Although travel is exciting and fun, it can also be daunting. Putting together plans, coordinating schedules and events, and the actual travel time can lead to undue stress and that can take a toll on our health.
When we travel our routines are disrupted. Sleep is not usually as restful as it is at home or we may not get enough sleep. We often move much more quickly to catch a train or get all packed up, and anxiety is usually elevated. These all stem from an increase in vata, which is the doshas governing movement.
When vata is out of balance, we tend to have interrupted sleep, constipation, dry nose and skin, anxious thought patterns, and we move very quickly. All travel is vata aggravating, and especially air travel which takes on the light and airy qualities of vata.
To counter the effects of aggravated vata, it is helpful to add grounding practices to reduce the effects of travel on the body and mind. It is also important to make sure the foods we eat are nourishing during a time where digestion is variable.
Here are a few tips from Ayurveda to reduce stress and support your health while you travel.
- Neti Pot
Before travel, use the neti pot or a saline nasal rinse. This will help clear the sinuses and free the cilia to be more effective at catching particles as they enter the nose and help prevent them from entering the respiratory tract completely. If you have a dominance or imbalance in kapha, it may be helpful to use the neti pot while you are travelling. Always follow proper hygiene practices when using the neti pot.
- Nasya Oil
Oiling the nose after using the neti pot is a great practice to counteract the drying process from the saline rinse. Because our nasal passage often dries out while travelling, the oil will help keep it lubricated and will help promote the health and function of the cilia. Even if you don’t use the neti pot, this is a good practice to do before entering any crowded spaces like a plane, train, etc.
Respiratory health is one of the greatest keys to support immune function. When our lungs are strong and move with ease, breathing is much simpler and we can use more of the lung capacity available.1 Performing breathing techniques such as ujjayi or nadi shodhana are wonderful ways to keep your body and brain oxygenated, create calm for your mind, and turn on your parasympathetic nervous system to create a greater feeling of relaxation.
- Yoga and Stretching
Moving your body is important to keep your lymph moving and prevent muscles and joints from becoming stiff. The lower part of the body tends to get very stiff while travelling from sitting or standing for long periods. Doing simple stretches like seated or standing forward fold, seated with one ankle crossed over the opposite thigh (figure four stretch), neck stretches, shoulder rolls, arm circles can all be beneficial for releasing tension and help flush lactic acid from the muscles.
- Keep Meals Small and Avoid Salt
It can be difficult to eat well when travelling. On days when you’re on the plane, in a car, or moving along, keep meals small and light instead of going for fried or heavily processed foods. Reach for the banana instead of the donut. Or ask for the soup of the day instead of the loaded nachos. Avoid raw foods like salads and incorporate more grounding and cooked foods like a baked potato. If you have the time, consider making your own snacks to take with little to no sugar and lots of fiber. Or take along some fruit and/nuts for added vitamins and minerals. Avoiding salt is also important to help keep your body hydrated. When the kidneys have to process too much salt, they pull moisture from your cells and displace the moisture which can lead to swollen ankles, face, etc.
- Self Massage
Take a few minutes each day while travelling to massage your calves feet, especially if you are doing a lot of walking. If you have trouble sleeping, oiling your feet is a great activity to do right before bed to help reduce the effects of vata. It is also helpful to massage common areas of tightness like the neck and shoulders, low back, and hips.
The dryness of vata is one of the biggest things to combat while travelling. It’s important to stay hydrated while travelling even though many of us purposefully allow dehydration to avoid using restrooms in public in tight quarters like on planes or buses. Reduce consumption of alcohol and coffee which are both very drying. Chicory root is a great substitute for coffee while travelling with the added bonus of providing essential prebiotics to support your microbiome. Hydration will also support the health of your eyes, the effectiveness of your nasal cilia and mucous, keep skin clear and supple, and keep your bowels lubricated to avoid constipation.
- Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep while on the go is challenging, especially if you are flying or are going from from your own time zone. Ear plugs and an eye mask can make a huge difference in the amount and quality of sleep. Having quite and dark are critical to sleeping well. If you are travelling to a time zone that will cause jetlag, make sure to get enough sleep the night before your trip and do your best to get on the time zone where you are heading. Naps are a great way to support any sleep loss for travel. Generally, naps should be 20 minutes to two hours, depending on how much time you have so that you avoid fully entering a sleep cycle or able to fully complete one. Do your best to take a nap before 5pm, and if it will be dark when you wake, nap with a small lamp illuminated.
- Stay Regular
If you travel often, it is no surprise to you that constipation can be an issue. There are a few ways to help with this. Ginger candy is a great tool of many benefits to travelers. Ginger aids digestion and can help the body better break down food. In addition, the heat from the ginger aids indigestion, nausea, stimulates appetite, and the antimicrobial properties with support the gut microbiota. Triphala is a blend of three fruits specifically designed to support digestive function. Although the main use for triphala is for eye health, it is also an effective digestive aid. Trikatu aids in assimilating the nutrients from food. A blend of black pepper, ginger, and pippali (long pepper), trikatu has antimicrobial properties to help better break down food so it can be more easily assimilated by the body for nutrients.
- Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics are polysaccharides, or a specific type of dietary fiber, that the microbiome flora feed on to flourish. One of the easiest ways to give your microbiome the food it needs is to have dandelion greens in your food or make a tea with the leaves or the roots. Although your travel companions may not want to be close to you, garlic, onions, and leeks are all wonderful ways to feed your flora as well as aiding in fat breakdown, offering anti-inflammatory effects, and leeks are extremely nutrient dense. Asparagus, bananas, oats, and barley are also supportive prebiotics.Probiotics are live organisms that live in your gut. When it comes to bacteria, there is good and bad. If your gut is full of bad bacteria, it constantly craves sugar and can lead to gas, bloating, and other health problems due to excess yeast in the GI tract. Helping the good bacteria flourish is essential to combat the buildup of too much yeast in your system. Some of the best ways to promote healthy probiotics in the body are to reduce refined sugar intake, consume more non-pasteurized fermented foods like kefir (make sure doesn’t have added sugar), sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles, and to eat more prebiotic foods. It is important not to overdo it with the fermented foods, too much can lead to other digestive issues. Do your best to have a well-balanced diet of mixed fruits and vegetables.
I hope you find these tips useful on your next travel adventure. Wishing you safe and healthy travels!
1 Karthik, P. S., Chandrasekhar, M., Ambareesha, K., & Nikhil, C. (2014). Effect of pranayama and suryanamaskar on pulmonary functions in medical students. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 8(12), BC04–BC6. https://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2014/10281.5344
Suggestions in this article are not meant to be a diagnosis or cure for any health concerns and are for educational purposes only. If you are feeling unwell, please contact your medical provider.