Magical sunrises and dazzling sunsets; misty mornings and soft glowing twilights; pristine, hidden waterfalls in mountains and crystal clear oceans, that have stood the test of time; mellow meadows, and roads not taken; or perhaps, a road you took as a child that you are now re-visiting; quaint little houses against the backdrop of all things that aren’t urban; or maybe, newer cityscapes with tall skyscrapers, and flickering lights; perhaps it is a nameless destination, or a town from the distant past, or New York – nothing in this world can spell more excitement than travel. Whether you are traveling for pleasure or for business, travel brings a sense of adventure, joy, and something new to look forward to, and most importantly it opens a whole new world of experiences to you. While traveling can be exhilarating and exciting, it can pose a huge challenge to your body in terms of adapting to a new environment and being able to stick to your routine – think exercise, nutrition, and sleep. In this article, we shall delve into some common challenges you may tend to encounter on your travels, and how you can work your way through them.
How does travel impact your body?
Typically, when you travel, there are 3 aspects of your body that get impacted primarily–
Whether you travel by rail or road or air, several factors can disrupt your digestive system – the stress associated with the journey - we all know the anxiety we get at immigration counters or the overthinking spree of ‘Did I lock my door?’ and ‘did I pack that-thing-I-don’t-need-for-my-trip-but-I’ll-never-know-so-I’ll-take-it?’, change in environmental conditions – temperature, barometric pressure, humidity levels, etc., what you eat before and during your journey, lack of movement, to name a few. These factors along with the absolute lack of physical activity during travel affect the motility and mobility of the digestive system and can manifest as bloating, constipation, acid reflux, reduced appetite, slower digestion, diarrhoea, etc. 
Sleep is something that can get disrupted very easily while traveling. Many of us struggle to fall asleep while on the move, which is quite natural as the conditions are not conducive to sleep. You feel extremely tired, and being unable to get that much-needed sleep on your journey can easily disrupt your circadian rhythm. Specifically, when you travel to a different time zone you are bound to experience a shift in your circadian rhythm which can lead to a jet lag disorder (JLD). The most common symptoms of JLD are insomnia, reduced energy levels, and feeling sleepy during the day. JLD can also disturb your gut, resulting in gastrointestinal issues. 
While travel by itself doesn’t impact your immune system, other factors associated with travel can impact your immune system. Disrupted sleep patterns as a result of changes in the circadian rhythm, stress, exposure to new pathogens, and dietary changes can weaken the immune system and make you prone to pick up pathogens that make you sick.
While many of these bodily changes are inevitable, one can work their way around these changes and optimize their state of health even while traveling in a different time zone. That said, here are some neat tips and tricks that you can follow to enjoy optimal health and have fun on your travel.
Food is perhaps the single most important factor that can determine the overall quality of your health while traveling. When we talk about food in the context of travel, it is not just the food that you consume during the course of your travel that impacts your health, it is also the food that you consume prior to your travel. This is why it is important to always stick to eating clean foods as much as possible. The more often you eat clean food, the better your gut microbiome and your overall digestion is.
Whether you are traveling or not, always avoid processed foods, junk foods, gluten, sugar, dairy, and seed oils. I know what you are thinking right now - ‘But it’s so hard to find clean food options when I’m traveling’. Sure, finding 100% clean options in a completely different city can be very challenging, but it is not entirely impossible. Before you travel, do your research to find out places that serve relatively clean – clean food. Build a little list of 3-5 places that are not very far from where you stay. This way, you can juggle places for different meals for the entirety of your stay and not get bored and also not stress a lot about food as you have it planned out. If you are unable to do your research for whatever reason and are left to finding places on the go, fret not. Focus on picking dishes where the primary ingredients are whole foods and are protein-based – think eggs, chicken, lamb, beef, legumes, lentils, sprouts etc. and pair it with a good portion of vegetables that work well for your body; add some clean carbs if your nutrition plan allows for it. It can prove to be difficult to keep a check on other ingredients such as oils, dairy, etc. all the time, so cut yourself some slack on that front. But if you do end up at a luxury hotel or a fine dining place, do not think twice about letting them know that you’d like for them to not cook your food in seed oils, and skip sugar, dairy, and gluten in all the dishes that you order, and they would happily comply to your requests.
To the best of your ability follow the circadian rhythm and eat at almost the same time every single day. This helps your biological and physiological processes to occur at the right times of the day and optimize your health.
When you travel, your sleep cycles go for a toss very easily. It all begins with not being able to sleep or experiencing disturbed sleep and poor sleep quality on that flight/train/bus, which results in sleep disruption for the rest of your journey. It gets even more complex when you are traveling to a different time zone, as it introduces a drastic shift in your circadian rhythm and you find yourself feeling sleepy at odd times. How does one combat this?
Sleep, as we know is fundamental to optimal health because it is when several reparative and restorative processes happen within your body. To ensure your sleep cycles don’t go for a massive toss, you need a good sleep support supplement like melatonin, chamomile, valerian, etc. You may also need some supplements that offer adrenal support to prevent any adrenal fatigue that can result in an overall lack of energy and difficulty falling asleep. A functional practitioner can help you identify the best supplement that can work for you and essentially help you sleep better.
Other things that you can do to optimize your sleep and keep sleep disruptions to a minimum –
- Once you reach your destination, allow your body to sync up with the local timing. For example, if you arrive in the morning, do not hit the snooze button the moment you reach your hotel. Instead, take up some activity to keep yourself productive and moving through the day thus allowing your body to adapt to the shift in the circadian rhythm with ease. Unwind later in the evening and then get to bed for a good night’s sleep.
- As much as you can, try not to stay up late into the night. Midnight fire camps are tempting for sure, but you can enjoy the same magic at 8 p.m. as well.
- Try to avoid flights with long layovers and redeye flights as they can make your journey cumbersome and stressful. As much as possible, plan your journeys in such a way that you arrive in the evening/night.
While supplements can easily take a backseat during travel in the name of ‘cutting yourself some slack’, supplements can also be a game-changer during your travel. Supplements can help your body adjust and adapt to newer conditions with ease and with low to no disturbances to your body’s processes. Make sure to carry the essential supplement stack wherever you travel – Magnesium, Zinc, Omega-3, Vitamin D3 + K2, B – Complex and a good probiotic supplement. If you’re prone to traveler’s diarrhea, take S.Boulardii everyday starting from the 3 days before leaving till the last day of your trip In addition, if you have been diagnosed with specific deficiencies or other medical conditions for which you’ve been prescribed supplements, do not skip them during travel.
As much as it may be tempting to indulge in alcohol, the after-effects of alcohol consumption can be quite damaging to different aspects of your health. Alcohol can easily disrupt your circadian rhythm, your digestion, and your immunity. Not to mention the hangover and the sore muscles that you have to deal with the next morning. Therefore, prioritizing discipline over indulgence, it is best to avoid alcohol while traveling.
Working out while traveling is the most underrated activity that you can do to keep yourself active, oozing with energy, and stress-free. Working out also helps you adjust your circadian rhythm as needed and combat the stress and exhaustion from travel. Exercise is also the easiest thing you can get done, regardless of where you are at. Remember, exercise need not be done at the gym always; your workout routine need not always involve weights. It can be a long, brisk walk through the city or a trail in the mountains; a good hour of yoga; or just use your own body weight to strength train. Pushups, body weight squats, planks, lunges etc help you get in a solid workout. Just do whatever is doable within your means. If your hotel has a gym within its premises, then you just got lucky. Sometimes you may find a gym or a yoga studio at a walkable distance from your place of stay which makes you extra lucky. All you need is the will to workout, and you will always find a way to get that physical activity in.
While these are some general tips and hacks that you can follow to enjoy optimal health while traveling, talking to a functional nutritionist can help you understand your body better and work around the nuances of your body better. Remember - everyone’s body is unique, and therefore a better understanding of your body can help you make better choices and enjoy a fabulous time away from home. Safe travels!