It is important to try to maintain a healthy lifestyle no matter who you are, how old you are or where you are in the world. However, it is much simpler to do this when you have a routine and there is no better routine than working a nine to five job in your home country. This isn’t for everyone though as some of us yearn to be free of routine and to live a location independent lifestyle. In the absence of routine, how do we stay healthy and what happens when it all goes wrong? This series covers staying healthy and dealing with illness whilst travelling.
A balance in what you drink does not refer to one beer in each hand – although this may be a popular perception of a ‘traveller’ held by those who have never travelled much themselves. A consideration of what you drink and how much you drink – especially water – can be the difference between life and death. So here are our top tips for drinking:
- Drink plenty of water. It might seem like an obvious one but we can’t stress this one enough. It’s easy to obtain bottled water in any country (though you really come to appreciate those countries where it is clean enough to drink it for free straight from the tap). If bottled water is unavailable, it is often safe (though please check) to boil tap water which can be a cheaper and easier alternative. Furthermore, if you’re travelling in a warm climate, it is essential to avoid the dangerous effects of dehydration which, if left untreated, can lead to heat exhaustion, sun stroke or even death. So make sure you have plenty of clean drinking water with you and, if necessary, dissolve a rehydration sachet in to avoid the dangers of very hot/humid conditions.
- Always carry rehydration salts. These can be added to cold or warm water and come in powder or dissolvable tablets. Some recommend only taking them when you feel the effects of dehydration. We have found that this can sometimes be too late. Look out for the signs of dehydration early and if you have just arrived in a new, much hotter climate than you are used to then consider taking one every two or three days until you get used to the temperature and know you can get the necessary salts and sugars from your new diet.
- Drink flavoured water. It may seem that water is therefore the best thing to drink but not everyone enjoys the taste of water and it can get a bit bland if you drink it all day, everyday. However, it needn’t be bland. There are now a number of flavoured water options sold all over the world. You can also use cordial (liquid) or powder to flavour your water as you go along. These are a great alternative to plain water and often can be found in a range of flavours to suit all tastes. A number contain added vitamins which may appeal to you if you would normally take vitamin supplements (which may be expensive or difficult to come by) and some can even be added to milk too!
- Avoid alcohol. We are not teetotal and nor are we suggesting that you should be either. However, alcohol is a diuretic which means it will promote the production of urine. This might not sound that bad but remember you’re body needs a fair bit of water to function optimally. Alcohol can therefore also increase the chances of you becoming dehydrated. We’ve felt the adverse effects of severe dehydration and even had to go to hospital for this. Trust us when we say, you don’t want to become dehydrated if you can help it. Therefore in extremely hot climates where you are not used to the high temperatures it might be best avoiding alcohol or at least drinking less than you normally would. In addition to any health benefits, alcohol is often pretty expensive compared to water – however, in parts of SE Asia we found it to be cheaper than soft drinks so try not to get tempted!!
- Use a straw. When drinking out of cans or bottles that have not been kept in clean conditions or show signs of rusting/corrosion then a straw is a must. Keeping up high levels of hygiene is essential when travelling, especially when travelling through the developing world. It is easy to pick up bacteria and viruses that your body has never encountered before and these can floor you. The last thing you want is to end up in a foreign hospital where no-one speaks your language, trying to explain how you feel like you might die any minute and being sent for tests that you have no idea what they’re for. We’ve been there, done that, and certainly will be trying to avoid it happening ever again! Drinking soft drinks with a straw is also much better for your teeth, directing the sugar down your throat can help to reduce the effect of plaque build up.
- Avoid caffeine. You may think so no soft drinks without a straw , no alcohol and no caffeine! What CAN you drink? Just water? We’re not saying no caffeine ever however, if you are in a particularly hot climate that you are not used to and could be at risk of dehydration then this may not be the best cure. Like alcohol, caffeine is a diuretic that could aggravate the effects further and therefore water is always considered the best way to hydrate.
- Drink milk. We do not like milk and in this case do not take our own advice. However, we have been told on numerous occasions that this is the best thing to drink when eating spicy food. Drinking water will only worsen the effects of the spice. We are not convinced and do not like milk enough to try as of yet. However, we are off to India soon and may need to take local advice such as this on board if we want to truly sample Indian cuisine. Don’t forget that milk is also a great source of calcium if cheese or other dairy products are unavailable/limited such as in China.
There are a number of things that you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle even when on the go. This is not an exhaustive list and we are certainly no medical experts so this is all from personal experience. If you would like location specific advice then please ask in the comments section. Furthermore, if you have any of your own top tips specific to the places you have visited then please feel free to send them to me so I can add them for others to benefit from.