The Art of Healthy Living: Hints for healthy vacation travel
Explorer file photo, Make sure the kids get plenty of fluids during a long trip. A stop at a park's water cooler can also give them the chance to burn off some energy.

Summer Vacation Season is upon us. Even with gas prices climbing, Americans will take off for the (in)famous Family Vacation. Of course, we all plan to have a great time, things happen and adventure turns into misadventure. To help see that this doesn’t happen to you, here are six key things to be mindful of. For a vastly ‘vunderful vacation watch your: food, fluid, rest, exercise, safety, and hygiene.

Food. It is very easy to eat poorly on vacation.  On any trip, sugary sodas, salty snacks and the empty calories of sweets are easily found at gas stations and airport kiosks. Start the car trip with an ice chest full of fresh apples and bags of baby carrots. Bored kids will complain, but then eat these healthy snacks. Take the time to stop at supermarkets for refills on good snacks. Put some apples, cheese sticks and trail mix with you on the plane, the TSA doesn’t mind them yet.

Help your digestion and your health by fueling your body carefully while on vacation.  Eat a well balanced diet from all parts of the food pyramid. Especially try to get plenty of fruits and vegetables as they help keep digestion regular. Avoid excessive fats, oils, sugars, and salts. A daily multivitamin pill can help fill in essentials that might otherwise be missed.

Drink. Fluids are often overlooked. Dehydration is a very common problem while traveling in air-conditioned cars and airplanes to air-conditioned hotels and tourist attractions. Low relative humidity can dehydrate you, even if you barely move all day.  Headache, irritability, stomach ache, nausea, even constipation — all are often solved by simply drinking water and rehydrating the body.

Many Americans believe that liquid should have flavor, so they drink soda, juice, sport drinks, or ice tea. Avoid these. Sodas, juices, and sport drinks are frequently high in sugars which can lead to increased tissue dehydration. Ice tea and sodas, even when sugar free, can be high in caffeine, which also dehydrates the body. Water is best. Squeeze in some lemon if you crave flavor.

Rest. Rest is what we get on vacation, right? Often not! On vacation we go, go, go.  Gotta see all the sites, needta drive so far, haffta visit all those people. The body and brain can very easily become overloaded and overwhelmed with the influx of new information and stimuli.

Slow down! Take a nap. Take a sanity break. Accidents happen when you are tired —physically and / or mentally. Accident are not limited to on the road either. Being tired and telling Uncle Dick what you really think of him can have devastating and long lasting effects. Put rest time into your vacation plans. Make sure you stick to it. Sleep is critical for the brain to process all the new information you are encountering.

Exercise. Critical for good health. Vacation travel may include long hours sitting in a car or airplane, or both. Get up and move around every hour if possible. Otherwise feet swell, joints stiffen, and the kidneys can’t do their job efficiently. When driving, park in the slot farthest from — not closest to — the rest rooms.

Often vacations include hours of visiting museums and galleries. Almost worse than sitting are hours of slow shuffling past displays, stopping to read the signs. Feet, legs, and back can all ache after just a few hours of this. The solution? A brisk 20-minute walk.  Although your feet are tired, the movement of a brisk walk will elevate your heart rate and help move your blood. Blood movement will help move fatigue toxins away from affected tissues, helping the body heal more quickly than simply putting your feet up. If you prefer, and you are at a hotel with a pool, hold on to the side and flutter kick vigorously then slowly by intervals for at least five minutes.

While some exercise is good, don’t overdo it. If you have never used a treadmill, don’t jump on the one at the hotel for an hour workout. By all means experiment, though.  Twenty minutes is a good start.

Safety. Be on your guard. Be careful, but don’t be paranoid. There are a million things that could go wrong, even within five miles of home. Simply pay attention to what you are doing and who is around you. This gets back to being rested so the brain is alert.

Keep a list of your credit card numbers and emergency contacts with you, well hidden in the car, or leave them with a trusted friend.  If you have to cancel your cards, you may need those numbers. Make sure the kids, especially the youngest, have some form of identification with them, and a emergency contact number.

While you need to beware of strange streets and people, you also need to pay attention to Mother Nature. Sudden storms can strand hikers, and hypothermia can happen in summer. Never swim alone in unknown waters, no matter how good you are.

Hygiene. Studies have shown that the dirtiest spot in public restroom is not the toilet seat, but all the handles between the toilet and the door to the outside. This includes the stall handle, the sink handles, the paper towel dispenser handle and the door handle. Wash hands well and open doors with a shirt tail or paper towel.

Food, fluids, rest, exercise, safety, and hygiene. These can be condensed to a single motto. “Take care of yourself.” Take care of your mind and your body. Most accidents occur when your mind or body are not operating at optimal efficiency — in other words when you are hungry, thirsty, tired, sunburned, or just plain burnt out.

Take care of yourself. Eat before you are ravenous and cranky. Drink before you are dehydrated and cranky. Rest before you are tired and cranky. Move your body before it gets stiff and cranky. Pay attention to your environment. Stay clean. Enjoy your vacation, but take care of you — so you can fully enjoy your vacation.

Dr. Soule is an award-winning science writer. She has been writing health articles and columns for regional and national magazines since 1983. Trained as a botanist, she often focuses on the role of plants in human health.

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