A Doctor’s 20 Tips For Staying Healthy While Traveling

24 December 2018 by Talek Nantes – on travelswithtalek.com

I’m frequently asked if I have any tips for staying healthy while traveling.  Since I am not a health professional, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Dr. William Spangler,* global medical director at AIG Travel.  The good doctor has a wealth of actionable tips to help travelers stay fit and healthy on a trip.  He also has some good advice on what not to do. Read on….

A Doctor’s Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling

What are some health related issues people should watch out for when traveling?

Stress is debilitating. Don’t try to do too much the first day, especially when traveling across time zones.  Your body is not used to traveling. The older you are, the more difficult it is to bounce back. Try to ease into your vacation or business trip. Plan so your first day is an easy one. Stroll the city the first day rather than hike. Don’t schedule a late dinner or a party night on your first day.

Know your limits. If you have not hiked for 10 years, don’t book a hike to Machu Picchu. Search out alternative transportation.

What precautions can travelers take to stay healthy while traveling, and what should they avoid?

  • You’ve heard it before. Depending on the country, stick to bottled water, wash your hands frequently, use antiseptic gel.
  • Get a flu shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this is the single best thing you can do to prevent yourself and others from getting sick.
  • Break in your shoes before you go on that trip. You will be walking a lot and uncomfortable shoes will cause you pain.
  • Bring an extra pair of glasses or at least the prescription.
  • Never put your medications in your checked luggage. Always bring them in your carry-on.

What actions can people take while on a long-haul flight to promote healthy travel?

To reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that can result from sitting on a plane for long periods of time, get up and walk as frequently as possible, at least every two hours. Increase your circulation with stretching exercises. You can do these in the areas by the restrooms, by walking up and down the aisle, and even while sitting in your seat.

To clear your ears when landing, hold your nose and blow out VERY gently. Forcing the air can cause damage to the eardrum and will not make the ears clear any faster.

As you’ve probably heard, an airplane is like a flying petri dish. There are likely more germs on your fold-down tray table than in the restroom, so act accordingly. Don’t be afraid to be that guy that wipes down the tray table and arm rest.

Airplane air is recycled and since there always seems to be a guy coughing and sneezing a few rows away from you, his germs are also being recycled.  Wipe down and close the air vents too.  Here is a situation where it can pay to be overcautious.

Needless to say, don’t fly with a cold. Landing will be very painful on your sinuses and you will needlessly jeopardize your fellow passengers.

Any tips on reducing the effects of jet lag?

  • Drink plenty of fluids, limit alcohol – a glass of wine with dinner is fine.
  • Exercise will tire you out and help you sleep.
  • Try to get into the daily routine of the new location as soon as you can.

What should every traveler have in her first aid kit to ensure they stay healthy while traveling?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider about prescription anti-nausea medication and a gastrointestinal antibiotic. As for over-the-counter medication, pain medication such as Tylenol or ibuprofen can be a lifesaver. BAND-AIDs are always good to have and will come in handy in case your shoes were not broken in beforehand. And don’t forget a good quantity of antiseptic wipes.

Your medications are a critically important part of your trip. Follow these key recommendations:

  • Make sure you have enough. Stock up for at least three extra days. You never know when some unforeseen situation will keep you from returning home on time. Who knew a volcano in Iceland would delay flights in Europe?
  • Make sure you know the generic name of your medication as well as the trade name, dosage and frequency.
  • Keep your medication in the separate, original container if possible. Depending on what countries you travel to, you may need a doctor’s letter stating that your medications were medically prescribed. The last thing customs officials want to see is a bunch of loose pills coming into their country.

Are there health myths for travelers that you can address and perhaps debunk?

Probably the biggest myth I can think of is that your home health insurance will cover you overseas.  Even if it does cover, you will still have to “pay-and-file” on the spot. Meaning you will have to pay for medical expenses upfront and file for insurance after you return home. This can be costly and time-consuming.

Should you have a medical emergency, you’ll want to evacuate as quickly and efficiently as possible. Medical evacuation insurance is recommended with a coverage of at least US$50,000 and preferably US$100,000. In circumstances that meet the terms of the policy, this level of coverage typically will provide for a medical evac jet or a nurse to accompany you home on a commercial flight. Depending on the situation, the cost of a medical evac will likely not be less than five figures – and a quarter of a million dollars is not unheard of.

For “regular” travel medical coverage, including dental, I recommend minimum coverage of US$10,000; US$50,000 would be preferable.


Staying healthy while traveling can make all the difference between a fun trip and a nightmare journey. I think these tips will go a long way to ensuring you minimize any health risks and enjoy your travels.

*Dr. William Spangler is based in Houston, Texas and is the worldwide medical director for AIG Travel, a company that is a global leader in medical, security, and travel assistance. Dr. Spangler completed his undergraduate studies at Albright College in Pennsylvania and received his MD from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.

He directs a global team of medical professionals including physicians, nurses and paramedics who assist travelers with medical concerns throughout the world. Assistance services include such activities as medical referrals, monitoring, evacuation and repatriation.