometimes use on the move…especially for my daughter.

    Congrats on your book and enjoy the book tour!

  2. Larry says

    I was just on a week long trip driving round trip from Alabama to California. I did all the things you mentioned plus making sure to stayed clear of all grains and bad oils which was hard at times. However, my driving companion doesn’t follow a Paleo lifestyle and did none of those things and picked up the flu before coming back to Alabama. I was in the car with him for two days as he coughed and sneezed spreading the flu virus all over the car. When I got home I felt like I was on the verge of getting sick for a couple day but never did. I credit the Paleo lifestyle for keeping me healthy and able to fight off the virus. By the way, I haven’t been sick since following this lifestyle for pasted 4 years and I haven’t had the flu shot in that time either.

  3. Deb says

    I try to get to the airport early and then walk around the terminals (great time to catch up on podcasts!). Also, when there isn’t a hotel gym, I’ll do multiple sets of lunges and squats (bodyweight) for 40 minutes or so. Amazing how someone who trains often and hard can work up a sweat doing this!

  4. says

    Great tips Chris. We follow all of these (except for the TSA pre-check, which isn’t useful abroad).

    My partner and I have lived in 18 places (cities, towns or tents) over the last four years for at least a month each. Basically we’ve spent six months each in South America, India, China and now Japan. We have only been Paleo/Primal for about 5 months but we quickly adapted our diet and routines to fit into our existing ones.

    We basically do everything in this post says with a few additions:

    1. We live in foreign countries, so renting an apartment for a month is much cheaper than staying in hotels. Finding apartments with kitchens is usually not hard (except in places where it’s cheap/commonplace to eat out, e.g. Japan and Taiwan). Gyms, however are much harder to find, unless you have the budget for newer rentals in relatively built-up cities.

    2. Meditation is easily the most valuable tool we have. It is wonderful for many things but especially during travel / living abroad it is the most critical tool for maintenance (physiological and psychological).

    3. For workouts we do bodyweight exercises (including sprints). We only need “equipment” for pulling exercises. Usually a table is good enough. We now travel with a pair of gymnastics rings we can attach to a doorframe for pulling exercises (e.g. rows). I think smaller rings or any suspension training style system (e.g. TRX) would be just as good, and lighter.

    4. The greatest tip we’ve ever heard for dealing with jetlag: spend at least 30 minutes outside walking around as soon as it’s mid-day after you arrive. It will reset your circadian rhythm and minimize jetlag. If you’re Paleo/Primal etc then you should have minimal jetlag anyway, and this technique even further mitigates its effects. We usually make a point to walk around for at least an hour a day during peak daylight for the first few days (or week) after arrival, and our jetlag is reduced to feeling sleepy around 8pm. It’s amazing. In general this is easy because when we arrive in a new place we walk for miles everyday learning the lay of the land.

    5. For traveling food, we carry the usual nuts/seeds, but we also carry around cooked chicken breast or eggs. The eggs will last at least a full day (or longer depending on your feelings about it). We also carry around a little salt/pepper/cayenne shaker.

    Matt and Anjuli

    • Deb says

      I’m sure you guys know about Global Entry- it’s not at every international airport yet, but slowly it’s growing. it’s like the Passport control version of the TSAs pre-clear system. You get pre-screened ahead of time, then when you arrive at a new country, instead of going in the HUGE line for passport control you go up to a (nonexistent) line for a few kiosks where you do everything yourself, including filling out your customs form- electronically. Then, once you’ve collected your bags, you go to another special (nonexistent) line to give your customs printout and you’re on your way. Saves at least 30 minutes every time.

  5. says

    No doubt I am eating out a lot more when I am traveling, and that can be the biggest challenge. I just find that I have to be picky and show some determination. I can’t just settle for bar food because it is the easiest.

  6. Jean H says

    Thanks for all the great information. I’m wondering what are the safest and most available bottled waters when traveling domestically and abroad?

  7. Tim says

    Another good tip to add on to #2 is to NEVER touch your mucous membranes with your fingers, unless you’ve just washed them. This is the main transmission pathway for germs and bacteria and viruses. If you need to scratch these areas, use the back of your hand or your knuckle.

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