Winter travel calling? Here's how to stay healthy so you can make the most of your trip.
Dislike crowds and appreciate bargains? Fall and winter are great times to travel, especially if you don’t have kids who need to be pulled out of school. Whether you are traveling to the East Coast, Europe or even farther afield, staying healthy will help you enjoy your trip to the fullest. You can do this by supporting your body with nutritious food, movement, sleep and a balanced downtime-to-sightseeing ratio.
Generally speaking, meals you prepare yourself are healthier than meals in restaurants — plus, they’re less expensive. If you’ll be at your destination for several days, renting an apartment or condominium gives you more food freedom while reducing both housing and food costs. One of the best ways to eat healthfully while enjoying the flavors of a new place is to visit farmers markets, which operate in many cities year-round. Farmers markets are always great for people-watching, but when you have access to a kitchen at the end of the day, you get to fill your shopping bags with the colorful fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods on display rather than just looking at them wistfully.
When you spend much of the day exploring new territory, perhaps on foot, managing hunger can be tricky — especially if you’re traveling with someone who has a different eating schedule. If you’re a definite three-meals-plus-snacks person and your companion prefers to eat just two big meals, it can be tough to reach a satisfactory compromise. Create a safety net by toting your own snacks, but skip the prefab energy bars in favor of some delicious, nutritious trail mix.
Depending on your routine at home, exercise might look very different when you’re traveling, and that’s OK! When you take in the sights on foot, that’s fitness with benefits — you’re getting physical activity, transporting yourself from Point A to Point B, and enjoying new sights along the way. Want to keep up your yoga or strength training without taking too much time away from your travel pursuits? It’s easy to fit in some downward dogs, triangle poses, squats and pushups in your hotel room or rental.
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Catching some shut-eye
Jet lag can put a definite damper on the early days of your trip. Some people find that their sleep is horribly disrupted when flying between Seattle and, say, New York, while others don’t get knocked off course unless they cross an ocean. Jet lag happens because your circadian rhythms, or internal body clocks, are out of sync with your new time zone. Your internal clocks tune into the 24-hour cycle of light and dark, and also your activity and rest patterns.
Here are some tips for getting back in sync so you can get some sleep:
If you’ll be staying at your destination for more than a few days, adjust your schedule to your new time zone as soon as you arrive. This means eating and sleeping based on local time and getting as much natural light as you can.
Some people help nature along by taking melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycles, in supplement form. But you can also get melatonin from a few foods. You’ll find it in walnuts, olives, rice, tomatoes and cow’s milk, but your best bet is Montmorency tart cherries. A small 2012 study randomly assigned 20 adults to drink either tart-cherry juice or a placebo juice for seven days, and found that the participants who drank the tart-cherry juice experienced higher blood melatonin levels and better sleep. It’s easy to pack juice on a road trip, and for flying, dried tart cherries are TSA-friendly. Enjoy a glass of juice or a handful of the dried fruit in the evening to help ease you toward sleep. As an added bonus, tart cherries have also been shown to aid recovery from exercise — potentially helpful if you’re doing a lot of walking — and they contain anthocyanins, a phytonutrient that helps fight inflammation.
Even if you are traveling within your usual time zone, be prepared for two other sleep disrupters — noise and light. I always travel with an eye mask and earplugs, because I never know when I’ll be stuck with skimpy window coverings or thin walls. Plus, if I’m on a plane long enough to catch some Zs, muting my surroundings helps immensely. I’m also a big fan of the White Noise smartphone app, which Consumer Reports says rivals the quality of expensive white-noise machines.
Don’t forget hydration. Stave off the mild dehydration that can make the physical symptoms of jet lag feel worse. When flying, drink plenty of nonalcoholic, caffeine-free fluids before, during and after your flight (alcohol is dehydrating and caffeine disturbs sleep). Once you’re at your destination, remember to stay hydrated throughout the day — even if you have this habit at home, it’s easy to slip out of it when travel changes your daily routine.
Tart Cherry Spritzer
This tasty mocktail offers hydration plus some natural melatonin.
4 ounces Montmorency tart cherry juice (not concentrate)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
4 ounces seltzer water, club soda or sparkling mineral water
Lime slice for garnish (optional)
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the cherry juice and lime juice. Shake until well chilled, about 10-15 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass over ice and add seltzer. Garnish with a lime slice and serve.
Walnut-Tart Cherry Trail Mix
Makes 3 ½ cups
Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps make melatonin, but they also contain their own source of melatonin. If you like, swap out some of the walnuts for almonds, which are rich in magnesium, a mineral that also helps improve sleep quality. Combine the following ingredients, then portion into snack-size resealable bags:
2 cups nuts (walnuts, almonds or a mix)
1 cup dried Montmorency tart cherries
½ cup chocolate chips or flaked unsweetened coconut