Dispatch: Travel Tips–Staying Healthy Against The Odds

Dispatch columnist Holly Bennett reaches out to a few globetrotting pros to learn their healthy travel habits.

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Inspired by the fact that my next work trip–a round-the-world jaunt to cover Challenge Laguna Phuket in Thailand and Challenge Bahrain in the Middle East–includes more than 59 hours in transit, I thought it would be prudent to share some stay healthy travel tips. Let’s face it, we triathletes are prime targets when it comes to bacteria and germs, especially just before and after races when our immune systems balance on a tricky precipice between healthy and ill. Between the contained petri dish environment of an airplane, the numerous surfaces and strangers we come into contact with in our travels and the often compromised nutritional options available on the go we’re practically doomed to pick up something–unless we do everything possible to protect ourselves and bolster our bodies. I reached out to a few of my fellow globetrotting friends to learn their healthy travel habits, plus I’ll share my own methods to keep feeling fine.

With the onset of flu season, as well as heightened awareness of the Ebola crisis, airplane hygiene is a hot button issue right now. Every flight I’ve been on recently, I’ve seen fellow passengers wiping down their armrests and tray tables with fervor. Personally, I never gave much thought to anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizer until now–I was always turned off by the perfumey scents and the drying effect or sticky residue they seemed to leave on my hands. But I received a promo care package last week that completely changed my mind–a big box of products from Flu War (fluwar.com). Flu War’s wipes and hand sanitizer are alcohol free (the drying agent in many sanitizers) and claim to moisturize with the addition of aloe and Vitamin E. I tried both and was duly impressed–not only did my hands feel silky soft and smooth and clean afterward, the light scent was just enough to inspire confidence in the product’s effectiveness without overwhelming my allergen-sensitive nose. Plus, the camouflage packaging ups the cool factor–I’ll tuck Flu War into my handbag for sure.

Another trick to avoid the nastiness swirling around on a plane is to turn off the overhead vent above your seat as soon as you get on board. There’s nothing worse than having that stale, recycled air blasting full force into your face. A little dab of Vaseline around the inside of your nostrils can help combat the drying effect up in the air. Be sure to bundle up as well, even if you’re traveling somewhere tropical. Planes and airport terminals are nearly always chilly, and keeping yourself warm and snuggly is a great way to boost your feel-good status–even if it’s just a psychosomatic effect. Likewise, the warmer you are the easier you’ll fall asleep, and rest is critical to health (and often difficult to come by in transit). I always travel with an eye mask and melatonin to aid my sleep on planes, trains and too bright hotel rooms.

Hydration and nutrition are just as important when traveling as when racing. Think of a long-haul flight as dehydrating your body in nearly the same way as an iron-distance race, and be sure to replenish your fluids accordingly. Carry an empty water bottle and simply ask the flight crew to refill it as needed. Emergen-C is a lifesaver in terms of boosting the immune system, GU Brew electrolyte tablets add pizazz (and critical sodium and potassium) to straight water, and herbal tea bags allow you to enjoy a soothing drink before “bedtime” on board. Airplane meals are hardly a highlight of travel, so I make sure to pack plenty of my own favorite snacks. You’ll find gluten-free PB&J sandwiches, fresh cut fruit and veggies (doused in lemon juice to stay fresh) and Bonk Breaker bars as staples in my carry-on.

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Ironman champion Linsey Corbin reported in from her home base in Bend, Ore. during a rare moment off the road.Try to log as much sleep as possible and stay well-rested. I always up the ante with my hand washing when traveling through airports. I try to drink one Emergen-C for each flight that I am on. Stay hydrated!”

Andy Potts–Olympian, Ironman champion and Ironman 70.3 world champion–is also a die-hard hand washer. “Airplanes are just dirty. I make sure I wash my hands thoroughly (that means scrubbing with soap and water for probably a minute) every chance I get. If you aren’t soaking through the paper towels when drying your hands means you didn’t wash them. My advice is to pretend you’re a parent teaching your child how to wash their hands by showing them how to get into every nook and cranny.”

Legendary race announcer Whit Raymond took time out from packing for travel to Thailand (where he’ll call the action at the Challenge Laguna Phuket Tri Fest races) to share his stay healthy strategy: “Hydration, hygiene and rest! Stay well hydrated if possible, take care to wash hands often and sleep when you can. I tend to shake a lot of hands–a lot of sweaty, slimy hands–so I carry handy wipe sort of things to clean my hands frequently during events.”

Ironman world champion and Olympian Michellie Jones chimed in from Australia–where she travels several times a year–with her short list of top tips: “Flu War Wipes. Don’t over train before your flight. Zicam. Drink lots of water.”

En route to Ironman Arizona, Ironman champion Meredith Kessler shared her healthy travel wisdom: “It’s essential to carry Purell from the minute I get to the airport until up until the night before the race. The reality is, there are a lot of germs in this world including airplanes, children, shaking hands, meet and greets, etc. (all things we love), and a professional athlete is exposed to all of these things during race week. You automatically are using your hands around your face so keep these clean after every contact. This is not neurotic; this is being smart when racing healthy is your job. Reaching the starting line in good condition is half the battle so we have to take it seriously. You can train all you want but if your body is worn down with sickness on race day, it won’t matter. I also take small amounts of Vitamin C and antioxidants during race week, but it is smart not to overdue this because some might cause a dehydration effect which isn’t good for race day. Every day (not just around a race), I drink sparkling water with orange juice and I swear this helps to keep the common cold away!”

I caught XTERRA champion Dan Hugo in transit in Dubai en route home to South Africa. “Pre-cook food. Veggie quinoa mix. Keeps well and eases nutrition choices along the way. If that fails, buy some rice at Panda Express! Sounds crazy, but add nuts and you have a relatively healthy on-the-go mix.”

Ironman champion and father to two youngsters, TJ Tollakson had this to say: “Check out Flu War, a new product by DJO (parent company of Compex). I keep some on me all the time. I wash my hands often. I take a zinc supplement of 50 mg daily. I keep my fingers out of my eyes and nose. I limit my sugar intake. I drink lots of water. I always travel with my own refillable water bottle in my backpack. SLEEP!”

It seems we’re all on a similar page when it comes to the best methods to optimize our well-being in the face of germs, bacteria and the general wear and tear of travel. Most of this advice is common sense, so keep your wits–and your Flu War, Emergen-C and various other health-focused basics–about you and you’ll be well armed for a healthy winter season!

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