Home » Stay healthy while travelling – a survival guide.

Stay healthy while travelling – a survival guide.

If over-indulging while travelling becomes an Olympic event, I have a good chance of a podium finish. The minute I depart my comfort zone, discipline goes AWOL and I spend hours over drinks and snacks discussing football, golf and Xenophobia, while inexorably getting out of shape.

If flying, regardless whether I’ve eaten before boarding, I still demolish everything the air hostesses bring. Why? I’m a careful eater – five fruits and vegetables daily; sensible helpings and only a few indulgences such as chocolate, but I get on a plane and I’m like a refugee from Darfur.

There are probably profound, psychological explanations for this, but in my bubblegum analysis, it’s for two simple reasons. The first, the subliminal tendency on the part of any traveller venturing into strange and new surroundings, to feel the martyr. Probably a hangover from primitive man’s dark and ancient past, when hunters heroically sallied forth to find food to provide for their family.

The second, the feeling of deprivation, caused by leaving home-comforts. Cesare Pavese, the Italian poet and novelist said, “Travelling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends.” These two emotions combine to form a feeling of entitlement. ‘If I am to endure the vagaries and stresses of travelling’, goes the psyche, ‘if I am to be deprived of my domestic pleasures, then I deserve to spoil myself.’

The best technique to combat such agreeable indiscipline is simply to be aware. If you know you are prone to overindulging, then it is easier to curb excesses; for example when eating on the plane.

Ensconced in my seat I still eat more than I should, but I temper input by going for the healthy items. I eat fish instead of curry, I have the health breakfast instead of a plate of cholesterol and I always insist on a fresh slice of lemon in my gin.

While travelling, by accepting in advance that I am not going to keep up my exercise regime, I avoid the guilt when I don’t. And I seek out clubs that have reciprocity with my gym, so that if I do get the urge, I know where not to go…

Although to ensure that I don’t lose it completely, I do occasionally break down and go for a brisk stroll and look at the locals. Which brings to mind the quote by philosopher and author, Dagobert D. Runes, “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” And undoubtedly the best way of seeing any city, is to walk it. If sight-seeing, there is also nothing quite like a good ruin walked.

Sleep is difficult to overindulge in. But lack of sleep exacerbates other unhealthy behaviour. The most effective torture employed by the Japanese, the acknowledged masters of the black art, during the Second World War, was simply keeping their victims awake. After days of being woken up every fifteen minutes, prisoners demanded death, just to get some sleep.

The lack of proper rest when flying is extraordinarily debilitating. No matter if you are horizontal on the flat beds in the front, or bolt upright in cattle class, it is always difficult to get a proper night’s sleep. The environment is just not conducive to it.

A solution, apart from drinking too much, is to pop a sleeping pill or a homeopathic supplement like melatonin. I simply tell my neighbour my life story, which is a sure-fire soporific – for both of us. Something I would never admit to is I travel with a duck-down pillow. Most hotels only provide sponge-filled pillows, which is tantamount to sleeping with your head on a trampoline. “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” Lin Yutand, Chinese writer and inventor.

Unhealthy behaviour is not just a flying dilemma. The moment I check into a hotel I find myself eagerly drawn to the mini-bar. Mute salesman, they lurk, waiting for you to weaken and indulge in their hideously expensive wares. Avoid them. At home you don’t live with a fridge in your room – partners don’t qualify – so don’t be suckered into a new vice, just because you are away.

Inevitably following a day’s work, foreign hosts take visiting associates for dinner. It is generally impolite to refuse and besides, lots of deals are done after hours. A few drinks and the host escaped, it always seems like a splendid idea to have a few more. Many a travelling businessman has discovered to his cost; party tonight, dire presentation tomorrow.

From my experience, a fail-safe way of keeping hangovers at bay is to swallow one glass of water for every alcoholic drink consumed. I’m unsure if there is a scientific basis to this, but I have woken from many a long, and late dinner, feeling surprisingly chipper, despite having quaffed a veritable wine lake the previous evening.

Being unhealthy while travelling, much as we might rue it when, exhausted and 5kgs heavier, we get home; is a fact of life. But it can be managed. Nevertheless, if you aren’t overindulging just a little, it does beg the question: Can you possibly be enjoying the journey?