10 Ways to Stay Healthy During Holiday Travel

International TravelAccording to AAA, nearly 100 million Americans will be traveling during what they call the “year-end holiday season” (Dec. 23-Jan. 4). On the positive side, this means possibly spending quality time with family and friends, experiencing new destinations or enjoying a break from the routine of work and (at least some) domestic duties. On the other hand, it can mean a lot of sedentary time, roadside food, poor sleep, collective stress and airport crowds (with their accompanying germs). When the hoopla ends, some of us will greet the New Year relatively unscathed with little more than mild fatigue and gratitude for some peace and quiet. Others, however, will succumb to the added pressures on physical and mental health and spend a portion of their travel time (or what was supposed to be travel time) nursing an illness. It’s little wonder, given the holidays offer the perfect set-up with their intersection of extra-everything when we probably do better with less of, well, just about all of it. It’s a practical Primal question: how can we keep ourselves healthy (and sane) when the best intentions of the season turn on us?

Those of you who have been sick during or following holiday travel likely understand the logic of it all. There’s the massive build-up of energy that goes into covering all the bases at work before time off as well as the trip prep itself (not a small feat – particularly with small children). There’s the stress of financial outlay and/or logistical upheaval. Just this build-up itself can result in lowered immunity, causing what one expert calls “leisure sickness” or the propensity to get sick during the times we worked so hard for in hopes of rest and relaxation. That’s right – the clinical manifestation of Murphy’s Law, if you will.

If we tend to go treat life like a 5-alarm fire, the body will interpret danger and stay on alert, running down reserves to maintain a heightened state of caution. When we finally let down our defenses, however, it’s another story. The body senses the danger has passed, and we pay the toll for our overzealous mental vigilance and physical expenditure. In other words, we’re down for the count just as the holiday celebrations are underway.

Even if we begin our travel with some decent energy and are able to get beyond those critical first few days, the conditions aren’t always in our favor moving forward. Maybe the sleeping conditions at the in-laws’ leave something to be desired. The food situation on the road and at the destination is about as un-Primal as it gets. The agenda leaves little time for quiet, the full house little chance for solitude.

Whether your travels take you to extended family or to a holiday getaway, here are some Primal strategies to enjoy your time (and the trip home) with health intact.

Build up your defenses.

The cliche holds: your best offense if a good defense. You may not have much control over circumstances where you’re going, but you can start your trip in good shape by being well-rested for the couple of weeks prior as well as well-nourished with nutrient-dense Primal fare. Be sure you’re getting extra good doses of vitamin D, a key factor in immune function, and probiotic in the weeks prior to leaving. Some people I know take it a step further by bumping up their vitamin C and bone broth and taking zinc, elderberry and/or echinacea for a few days before traveling.

Take extra precautions with air travel.

Research appears to confirm a suspicion many of us harbor: we’re more likely to get sick following air travel. One study estimates a rate of 20% more likely in fact (PDF). It’s more than the close quarters, however.

Surfaces, as always, are the main source. Our phones and steering wheels likely carry more germs than we’d ever like to know, but airplanes are particularly dense harbors for pathogens. One often cited study showed that 20% of airplane toilet seats tested positive for E.coli, while flush and faucet handles tested positive 30% of the time. But that wasn’t it. Norovirus and MRSA were just as common on areas like trays and back seat pockets. (Another reason to skip the in-flight magazine…) This is one of those times when some hand sanitizer (no need for triclosan) is good idea – along with an extra dose of vitamin C.

Hydrate during and around air travel.

For the integrity of the metal construction, airplanes keep their humidity extremely low. Levels can dip below 10%, which can leave you feeling tired and drawn after even a moderate flight. Once you’re past the security gate, fill up a large water bottle and drink as much as you can without having to make umpteen trips to the lavatory. Be sure to drink extra water after you’re on the ground as well – especially if yours was a longer flight.

Get yourself in a flexible mindset.

Travel isn’t a time to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The idea is to avoid as much stress as possible. Go over options in your mind and get yourself in a place of mental flexibility. Be ready to look for the best possible options to eat strangely concocted meals to meet your Primal target, to rely on some of your own stores, and to fast entirely when food choices are dismal. Prepare yourself to adapt to a different schedule – not just for the sake of others’ expectations and traditions but in the interest of fitting in a nap when sleep is an issue or when you need extra downtime or exercise. Consider it a marathon rather than a race. Pacing and adaptation matter.

But decide ahead of time what you won’t compromise on – and prepare.

If your good intentions are forever moving targets, you’ll never stick to your plan. Don’t base your most important decisions on circumstances. Base them on your needs and priorities. Just put in some forethought and prep. More on that below…

Pack your own sustenance.

I like to look at it this way. Pretend Grok is accompanying you on your trip. What would you bring for him? Would you force your honored guest to suck it up and eat whatever was at the next food court? Of course not. Have the same courtesy for your own well-being. Pack enough to get you through not just the car trip/flight but the time in between when the offerings aren’t in line with your Primal needs.

If you’re driving, of course, you have the added luxury of packing an entire cooler of veggies and meat choices, and non-perishables like good jerky, nuts, Primal energy bars, pemmican and Primal Fuel. If you’re flying, do whatever you can with non-perishables, including packing them in your checked luggage. The idea here is to maintain your nutrient intake and avoid the immune-busting sugar and carb fest that too often characterizes the holiday line-up.

Load up on some key supplements.

Holiday travel is no time to get off your supplement routine. No matter how much other crap you have to pack, don’t skimp here. Be sure to take along all of your regular supplements (e.g. multi, vitamin D, probiotic), and some extra vitamin C to take 2-3 times daily. It can’t hurt to bring along some elderberry, zinc and echinacea as well for daily doses of the first two and as need be for the third.

Finally, may I suggest some Primal Calm? Because holiday travel is fun…until it’s not. I swear by it, and always keep some nearby.

Make your own sleep kit – especially if you’ll be dealing with jet lag.

Own pillow – check. Yellow glasses – check. Eye mask (when you can’t enjoy your own fantastic light-blocking curtains) – check. Melatonin? While I don’t suggest taking melatonin on a regular basis, it has been shown to help reset circadian rhythm and relieve the problem of jet lag. In this case, it’s definitely worth it. Keep in mind that strategic fasting, too, can help normalize your body’s clock.

Set concrete times for exercise – and fit in more whenever you can manage it.

Let’s face it – if you wait around for the perfect time to exercise, you’ll never find it. That’s true in life, and perhaps even truer during the holidays and travel. If you can keep your normal workout times, that’s great. If not, try to at least keep your normal workout schedule – meaning how often. Then fit in as much low level activity as possible. Reasonable physical activity (i.e. not chronic cardio) supports healthy immune function.

Don’t compromise on self-care.

Too many of us white-knuckle it through the holidays. Unfortunately, “just dealing” with the endless expectations for a few days/full week may result in consequences beyond the holidays themselves. This is your time and experience as much as anyone else’s – even the kids. Don’t commit to more than you really want to. Schedule time for quiet. Balance each day with some solitude and activity. Do something good for yourself every day you’re traveling (e.g. use the sauna at the hotel, enjoy a good book, find some fun trails).

Pushing yourself to make the most of every minute with an older relative you may not see next year or to get the most out of every dollar spent on a getaway is just that – pushing. That’s no way to enjoy a valued relationship or a long awaited vacation. Practice some daily self-care in the interest of maintaining health and being present – the best way I’ve found to make the most of any experience.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What am I missing here that helps keep you healthy in the midst of holiday travel? I’ll look forward to reading your insights. Happy holidays to you, and safe travels to all who will be hitting the road.

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TAGS:  immune health

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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31 thoughts on “10 Ways to Stay Healthy During Holiday Travel”

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  1. Flying overseas in a couple of days and while I’m so grateful for the opportunity, it always leaves me drained, sleep deprived and dehydrated. I feel like a raisin afterward 😀

    Thanks for the advice, I think it will make a huge difference.

    1. Yeah, you’re right about the sleep deprivation lol. If you’re lucky, some hotels have little fitness centres. Or you could be creative and use furniture as fitness equipment :p

  2. Great advice. You forgot that for women at least, the trip is usually preceded by hours of mall trips getting the gifts and planning the pre-holiday holiday party with the family you are leaving behind so you can visit the other half of the family. Additional stress!

    I would also advise getting a flu shot, even though grok didn’t have flu shots, he also didn’t have exposure to thousands of people traveling to Grandma’s either. Every year I don’t get one, I get the flu right after Christmas. And I always take a scarf so if someone is coughing near me I can hide my face with the scarf. This actually seems to work. .

    1. I had a neighbour who got the flu shot one year, had a bad reaction to it, was paralyzed (at least mostly) from the waist down for six months, and never fully recovered and was left with a slightly crippled leg.
      I’m not denying the general efficacy of flu shots as I just don’t know but I don’t have much faith in them, I haven’t gotten one in about six years I think, and plan on never getting one again.
      I read the CDC admitted that the flu shot this year is useless.

      1. The CDC did not admit it was useless. It said it was less effective as previous years. In any year, the flu shot is still only about 70% effective because the flu mutates every year. (Which is why, yes, some will still get the flu or flu-like symptoms even if they get the shot.) But getting one is still your best defense against the flu. It allows your body’s immune system to work up its defenses in case of an attack against the virus. And even if a different flu strain hits than was in the flu shot, the vaccines still helps lessen the impact of the flu symptoms.

        Also, not getting a flu shot because you haven’t had the flu in years is a selfish way of thinking. The immuno-compromised depend on you to get your flu shot. People undergoing chemo, who have auto-immune decencies, etc., cannot get the flu shot to protect themselves, so they rely on the majority of the public to get vaccinated, just like the measles, mumps, pertussis, etc, to stay healthy.

        1. You’ve been buying into too much bogus CW. Being vaccinated won’t necessarily protect you and it won’t prevent you from being a carrier.

      2. Yeah and I got drunk one time at band camp and threw up. Why do people always mention their horror stories when someone brings up a subject, like flu shots? Do you really think anyone is swayed by your anonymous posting?

        1. Maybe they tell those stories to show what the potential consequences of getting synthetic junk injected into your bloodstream could be.

    2. If you are out at the mall, parties, on planes, interacting with other people and the world etc. consider that your “Flu Shot.”

    3. I haven’t had a flu shot in at least 30 years. Have only had the flu once in all that time. Build up your immune system instead of sabotaging it with chemicals, and then allow it do the job it was designed for.

      1. What is it about the flu compared to other infectious diseases that people scoff at it like they’ll never get it or it won’t be that bad even if they do? I do have a good immune system. I’ve been primal for almost a year. I also haven’t had the flu since I can remember, even though I’ve only got the flu shot the last four years. Maybe I was a kid the last time I did (I’m 34 now)? I’m as free thinking as they come, but I don’t ignore scientific truth. Not all science is evil CW. There’s no conspiracy there. No one is getting rich off counties giving away free flu shots and no one is lacing them with chemicals.

        1. “No one is getting rich…and no one is lacing them with chemicals.” Do you seriously think the manufacturers aren’t making money on their flu vaccines?

          The CW isn’t “evil”; it’s just brainwashed and ignorant. There’s no scientific truth in something that’s thrown together and only works half-ass, if at all, since continual mutation is something medical science hasn’t been very good at keeping up with.

          All vaccines contain various chemicals and additives that don’t belong in the human body. Right after the last flu shot I got, 30-some years ago, I became so sick that for two weeks I could barely get out of bed long enough to use the bathroom. I was told by an MD that I should never get another flu shot. I have heeded that advice and instead relied on my immune system. It has stood me in far better stead. From what I’ve heard and read, there are many people who avoid flu shots for the same reason.

          Your ideas of protecting others by vaccinating yourself is a flawed concept. Herd immunity is more a theory than a reality. There is, no doubt, a time and place for specific vaccines, as during a severe pandemic–IF they work, and there’s at least a 50-50 chance they might not–but they shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction to every bug that goes around.

  3. Figuring out what I really can’t compromise on (for me it’s gluten, it makes me so sick) is really important when travelling! I don’t want to ruin my trip being sick but I also don’t need to make myself crazy looking for the best quality food.

    1. Speaking of nutritional cardboard, I once read an article (years ago) about some research conducted with rats and pizza. The rats were divided into 3 groups–Group 1 got the pizza, Group 2 got both pizza and the box it came in, and Group 3 got just the box–no pizza.

      Guess which group lived the longest?

      If you guessed the last group, you win. Group 3 was the last to die. Group 1 (the pizza-eaters) died first. I suppose the moral of this story is if you have a rat problem, call Domino’s.

  4. “Holidays” (I don’t celebrate that kind of thing, closest is probably Halloween) for me are generally a relaxing time where I spend maybe about a week with some family and get to live in a nicer building and generally have access to better food. They’re only around an hour away so the trip doesn’t involve much travel; however, I can relate to the part about pigging out.
    There’s not much I feel I can contribute to this list other than a simple mention of how I’m coping with too much eating lately (spoiler: caffeine). I was losing weight and getting skinny at almost an alarmingly high speed recently, not eating much for a while, so around a week ago I started stuffing myself and not letting myself reach the point of actual visceral hunger, just cravings that should normally be shrugged off but feel more irresistible the more frequently I give in to them. I’ve been eating lots of carbs, even succumbing to the temptations of sugar and grains.
    My fat furnace was immolating lipids and then in an attempt at balancing the input and output I started throwing more at it than fits its capacity, building up a backlog (or several – yes some holiday pies have been so monstrous that it seems they must be hiding tucked between ribs or something before they make their dramatically impressive departure). On the bright side I have a surplus of offerings to anoint to my process of ketosis once they stop coming in and making my clergy too busy running around opening doors and stacking boxes. Let’s call those guys the insulin. I like metaphors.
    Anyway. To get used to not eating more than I need, shrink my stomach yet again, and suppress my “hunger” I’m doing what I sometimes do routinely or as an indulgence, what I did often in the beginning of my primal transition to help with it, and what was partially responsible for me losing weight rapidly recently. I’m drinking plenty of coffee and replacing food with it. Like lots of people (millions? a billion?) I sometimes have an extra, scientifically unrecognized state of sleep in the morning in which I move around and put the coffee maker to use like a trained monkey doing lab experiments to concentrate orc blood before I can claim true consciousness. Even if I’m not thirsty enough to drink a lot I just use a little Wholesome Sweeteners organic blackstrap molasses (great stuff I think) to trick myself into feeling thirstier via the taste. I figure I probably don’t use too much to sabotage my plan and actually get quite a bit of nutrition out of it. Coffee can apparently cause electrolyte imbalances and I think that because of the mineral content in blackstrap molasses (particularly potassium I expect) mixing a little bit into your coffee to taste probably counters or at least helps protect against that.

    1. Molasses? Hmmmmm, that might be fun on some mornings when my coffee seems to need something sweet. Thanks for the tip! Nice to see you posting here and there again Animarchy.

      1. My comments haven’t been blocked so much lately for mentioning drinking a beer and stuff like that so I’m less averse to posting them (and sometimes just enjoy doing so and/or need to fill my time with something.. I couldn’t stay away).

  5. When I travel long distances on planes, I pack Lara bars and hard cooked eggs. I keep the eggs in the shell in plastic bags. Its easy and convenient to peel and leave the shells in the bag. I also pack nut mixes but eat them only when there is plenty of water to hydrate. I also take fish oil and powdered vitamin C supplement powders to mix with water. These items have sustained me for over 24 hours. The best policy is to avoid alcohol on planes. It both dehydrates, compromises immunity and cognitive ability.

    1. An extra 200-300 mg of ubiquinol is supposed to help hydration issues and concerns about extra EMF exposure when flying.

  6. This is a nice reminder post that I’m reading after opting out of seeing The Hobbit’s 3rd installment with husband and kids–precisely because I need some decompression time by myself.

    Mark, the only thing I would suggest is to put this kind of travel post out earlier in the month, because by Dec. 23, many of us have already negotiated LAX or their local airport. And the probiotic and echinacea info requires even more advance planning. But of course, it’s still great advice for the return flight!

    One thing that has helped me considerably is to ship presents ahead. Some mailbox shipping places will hold your box until you arrive. That way you have fewer bags to check (and lug around that hell which is LAX). Then after the holidays, ship any presents you received back to your house the day before your return! I always throw in some boots or whatever I needed for the trip but don’t need for a week after I get back. It makes traveling much lighter and easier.

    In case I don’t post again before Christmas, happy holidays (and Festivus), MDAers!

  7. Thank you for sharing these tips. I always find it stressful during these seasons to get ready for traveling, so this is very helpful!

  8. Good post, Mark. Thanks! I agree with a couple others; this post would have been even more timely a couple weeks ago to prep. But that aside, it’s reassuring to see that my wife and I do many of these things. We’ve becoming a lot smarter about travel since going primal this last year. We’ve made three trips this year, and we always pack a meal in our carry on for the plane ride; a lunch bag with snacks like nuts, jerky, avocados, and fruit; and pack our supplements.

    We were just discussing going in with a flexible mindset for our xmas trip this week since we’ll be going to stay with family who are SAD’ers. We also will be working on the self care note.

  9. I always imagine that Grok was pragmatic and would do what was needed to survive, and not pass up primal “food court” food choices to go without. A layover delay, weather, etc can roughup the best made plans. Grok would do want he had to, maybe not eat cr/p but he’d eat.

  10. Just got back from traveling Mark.

    My wife and I noticed that we were dizzy after the flights that had WiFi enabled on the planes. It’s not something that the airlines have questioned before putting the routers on all planes. Quite a dangerous thing to do in my opinion.

    We made sure to load up on vitamin C, extra water, ground ourselves to the chairs in front of us, use N-Acetyl-Cysteine and milk thistle to help detox. Traveling shouldn’t be such a toxic experience!!!