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It's one of the busiest travel times of the year, and while spirits are high, stress can lower our immune system's ability to fight colds. But don't cancel that reservation yet; we spoke to Dr. Robyn Benson to get some tips on how to reach your destination in top shape. From herbs, nutrition, supplements and good choices, Benson—a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, specializing in alternative medicines—has laid out a blueprint for healthy, stress-free traveling.
Forward planning is Benson's first tip. Giving yourself time to pack makes it less likely that you will forget crucial items, like your passport. Planning ahead also reduces a lot of the stress surrounding traveling.
"Do it ahead of time to make sure everything is in its place," Benson advises. "People tend to pack the night before; instead, start packing four to seven nights ahead, so you're traveling by design, not default."
What you pack also matters. Benson recommends everyone travel with workout clothes, plus a multivitamin, Vitamin B Complex, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and a probiotic.
"To make sure you don't get an infection of any sort, take oregano oil, my favorite supplement of all," said Benson. "It's food-grade and prevents viruses, bacteria, and fungal infections. Even if you already have one, it's a natural antibiotic."
Zinc is also a must-have. Benson zinc tests her patients, and finds that everything from sexual response to immune strength to brain function is suboptimal without enough zinc.
"Make sure you're taking 30mg a day, because it's often something we're deficient in," said Benson. "The same goes for magnesium."
What you put into your body greatly affects your health, and that goes for food, as well. Benson recommends everyone take at least 24 hours' worth of food in their carry-on luggage.
That may seem excessive, but she suggests taking two hard-boiled eggs for protein, and canned sardines or oysters (though you might want to consider those implications on a crowded holiday flight). Carry small packages of almond butter; it will give you an instant boost. Slice up apples and dust them with cinnamon, carry bags of organic nuts and kale chips, or whatever else is healthy and easy to eat en route.
Bring a water bottle with a filter, so you can fill it up once you get past security. Benson likes the Earth-conscious LifeStraw water filters, because they give money to developing nations.
Make good choices from the colorful spectrum of fruits and vegetables. Avoid anything that molds easily, as that's a sign of high sugar content. Travel with the mindset to avoid anything that's not organic, and not GMO-free.
"Stay away from processed food," is Benson's first suggestion. "Ask in restaurants what kinds of oils they are cooking with, because it's all about healthy fats. Go for coconut oil or butter; avoid saturated or trans fats. When you eat better, you will feel a heck of a lot better. Throughout your whole trip, honor your vessel and put the best possible food in it."
All those key supplements and vitamins will take care of your inner immunity. Take care of your environment by making yourself less susceptible. Whether in a plane full of dry, recirculated air, or on a cruise, where Norovirus and GI infections are commonplace and contagious, essential oils are your best bet.
"Antibacterial lotions can be crap, but if you must, get ones without alcohol or chemicals," recommended Benson. "I prefer Thieves Essential Oil, which you can spray in the plane or hotel room or on the cruise, and it will help. It's a blend of clove, frankincense, and Eucalyptus radiate essential oil, which helps maintain a healthy respiratory system."
Get enough quality sleep, and do it without the gadgets. Practice good electro-hygiene by unplugging all technology six feet around your bed.
"Electromagnetic pollution is ruining our health," said Benson. "Turn off your Wi-Fi and your phones so you're not surrounded by radiation. Also, make sure to sleep in a completely dark room, or use a mask, so that you get REM sleep and natural melatonin."
To avoid getting sick, drink lots of water. Those extra cocktails you enjoy tonight won't affect you as much tomorrow, and your immune system will stay strong. If you're drinking a lot or eating 'questionable' or unfamiliar foods, invest in activated charcoal. It prevents food poisoning, and absorbs excess alcohol so you won't have a hangover.
Take extra Echinacea and goldenseal root, and a digestive enzyme with HCL, hydrochloric acid, to prevent parasites. This will break down proteins and aid overall digestion, so you won't spend your vaycay bloated and gassy. Quick-dissolving Boiron Gasalia also helps.
But the best way to avoid that cocktail party crash-and-burn is to start with a good foundation. Eat healthy fats and proteins before you're tempted to fill up on junk. A tablespoon of coconut oil, a handful of nuts, or a hard-boiled egg provides a good base, and keeps your blood sugar stable.
"If your blood sugar is imbalanced, you crave sugar or alcohol," said Benson. "When you don't eat well, your mood goes south; you're more irritable and reactive. All the sugar and alcohol you're consuming can bring out the worst in you, rather than the best, which is what you want when you travel."
Finally, get outside! As a big spokesperson for 'earthing,' Benson likes to get outdoors as much as possible. Go on a walk or hike, to a park or beach. Stay away from malls and movie theaters, especially if your immune system is compromised. These environments are breeding grounds for germs.
Benson argues that ultimately "it's not the outer world, it's more about what kind of immune system you are supporting as you walk through life. We all want to be healthy, conscious travelers through life, and that's reflected in our choices of hydration, nutrition and exercise."
Winnie McCroy is a contributing editor at EDGE Media Network. She has also written for The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate. She lives in Brooklyn.