Healthy Travel by Plane

Monday Sep 9 | BY |
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Airplane landing

I wouldn’t say I’m a road warrior, but I travel by plane every 4 to 6 weeks on average. And as we all know, flying is not as pleasant as it used to be. There’s increased security, awful (or no) food, no liquids or water allowed, and increasingly smaller seats.

So here are some tips for staying healthy while traveling.

First and foremost, let’s clarify why many of my tips have nothing to do with food. When traveling, your primary concern is to avoid or reduce stress. Stress takes a huge toll on the body and adds to the fatigue of traveling. If you’re crossing time zones, you’re putting your body under even more stress.

My goal when traveling by plane is to lower my stress as much as possible. Every tip I provide here has something to do with that goal. If you make flying a pleasant experience, your digestion and overall health will improve, too.

1) Access the Lounge

Airport terminals are chaotic and loud, with screaming children and uncomfortable seats. But the business lounge is an oasis of peace and quiet in the midst of this madness. You can relax in very comfortable seats and sometimes have a view of the planes preparing for departure. The lounges offer food and drinks; I’ve often found really healthy stuff there.

Technically speaking, the lounges are reserved for those who are lucky enough to travel in business or first class. But did you know that if you own certain credit cards, you can access these lounges as well? Amex has that benefit with several cards, but there are others. Depending on which airline you use most often, you should investigate how to obtain lounge access. The company “Priority Pass” gives lounge access to its subscribers for a reasonable fee. And many credit cards offer a free subscription to this service.

With lounge access, you can arrive at the airport early. That will already reduce stress, especially if you show up outside of peak flying times. Then you can go and have a seat and relax!

Quiet lounge on my last flight.

Quiet lounge on my last flight.

2) Get a 9 a.m. Flight if You Can

This is a tip I picked up years ago from an Air Canada employee. During weekdays, 9 a.m. is the best time to fly. Why? Rush hour is over. Business travel passengers must arrive at their destination BY 9 a.m. or 10 a.m, so they take the 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. flights. The airport is practically empty for any flights booked between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. You will breeze through security and into the lounge to relax much sooner!

3) Decide in Advance what you’ll do About the Body Scanners

Body scanners are currently used in the United States, though I heard rumors that they will be phased out. Some people are concerned about the privacy or radiation from the machine. Your alternative is the pat down, which is not very private or comfortable.

Because I fly out of Canada most of the time, I only have to go through one of those machines when I’m on my way back from the US. I go through them instead of the manual pat down. That’s just my preference.

My philosophy is to focus on the things that make the most difference in my health and not worry about the little details. I’m not concerned about the health hazards associated with the machines from the research I’ve done thus far. And if we’re lucky, they’ll be eliminated soon!

Decide in advance what you will do about that, to eliminate the stress of having to decide on the spot and perhaps regretting your decision.

4) Bring Snacks

I always bring healthy snacks to the airport and onto the plane. Most people don’t realize they can bring fresh fruit and produce as long as they are “prepared,” even when fruit is otherwise forbidden. For example, you can’t leave Hawaii with a fresh pineapple, but you can cut up the pineapple for a fruit salad and bring that in a container.

Fresh fruit is king for flying. It’s truly the best food you can eat, along with water-rich vegetables like bell peppers, celery, and cucumbers (yes, I realize that two of those vegetables are technically fruits, but give me a break! We eat them like vegetables).

You don’t want to bring too much and then be burdened by excess weight. I typically bring the following:

• Ginger chews to avoid motion sickness; they’re available in health food stores.
• A big bowl of fruit salad, with plastic utensils and napkins (don’t forget that part!)
• 2-3 healthy snack bars
• A small bag of nuts, dried fruit, or both

5) Buy Water

Once you’ve crossed security, buy some water, but don’t start drinking it until you’re on the plane. I often sneak out a bottle of water from the lounge. They don’t really mind and it’s free!

Water will be useful on the flight, because they never give you enough.

6) Drink water

Drink plenty of water on the plane. But don’t go crazy and drink so much that you have to keep using the bathroom. If you’re taking a night flight and trying to get some rest, it can impair your ability to sleep.

There’s no set formula for how much you should drink, although some people suggest certain amounts by hours of flying. Essentially, you want to prevent dehydration. As long as your urine remains relatively clear and abundant, you’re doing a good job. If it gets very yellow, you’re becoming dehydrated.

7) Avoid Dehydrating Junk Food

Avoid the pretzels and other dry snacks they give you. Not only are they dehydrating, they’re also unhealthy.

8) Consider Eating Only Fruit

If you have a flight that’s only a few hours long, consider eating only fruit during your entire travel time. My digestion always gets messed up when I travel by plane. It’s probably due to stress related to a fear of flying. But fruit is the one food I can handle no matter what. Fruit is also water-rich, which helps keep you hydrated. You can also consume celery and other cut-up, water-rich vegetables (but not a big salad with avocado, nuts, and dressing!).

If you’re flying for longer, you may get hungry and need to eat something more than fruit. In this case, stick with foods that are easy to digest. Personally, I can’t handle a big salad when I travel by plane, but nuts and seeds work well. And I only eat airplane food when I’m sitting in business class (see more tips about business class below).

9) Avoid Germs

Don’t worry about the air on the plane: it’s probably cleaner than the air you breathe outside due to the filtering system. However, you risk contracting viruses during your trip because of the close contact with other travelers. So here are few tips taken from Colleen Story’s great article:

• Carry disinfectant wipes.
• Protect your hands. Use gloves if necessary.
• Don’t touch your face—ever!
• Try to sit near the front.
• Avoid coffee and tea.
• Don’t touch the magazines (full of germs).
• Bring your own pillows or blankets.

Read the full article here.

10) Drink Green Tea

If you need a “pick me up” while flying, drink green tea instead of other caffeinated beverages. Green tea is full of antioxidants that are good for your health. Bring your own tea bags and ask for hot water. If you’re in business class, they can make green tea for you.

Tips for Crossing Time Zones and Avoiding Jet Lag

Finally, I need to give you a few tips for avoiding jet lag, which is the biggest source of stress on the body when flying. Jet lag creates a deep fatigue that takes days to recover from if you’re not prepared. This puts tremendous stress on your body, which is much worse than eating airplane food!

Here are a few tips:

1) Use Light Therapy

This is my biggest breakthrough. I use a website called “Jet Lag Rooster” to create a plan to follow before leaving or after arriving at my destination.

Essentially, the plan involves resetting the circadian cycles by exposing yourself to light. The website explains everything, and they even have an iPhone app.

You will need a few pieces of gear if you want this to work:

– An inexpensive travel light box (like this one)
– Dark sunglasses or shades
– A night mask

This program really works. I’ve used it a few times and then traveled again without it; the difference was amazing! It’s not always easy to follow, because you have to wake up at inconvenient times to expose yourself to light, but if you can, do the program as explained on the website. It will save you from huge amounts of stress and unpleasantness on your next international or cross-country trip.

2) Take Melatonin

If you’re taking a night flight, you can take 2 mg of melatonin to help you sleep and train your body to “think” in the new time zone. Make sure you take the melatonin at a time when you should be starting to sleep in the new time zone.

For example, let’s say you’re flying from New York to Paris at 8 p.m. There’s a six hour difference between the two cities. So take the melatonin around 1 a.m. of your destination time, which would be 7 p.m. your time.

It’s not valium and won’t put you to sleep immediately. You might not even sleep at all, but your brain will react to the change and the adaptation will be easier when you arrive at your destination.

You shouldn’t take melatonin more than two days in a row, because it can make you feel too tired.

3) Fly Business Class Using Points

There’s a reason why business travelers fly in business or first class: it’s more restful! You can sleep on a fully reclined seat or “bed” and be treated to a royal experience. But business class seats are not cheap, especially international ones.

I always fly business class when going international, but I never pay for it. I use points to upgrade my regular seat to business class, or get the entire ticket with points. I use the system I teach in the course “How to Travel the World for Free“.

4) Fast

This is a more advanced tip that I rarely implement, but it works. Your body is governed by circadian rhythms, which are triggered by both light exposure and meal times.

If you start shifting your meal times one day in advance to the meal times of your destination, your body will start thinking that it’s already in the new time zone. The worst thing you can do is eat a meal in your time zone when it would be the middle of the night in the destination zone.

That’s why when I fly internationally, I try to eat as early as possible on the plane, or I skip the meal entirely if it’s too late in the new time zone. For example, if you fly from New York to Paris at 8 p.m. and the meal is served on the plane at 9 p.m. (one hour after departure), that’s like eating a meal at 3 a.m. in the morning in Paris! If you don’t have the courage to fast, simply replace that meal with a fruit snack and experience nearly all the same benefits as skipping the meal entirely.

Conclusion

Finally, the trick to remaining healthy while traveling by plane is lowering your level of stress. Sure, you can boost your immune system marginally by consuming some supplements and superfoods, but none of those things will have as powerful an effect on your health as lowering stress will.

Whatever you do, try to make flying a pleasant experience, and enjoy your trip!

Question of the day: What tips do you have for staying healthy when traveling by plane?

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

21 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Harley says:

    These are great tips! You are really on it with the travel hacking.

    My biggest tip is don’t be shy about asking for water on the plane. A lot. When ever I stay hydrated during a flight, I end up feeling tons better when I get to my destination.

    I used to worry about being a pain, but after a recent flight I am not so worried. When I was de-planing one of the stewardesses called my girlfriend and I “professional travelers”! I got a kick out of that.

    I think next time I will try fasting on a flight. I have been meaning to for a while, and it sounds pretty nice!

  2. Brandi says:

    The easiest and least complicated way to beat jet lag is to use the Horary Points. You tap certain meridian points at 2 hour intervals (only while awake) based on the time zone you are flying into. This resets your internal clock according to Chinese medicine. It works, I can fly from the US to Australia, Southeast Asia, anywhere without jet lag and most important fly home and back to work the very next day…. no adjustment period. I like this website the best: http://www.iama.edu/JetLag/JetLag.htm

    Also I want to ask about your comment regarding melatonin, isn’t is a beautiful, powerful, antioxidant that could and should be used daily?

    Thanks for all of your great tips, flying well really is about managing stress!

  3. catherine says:

    You mention reducing stress as having the most powerful effect on your health, but you didn’t offer any suggestions for stress reduction, other than using the lounge which most of us can’t access. What are some good stress reduction techniques while flying?

  4. Renu says:

    Drinking water is best. I travel internationally – 11 hr difference in time. I keep some Camu Camu powder on hand. I add about a tea spoon in water bottle and shake it (wait 5-10 minites to let it get hydrated) and drink thoughout the long flight. I end up using about 3 – 5 teaspoons of Camu. Result: no jet lag, no tiredness!

  5. Lesley says:

    I also recommend taking garlic capsules (odourless) and acidophilus during flights as well as bringing oregano and lavender oil in my first aid kit. Essential oils are easy to pack and wonderful multipurpose healing and first modalities. I always bring socks and dress in layers and bring a nice scarf to ward off cool drafts. Oh and don’t forget ear plugs!

  6. Sue Bromley says:

    I heard David Wolfe once say to get grounded (take off your shoes and walk on dirt, lawn, sand etc)
    as soon as you can once you step off the plane.
    And to get as much sun (if thats possible) as soon as you can after disembarking also.

  7. Elly Van Geel says:

    Great discussion!

    Can you recommend anything to mitigate the extra radioactive radiation that we are apparently exposed to when flying?

    Secondly, when going to Japan where there may be increased radioactivity, is there something to take to prepare ourselves? I’ve heard to take iodine so that the thyroid is filled up. It won’t absorb any iodine in Japan which is potentially radioactive. Is this true? What sort of iodine supplement is good? And is there more that can be done?

    Thanks!

  8. Zyxomma says:

    I’m one of the 4% of people who has never experienced jet lag, and I’ve traveled to Australia and back from NYC. I always joke that it’s because I’m built for space travel, but thanks to Brandi for the reminder about horary point stimulation. I’ll share it with a friend who travels much more than I, and always gets jet lag.

    Here are my tips, in addition to Frederic’s, for comfortable jet travel. Have a pair of loose, comfortable shoes in your carry-on, and put them on during the early part of the flight. Many travelers get swollen feet, and a pair of ballet slippers (or something equally comfy), can help tremendously. Get up and stretch now and then. I did this in the back of the huge plane both going to and coming back from Oz. Learn some yoga you can do in your seat. Bring along sample sizes of several essential oils, e.g. ginger or peppermint if travel nauseates you, chamomile or lavender to help get to sleep, grapefruit to help awaken (at the appropriate time, of course). Wear loose-fitting clothing in natural fibers, and leave the underwire bra in the luggage (if you use one). Wear nothing that constricts you or interferes with breathing comfortably. Like Frederic, I usually eat only fruit on the plane, but mine always includes avocado.

    Health and peace, renegades!

  9. Barbara says:

    I am interested in this course but am wondering how long ago it was made as airline companies have merges and have been giving away less benefits. I would appreciate information as to whether this has been recently updated.
    Thanks.

  10. As regards to the melatonin. It is individual the amount that a person should or could take. My experience with it is that I can go for awhile taking a certain amount which I decide by kinesiology each night. But then sometimes I no longer need it and then I feel rather drugged the next day. So I no longer take it for awhile until I find that I can’t sleep very well again. Melatonin isn’t something to mess around with as it is a powerful hormone. Take it only when you can’t sleep. This author has found his level of melatonin for flying. I have found my melatonin level for daily use when I need it. How I used it on an international flight last year is that I skipped the melatonin while on the plane and waited until I was ready to sleep in the foreign country the next day. It seemed to work well as far as jet lag goes. But since I didn’t and couldn’t sleep during the night hours on the trip then I was very tired the next day. I needed a short nap to carry me through.

    • Lee Marsdon says:

      For me and doubtless some others Melatonin is so stimulating that I do not sleep all night after taking one tablet !
      Every time I’ve tried Malatonin it has the same result. Wide awake all night .

  11. cantrav says:

    If travelling from Canada to the US be sure to fully disclose any food / food items that are are items on the declaration statement. I forgot one time and the US official told me that it it’s a very serious offence not to and people have been given an enormous amount of grief by not declaring it.

    If you cannot get of your seat then flexing and stretching muscles every 10 to 15 minutes is good for the circulation. Massaging temples, jaw joints, other parts of the face and neck can relieve tension.

    Refocusing the eyes between near and far distances is helpful as well.

    Ear plugs bought at a place like Shoppers Drug Mart or Home Depot are not close to being perfect but can take a lot of the edge off of noise.

    A homemade belt made of a nylon quick release buckle and nylon webbing, both available from the climbing section of Mountain Equipment Co-op and shoes that easily slip on and off makes life easier when going through security plus you don’t have to be a yogi when trying to get into and out of your shoes in those shrinking airline seats.

  12. Diane Marie says:

    I found an amazing difference using Travel Ease, a flower essence, crystal blend from Alaskan Flower Essences,You can purchase either a 1/4 oz. vial or a 2 oz spray. It helps your body adjust to each time zone as you cross them so that by the time you reach your destination you are immediately in that time zone! Yes, also drinking lots of water is so helpful. I also travel with Five Flower Essence blend from the Flower Essence Society.or It’s basically a Bach Rescue remedy that is organic. and helps with stress and fear. Thanks so much for your tips. I definitely plan on trying the light one!

  13. Annie says:

    I fly pretty often by myself with three kids 5 and younger. Some of these tips don’t apply to us (and some we already do!) but I am so thrilled to see your suggestions for beating jet lag. Since the children don’t handle jet lag well I end up spending long hours at night awake with one or more and we always lose at least a week at our destination. (4 hour time change) Our next trip is in 2 months and I am going to study up on what you’ve shared and hopefully have a better adjustment this time!

  14. Jill Reece says:

    Because of flying internationally 4 times this year, I’ve found that having CocoBiotic Drink waiting for me at my destination has given my body the probiotics and enzymes needed to recover quickly and I’m ready for the next day… it’s fabulous. Of course having cultured veggies waiting as well is great while I’m traveling so I don’t wonder too far from my routine. Second, I feel the radiation in the international flights is really a big issue. Above 30,000 feet for 2-3 hours is equivalent to a full body x-ray… on a 12 hour flight, thankfully I’m not a stewardess or pilot, but I’m not okay with that… that’s why I like to take detox baths before flying and after landing with Epsom salts or there are clay bath products available I need to check out. Thanks Kevin!

  15. terri says:

    I always avoid the body scanners, and consider the pat down a very pleasurable experience in an otherwise very chaotic security line. The skin is the largest organ in the body. When massaged, it releases all sorts of yummy hormones that create relaxation and a feeling of well being. I always feel better after the pat down and thank the attendant for the free massage. They laugh and so do I.

  16. Pamela W. says:

    Before traveling, I make a decision to eliminate or limit sugar intake…I feel better and I believe my immune system is more available to work for me in resisting stray “bugs” and germs that come along.

  17. Dave says:

    Once you have traveled a few times you kind of have your routine. Personally I don’t like to carry too much on me because you have to take everything out when you go through the scanners. Staying hydrated is definitely a factor especially with long flight. Just because you are sitting down, not being active doesn’t mean you don’t have to stay hydrated. As for the jet lag, that’s something that has never really affected me for some strange reason. I try adjust my sleeping time on the flight to coincide with the place i’m travelling to, it works for me.

  18. medicine says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on pills and tips.
    Regards

  19. Aroma says:

    Good and interesting article

    My person favorites for the long hall lights apart from water anfd more water are:

    – Lavender Essential Oil – my first aid kit in a bottle! Let’s face it, flying is always going to be stressful, so anything that helps you to relax is a good thing. Plus Lavender is great for kids who may get upset or nervous during the trip as well as being a very versatile oil to have on hand for a whole range of conditions. Put a couple of drops on your fingertips and massage over your neck, shoulders, temples, scalp, or anywhere you feel tension. Or simply drop some onto a tissue and inhale – works a treat

    – Rose Hydrosol Spray – The air in planes is very dry, so I used this to spritz my face during the flight – so refreshing. I actually decant some into 50ml spray bottles for fit with airline regulations, Any hydrosol can be used

    – Jojoba Oil – again I decant this into a smaller bottle – a 50ml pump bottle this time. Useful for any dry skin on your face (try applying immediately after the hydrosol and while your skin is still damp). It can also be used as a hand lotion or as a lip balm.

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