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We Asked The Experts: The All-Time Best Healthy Travel Tips

Alexandra Engler
August 2, 2023
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and
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August 2, 2023
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Travel can restore your well-being. We're here to help you on that journey with Well-Traveled, a go-to destination for travel recommendations and tips.

Over the years, we've talked to a lot of trainers, nutritionists, doctors, and just all-around wellness experts about how to feel your best when you travel. And even though summer is winding down, you can still use these tips year-round. Summer may not be endless, but wanderlust is.


Find the perishables at airports

Whole fruits and vegetables are your best bets when you're trying to eat healthy on-the-go or during a layover.

Obviously, this is easier said than done, but as registered dietitian and nutritionist Maya Feller notes, the chain CIBO Express Gourmet Market has made huge strides here. They are found in larger metropolitan airports like New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Houston, which happen to be big hubs for layovers, in case you need to pick up something between flights.

Of course, a cheaper way is to bring your own, according to Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, R.D., and owner of BZ Nutrition. Just go for those that travel well (i.e., apple versus a peach and bell pepper slices versus broccoli).


If you're an anxious traveler, have a game plan

"The most important thing you can do is to come up with a coping mechanism before you leave," says board-certified psychiatrist Indra Cidambi, M.D. "Have a plan in place before your trip, so if you feel anxiety coming on, you already know what you are going to do."

To start, make sure you are calm from the get-go, she says. Check in via mobile apps or fill out any form you might need to beforehand (like if you are coming back on an international flight, always fill out the customs form on the plane, not while you are waiting in line). And when you enter the airport, turn on your most calming, relaxing playlist. "This will put you in a good mindset and distract you," she says.

And if you feel anxiety coming on, there are a few easy techniques to try:

  • Practice proper breathing using your stomach muscles, and reduce breathing through your chest. Breathwork is a very helpful tool to ease anxiety quickly.
  • Count backward from 100. "If you ask people to count upward, they can do it quickly, but doing it backward forces people to slow down," she says.
  • If you can sense the anxiety is pushing you into a panic attack, take action. If you have access to the restroom, sit on the toilet and put your head between your knees and breathe or splash your face with cold water to bring yourself into the moment. "When someone is having a panic attack, it's very difficult to talk them out of it; sometimes you need something physical to pull yourself out," she says.

While on the plane, wipe down your seat, tray table, seat belt, and air vent 

The dirtiest places on the plane ride are all in your seat area: the buckle, air vent, and tray. According to data collected from Travelmath, the buckle had 230 CFUs (colony-forming units of bacteria), the air vent had 285 CFUs, and the tray had a shocking 2,155 CFUs, all per square inch. Bring disinfecting wipes (CleanWell Travel-Size Hand Sanitizing Wipes are a great natural option), and wipe down prior to using any of these.

Also, if you plan to use your tray, make sure all your food stays on a napkin and does not spill on the tray itself: "The problem is they are heavily used, but they are hardly ever wiped down," says microbiologist Charles P. Gerba, Ph.D., who teaches microbiology and environmental sciences, professor of public health (EHS) at the University of Arizona.

If you have a sensitive immune system—or just feel more comfortable with one—wear a mask.


When you land, go for a walk

After sitting on a long flight, you need to get your body moving right away. It will help loosen up your muscles and help you establish yourself in a new location

Krista Stryker, trainer and founder of 12-Minute Athlete, says her No. 1 piece of advice is to take a 20- to 30-minute walk when you arrive to get some fresh air.


Prioritize sleep

Jet lag or having trouble sleeping on a hard hotel bed? Falling asleep in new locations is more challenging, research shows. But if you want to actually enjoy your vacation—and not, you know, stumble around like a sleep-deprived zombie—getting some good shut-eye is top priority.

There are a few things you can do. As you get ready for bed, adjust the blue light on your phone. We know from significant research1 that blue light, whether from the outdoors or our screens, signals alertness. Well, you can dim blue lights on your phones, tablets, and screens through settings (Google how to do it). This way, if you find yourself tossing and turning at night—and, ahem, checking your phone while doing so—you're not setting yourself back even further by telling your brain it should be awake.

You can also bring with you a sleep supplement. Magnesium is a popular option for natural sleep aids. In one study, magnesium supplementation had a positive impact on both sleep quality and sleep duration2.*


You can fit in a workout, no matter the hotel room size

"Either do a simple yoga flow in your hotel room—or leverage what's around you and do a makeshift routine: Do dips on the chair, throw your feet on the bed, and do crunches," says Todd McCullough, trainer and founder of TMAC FITNESS.

And as Stryker notes, "You don't need that much space. Think about it: The max amount of space you are going to need to get in a killer workout is the space it takes to do a pushup or plank."

And if you are looking to get your heart rate up, Stryker's advice: "Squats—do 20, 30, or 40 of them. You'll get in a real good workout with no room at all."


You *actually* need to detach from work

I am not going to be the first or last person to tell you this: You need to leave work at work. It is the only way you are going to declutter your head and recover while on vacation.

"If you really want a vacation, you're going to have to force yourself to leave behind any technology that ties you to your professional roles. Literally is best; metaphorically, if that's all you can manage. It can take a lot of discipline to step back and let go of the cellphone or laptop. However much effort it takes you to resist the urge—or addictive craving—to pick up your device and start scrolling through emails or the news is going to be well worth it!" says Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., LPC-NC. "Your brain totally deserves the opportunity to reroute itself, and we all know from current research that switching things up and reprogramming yourself out of ruts is one of the protective behaviors that helps fight against cognitive decline as we age."

I know how challenging it can be to actually do this. In normal day-to-day life, I often complain about the creeping ping of texts, emails, and social media notifications. But then when I actually take time off, I never let myself ignore them. So I empathize and acknowledge I'm not perfect. Given this, here's what I will say: You know your job better than I, so if you truly cannot not check email, that's your call and not for me to judge. But if you can, you should: The benefits far outweigh any perceived faults.


End your trip by planning another

There is one trick I always stick to when I'm returning home: Plan your next adventure. It helps ease the transition of vacation to real life and gives you something to look forward to. Coming back home, with a bit of anticipation already sneaking, eases any negative feelings about your free days coming to an end.

But don't take my word for it. Take researchers'! 

According to this often-cited study3, we actually get more joy from planning a vacation than taking that vacation: Researchers found that those who went on vacations were happiest before a holiday; post-vacation they reported the same levels of happiness as someone who did not take a vacation. Sure, that in and of itself sounds, um, bleak, but the reasoning behind it isn't.

And in a related study published years later, this only became more clear. In this study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychologyresearchers found that when you highly anticipate an event, it can help ease your feelings when you remember said event after.

That basically means that the act of being excited about a trip will actually make you feel fonder about the trip after, even if it wasn't as exceptional as you once expected.

Here's what I do, which is not at all hard: At the airport I pick up some travel magazines before departure for some inspiration (that's more for fun and pretty pictures; I likely already have an idea in my head of where I want to go next, but broadening my search never hurts).

From there, I make note of how many frequent flyer miles I have, what might the estimated budget be (so I can start saving), how many vacation days I have, and what timing makes the most sense.

Then I sketch out my trip: What are my goals for the trip, what are the must-experience activities, whether I want to take any day trips, where I might be interested in staying, and the like. Then that's it! You can save all the nitty-gritty reservations and bookings for a later date, but you've built the foundations for your next adventure.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
Alexandra Engler author page.
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.