Travel tranquility

Feeling Good


Published: Monday, June 3, 2013 at 3:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 3, 2013 at 3:54 p.m.

Whether you’re off to a tropical island or headed to climb the mountains in the Northwest, making sure you are physically prepared for summer travel is critical to keeping you on your feet.

But getting ready is easy and shouldn’t put a damper on your holiday plans. A University of Florida physician provides some simple tools to keep you in tip-top shape for all your destinations.

How to avoid jet lag

Think water. No, we don’t mean the beach or waterfalls.

“Drink plenty of fluids,” says Dr. Maureen Novak, an associate professor of pediatrics and associate dean for medical education at the University of Florida. “And don’t let those be caffeine and alcohol. Hydration is really key.”

Novak says if you’ll be traveling to a new time zone, “start pretending you are already at that time zone” a few days before or even while on the plane.

She recommends adjusting your sleeping/waking time to the time zone you’ll be visiting. If the plane flight is long and encompasses a time you should be asleep, consider an over-the-counter sleep aid or ask your physician for a short-acting sleep medicine, she advises. This will allow your body to rest and prepare for arrival.

And while awake on those multi-hour flights, avoid staying still for too long to avoid blood clots.

“Getting up and moving is a good idea,” she says. “Especially on the long flights. Walk around the cabin when it’s safe and (the flight crew) lets you do that.”

How to avoid food-borne illness and other bugs

“The best thing, of course, is to use typical precautions, such as washing your hands,” Novak says.

“If you are traveling to places where the hygiene isn’t as good as it is in the (United) States and the water isn’t as safe, drink bottled water,” she cautions.

As for avoiding the local bugs, Novak says to be careful of sharing germs.

“You know, one of the fun things about traveling is to taste other people’s foods and drinks because it’s interesting,” she says. “But that will share germs, so you have to be very aware of that.” she says.

To stave off food-borne illnesses, make sure your dishes are fully cooked and hot when you eat them.

“Eat food that you peel or food that is hot so that bacteria are killed,” she advises. “That’s mostly in developing countries – not the States, Europe or Canada.”

How to deal with higher altitudes

“Being in good physical shape is important,” the doctor says.

And be reasonable about your physical expectations of your trip.

“You shouldn’t go to a mile-high city and expect to do all sorts of activities the minute you get off the plane,” Novak says. Allow a day or two to acclimate to your new surroundings.

She advises those with medical conditions to get checked by a physician prior to travel since higher altitudes put more strain on breathing and the heart. Sleep can also be disturbed by altitude changes.

“Hydration is again key,” she says. “If you start out dehydrated because you haven’t been drinking all that fluid, you are going have more problems when you get there. Drink lots of water on the plane and when you get to your destination.”

For those going to very high elevations, Novak says some people may need to take medication such as acetazolamide. Altitude sickness can strike anyone and is not related to physical fitness levels.

This medication is “definitely recommended for people going to very high altitude of 11,000-plus,” she says. “Most of us going to places like Colorado don’t need those.”

How to pack stamina

It’s helpful to be in good shape before you go. But the right equipment can help even if you haven’t been hitting the gym regularly.

“Have the right shoes and comfortable clothing,” she says. “Don’t bring shoes you haven’t broken in yet. You need good support.”

And of course catching some Zs is always on a doctor’s to-do list.

“Good sleep is really important, especially if you are going to a place where you are changing sleep patterns because of a time change,” Novak says. “If you are not rested, you are not going to have good stamina.”

Fueling your body with the right foods also will help to keep you going, Novak says.

“If you are a picky eater, bring a jar of peanut butter for either you or your family,” she says. This is particularly important if you aren’t familiar with the food at your destination.

For a hiking trip through Europe or other physically taxing travel, Novak advises preparing yourself weeks before you pack your bags.

“Start by doing some walking beforehand. If you’re going to be hiking — we’re so flat in Florida — start by climbing stairs and get used to going up and down things.”

The Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at UF is a popular resource, offering 90 rows of steps. It is open to the public from early morning until the late evening, except certain days during the UF football season.

For those who sit behind a computer screen “and haven’t been outside in the heat and humidity – go for a walk outside to get used to the weather,” she suggests.

“Our Florida weather is beautiful so we can get outside, but it is also pretty taxing,” Novak says. “So when we go somewhere else, we are often going to places that are cooler and we are so grateful that we often do better.”

How to handle the sun

Natives to Florida are never surprised by 95-degree summer days. But venturing north doesn’t mean we can leave the sunscreen behind.

Pack your sunscreen and reapply frequently, especially if you are playing water sports or sweating a lot, she says.

If you will be outside, even in the mountains, Novak says to use the highest SPF that you can and apply it often.

“Just because we are used to getting all this sunshine here, going to places with more clouds doesn’t mean we don’t still need sunscreen,” Novak says.

Travel essentials

Dr. Maureen Novak, an associate professor of pediatrics and associate dean for medical education at the University of Florida, offers a packing list:

SHOES: A comfortable pair of walking shoes with good support. “Comfortable shoes are critical.”

HEALTHY SNACK FOODS: “If I’m going somewhere where I’m not as familiar with food, I bring snacks.”

BATHINGSUIT: “You never know where there will be water where you want to do something fun.”

BACKPACK: A foldable, easy string backpack. “I keep one with me for day trips once I get to where I’m going.”

READING: Lots of magazines. “I can then leave them there so I have space on way home and I have things to read on way there.”

GIFTS: Gator gear, such as T-shirts and hats, to give as gifts. Novak says these provide “a flavor of where we are coming from.”

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