The holiday season is upon us, which for many of us means it’s time to hit the road (or the air). On the positive side, holiday travel means possibly spending quality time with family and friends, experiencing new destinations, or enjoying a break from the routine of work and school.
On the other hand, it can mean a lot of sedentary time, fast food, poor sleep, and airport crowds (with their accompanying germs). And let’s face it, even if we love this time of year, the social obligations, shopping, cooking, and go-go-go-ness of the holiday season can be stressful.
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 physical and mental health stressors and end up nursing an illness.
It’s obvious why this happens. There’s the massive energy output that goes into covering all the bases at work before time off, plus the logistics—and financial burden—of the trip prep itself (not a small feat, particularly with small children). 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 to carve out for rest and relaxation.1 That’s right, the clinical manifestation of Murphy’s Law, if you will.
It’s practically unavoidable… but not entirely. There are things we can do to keep ourselves healthy (and happy) when the best intentions of the season start to pile up. If we tend to treat life like a 5-alarm fire, letting the stress build up at every turn, the body will stay on high alert, running down reserves to maintain a heightened state of vigilance. When we finally let down our defenses, we pay the toll for our overzealousness and end up sick.
You can avoid that crash and burn by preparing mentally and physically so you go into the travel season with topped-off reserves to draw on when the stress inevitably hits. Here are my top eight tips to prepare for holiday travel.
Start with a good foundation.
The cliche holds: your best offense if a good defense. In the weeks leading up to your trip, make sure you’re well-rested, getting the requisite seven to nine hours of sleep per night non-negotiable. Likewise, nourish yourself with nutrient-dense Primal fare. Be sure you’re getting extra vitamin D, a key factor in immune function, and probiotics for gut health in the weeks prior to leaving. Some people swear by bumping up their vitamin C and bone broth and taking zinc, elderberry, or echinacea for a few days before traveling.
Hydrate during and around air travel.
For the integrity of the metal construction, airplanes keep their humidity extremely low. Levels can dip below 10 percent, which can leave you feeling tired and depleted 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. Adding some sodium (either plain salt or an electrolyte supplement) will help with absorption and improve hydration status.
Get yourself in a flexible mindset.
Travel isn’t a time to be too rigid. Accept from the get-go that things will likely happen that are out of your control. Go over options, think through contingency plans, and get yourself in a place of mental flexibility. Be ready to look for the best possible options to cobble together meals or fast entirely when food choices are dismal. Give yourself permission not to adhere to your typical workout routine (but don’t stop moving—more on that below).
But decide ahead of time what you won’t compromise on—and prepare.
If your good intentions are constantly moving targets, you’ll never stick to your plan. If sticking to your Primal or keto eating plan is very important to you, communicate that to the people you’ll be breaking bread with (figuratively) over the holidays. Ask what you can do to make it easy for your host, and offer to prepare dishes to share. If sleep is your top priority, maybe you need to stay in a hotel instead of the in-laws’ guest room.
This is a good time to think also about what your boundaries are around gift giving, that one hot-button political issue that always seems to come up as dessert is being passed around, or your “weird” food choices. Tackle those difficult but necessary (and, ultimately, helpful) conversations ahead of time.
Pack your own sustenance.
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 nuts, hard-boiled eggs, pemmican, raw vegetables, fruit, and Primal Fuel. If you’re flying, do whatever you can with non-perishables, including packing them in your checked luggage. Hit up the grocery store when you arrive at your destination.
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. Of course, if you choose to invoke the 80/20 principle and eat whatever is on offering over the holidays, that’s your prerogative. But you’ll feel better come January if you save the big indulgences for the special meals and otherwise stick to your typical fare.
Make your own sleep kit, especially if you’ll be dealing with jet lag.
Own pillow – check. Yellow-tinted glasses – check. Eye mask – check. Lavender pillow spray – 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.
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. But reasonable physical activity (i.e., not chronic cardio) supports healthy immune function, so make sure you don’t fall prey to sedentary influences this season. If you can keep your normal workout times, that’s great; but if not, try to at least keep moving. Fit in as much low-level activity as possible. Recruit your traveling companions to join you for walks and look at holiday decorations. Sprinkle in microworkouts wherever you can. Pack elastic bands so you can do resistance training workouts in your hotel room.
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 or weeks may result in consequences beyond the holidays themselves. 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 (for example, use the sauna at the hotel, enjoy a good book, find some fun trails).
Pushing yourself to make the most of every minute 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. The way to make the most of any experience is by being present.
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.
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.