I’m not gonna lie, I was extremely unhealthy when I left for my 3 month trip to Southeast Asia. I had just defended my PhD, which for me entailed not leaving my house for 3 months, barely showering, shoving massive amounts of takeout into the unfulfilled hole in my heart, and, I’ll give myself some credit, sheer stubbornness and determination. 8 years of feeling lost and stuck did not reflect kindly on my health. I was on antidepressants, my acne had come back, and I was very overweight.
I left on my flight to Bangkok carrying my anxiety and two massive bottles of pills. Since then I’ve lost 15 pounds and have weaned myself off of my prescriptions (with the approval of my doctor!) Here are some tips on how to get and stay healthy on the road, both physically and mentally.
Mental and physical health are a bit circular, in that when my mental health is lacking, my physical health suffers and vice versa. For me, one of my physical health goals is weight loss, because my weight was a physical manifestation of my unhappiness. I want to stress, however, that this is completely dependent on the person! Weight loss is not indicative of health, and a skinny body isn’t necessarily a healthy one, inside or out! These tips on how to stay healthy on the road focus on holistic health, and that may or may not include weight loss/gain for you.
We’ll start with the basics, like avoiding Hepatitis. The CDC travel website is great for their country-specific recommendations. Travel clinics are a great place to get even more specific recommendations: they have detailed maps of occurrences of Malaria, for instance. If you’re in the LA area, I highly recommend this travel clinic.
2. Wear Sunscreen
UV rays from the sun are a major risk factor for skin cancers1, and are responsible for 80% of the visible signs of aging2! Even if you don’t care about your beautiful face, skin cancer is a bitch.
3. Wear a Hat
Ok lets double down on the whole not getting skin cancer or wrinkles thing! If sunscreen is like tinted windows, a hat is like pulling down the shades. Plus, you look like a cool adventuress! 🙂
4. Drink Water
Stay hydrated! Actually carry around a bottle of water and drink from it, this increases your brain function, physical performance, and a ton of other physical benefits 3. My hat and my water are my essentials for going outside every morning. Tip: in Southeast Asia, buying a young coconut to drink its water is a cheap and eco friendly way to stay hydrated!
5. Eat Fruit
Eat a ton of fruit, every day! Trying new fruits I’ve never seen before is one of my favorite things to do while traveling, with the bonus of being a boost to my health! I love buying a bag of fruit at a market and demolishing it for breakfast. Fruit shakes are a super convenient form of consuming fruit, and are cheap and easy to get in Southeast Asia.
6. Eat veggies!
On my first month of traveling, I devoured Dr. Greger’s book How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease. It was so good! He provides an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence to lead a whole food, plant based lifestyle. Based on actual scientific studies, he recommends eating 2 servings of greens, 1 serving of cruciferous veg (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage), plus 2 extra servings of veggies. That is quite a lot, but I can’t argue with science!
7. Occasionally go meatless
Or all the time! Dr. Greger is pretty convincing about the negative health effects of meat. It’s very important for me, however, to try all the regional specialties, some of which are meat based. So what I do is try everything I want to try, and when I feel satisfied, I choose the meatless options, which are delicious in their own right!
8. Practice food safety
Here’s some tips on choosing your food, especially when it comes to street food:
- Make sure it’s freshly cooked. This is especially important with meats, but applies to everything!
- Go to places where a lot of people go. This helps the turnover rate so you maximize the freshness of the food you get.
- Get the specialty. Don’t go for the meat option in a seafood joint, or vice versa. This also ensures high turnover rate, and keeps your food fresh.
Otherwise just use your common sense. Careful of meat not cooked through, food that’s been sitting out, or if something feels or tastes off.
9. Moderate drinking
This is one I would have laughed at in grad school, as drinking is how I got through a lot of my days. But it feels great to not wake up with a hangover, and I feel like I have more head space for other things. Don’t get me wrong, I still drink beer like every day (it’s less than $1 per bottle here in Vietnam!!), but I usually limit myself to 1 or 2 bottles.
10. Walk more
This is the one that I’ll credit for most of my weight loss. I walk a lot, every day. I walk to most of my meals, I walk to go sightseeing, to go to the beach, to the coffee shop to write this blog post! Being active every day, (not necessarily strenuous!), has been a huge boost to my health.
11. Choose active adventures
There are plenty of opportunity for active adventures! We volunteered at an elephant sanctuary shoveling elephant poop, went hiking, climbing, and biking. It’s a great way to see the countryside and use your body!
12. Take an exercise class
I’ve loved taking a yoga class every once in a while. We even learned some swing yoga! In Southeast Asia, they’re usually around $5 – $10, and I find myself sore and satisfied afterwards! If you’re on a serious budget, I like Do Yoga With Me, they have some free classes that are very good.
13. Get Enough Sleep
It’s so easy to stay up late, my mind is often buzzing with the day’s sights or I want to stay up all night editing photos! Getting enough sleep is crucial to having the mental and physical energy to live a healthy lifestyle. This is a nice transition into the mental health section, as sleep is important for both physical and mental health.
1. Wake up early-ish
I’m really not a morning person, but when I’m constantly sleeping past 10, it’s a sign that something is off. It usually means that I don’t have enough mental strength to face the day, or I’m stressing about something. If that might be the case, see step 2:
2. Check in with yourself
Check in with yourself! What I mean by that is that I closely monitor my feelings and emotions. If I’m angry and irritated, or antsy and anxious, or feeling down, I’ll try to just note those emotions and objectively think about them. Often times I’m angry because I’m afraid, and anger is an easier emotion. If I’m feeling anxious, it’s usually a sign to slow down and relax. Sometimes I don’t know what anything means, but just objectively monitoring my emotions gives me space and information to figure it out.
I don’t know why it’s so hard to carve out a time for prayer and meditation! When I do make time, however, I always feel more grounded and peaceful. Meditation and prayer are great techniques to check in with yourself (step 2): You quiet down all the hustling of your mind to just be with yourself in the present moment. But what if you don’t want to be with yourself? See step 4:
4. Practice self love
Practice self love! For whatever reason this is really hard for us humans. A suggestion I have is to treat yourself like a friend. You think that all your friends are amazing and beautiful and interesting, right? So are you! You wouldn’t tell your friends that they’ll never amount to anything and are probably going to fail, oh and also they’re fat and ugly? Then don’t talk like that to yourself.
Even if you don’t believe it at first, not saying bad things about yourself is how you start believing it. A long time ago I decided to stop saying bad things about my body, even though I secretly thought I was fat and unattractive. Not saying these things eventually morphed into not thinking these things, and now I think I’m hot shit. 😉
Extra self love tips: if certain people or celebrities on social media make you feel bad about yourself (on purpose or just in your brain), unfollow them! People in real life make you feel bad? Distance yourself. Your mental health is worth protecting.
Extra extra motivation: self love makes you a better person. All those people who are mean and catty and go out of their way to make people feel bad? They are actually deeply unhappy and don’t like themselves. People who love themselves have nothing to gain by keeping others down.
5. Give yourself some slack.
We are all just trying to figure it all out: the fact that we are making mistakes means we are trying, which is commendable and brave.
Learning feeds the soul. True fact. Traveling is an amazing opportunity to learn as much as you can. I learn by talking to people, reading books and articles, watching youtube, and experimenting. It’s also a great way to get out of your head if you struggle with step 4! Read about what I’ve learned recently in my Monthly Favorites series!
7. Rest Days!!
Rest days might be the most important mental health tip! It’s impossible to see all the amazing things there are to see, so it’s tempting to cram as much stuff as possible into your trip. But then you risk burnout, or not being fully present. When I start to feel overwhelmed or stressed, I insist on a rest day, which means there are no plans and I can do whatever I want. After a rest day I’m usually recharged, caught up on my personal stuff, and ready for another adventure.
What are your favorite ways to stay healthy while traveling?
Do you have any tips on how to stay healthy on the road? How do you stay in shape while traveling? What practices do you use to stay mentally healthy? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!
 Cancer.org. (2018). How Do I Protect Myself from UV Rays?. [online] Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/skin-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/uv-protection.html [Accessed 20 Aug. 2018].
 Flament, F., Bazin, R., Rubert, Simonpietri, Piot, B. and Laquieze (2013). Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in Caucasian skin. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, p.221.
 Healthline. (2018). 7 Science-Based Health Benefits of Drinking Enough Water. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-of-water#section2 [Accessed 20 Aug. 2018].