Whether you are journeying around the world or within the State, there are many natural remedies for travel that can help you stay well on holiday.
Before you go
Start taking Vitamin C and a good multivitamin a week or two before you head off, if you’re under pressure before a big trip. Supplementing with these nutrients through the busy times may reduce your risk of catching a bug on the plane or succumbing to an infection as soon as you wind down. Ideally take 500 mg of vitamin C twice a day plus a mulitvitamin containing at least 50 mg of B6. Otherwise a once a day dose of both while on the road is good nutritional travel insurance.
If you’re choosing to vaccinate before you travel, do your research to find out if they’re necessary for the region you’re visiting.
Perhaps the most controversial vaccine is Twinrix for Hepatitis A + B. This is routinely recommended for travellers who are spending time in developing countries, where poor hygiene or dubious water sources increases your risk of contracting hepatitis A.
Hepatitis A, though self-limiting, will often impact your liver for 6 months to a year after contracting the virus. This is a long time to feel unwell.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood products, including unprotected sex, being tattooed or shaved with unclean equipment (so too HIV and Hepatitis C, for which there are no vaccines). While all the hepatitis viruses are rife in most parts of the developing world, consider if you’re likely to engage in unsafe practices before assessing your need to be covered for hepatitis B. Of all the vaccines, Hepatitis B is one of the most controversial. Though rare, there may be a possible a tiny correlation between the vaccine and developing neurological conditions, like multiple sclerosis.
If you’re not taking part in risky behaviour, at home or abroad, having the single hepatitis A vaccine (Havrix), is an option instead of the A+B combine one (Twinrix).
Always allow plenty of time before the trip so that you’re fully covered, as some vaccines require multiple shots for full immunity.
It’s not unusual to feel a little unwell for a few days after your vaccination, so avoid getting them just before leaving in case you have any ill effects. Vitamin C before, during and after the vaccinations can provide some gentle help for your immune system, to deal with the onslaught.
Check if you’ve been immunised in childhood for diseases like polio, tuberculosis and diphtheria. While not an issue in Australia, the disease may still be prevalent in some parts of the developing world.
Preventing travel bugs
I am frequently asked if there are any natural alternatives to anti-malarial medication. While there are some interesting herbs currently being researched, most are potentially toxic. Check the CDC malaria map to assess your risk, before seeing your GP or travel doctor. Regardless of whether you are taking the medication or not, use commonsense and take adequate measures to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. There are a number of worrying mosquito-borne viruses such as Zika and Dengue fever. Be particularly cautious at dusk.
If you’re heading off to places where gut bugs are rife (“Bali Belly” etc) talk to an experienced herbalist about whether it’s suitable for you to take golden seal (Hydrastis canedensis). There are a number of contraindications for this herb, including high blood pressure and pregnancy, so self-prescribing is unwise. Golden seal helps improves the integrity of the lining of your digestive system and has a proven track record for both preventing and treating infections (including Giardia). To be effective you need a high quality product, with CITES approval and an appropriate dose for your body.
Probiotics are also recommended to help your digestive system adjust to unfamiliar flora in the food chain. However, most probiotics need constant refrigeration to remain effective. There are some that are stable to 25c, though many of the countries you may needs some gut protections can get much hotter than this. If this is the case, consider talking to your naturopath in your pre-travel consultation about the best probiotic formula for you, to take it the week before your trip and resume on your return.
Talking about infectious disease prevention, if you’re hoping to have a few sexual adventures of holiday – don’t forget to pack the condoms. You may not always be able to get the ones you prefer and in a hot climate, if they’ve been on the shelf for a while they may be more prone to breaking.
A natural travel first aid kit
Ginger: is natures remedy for motion sickness and general nausea. It’s also effective for bloating after eating unfamiliar food and menstrual pain. Cheap tablets of pure ginger powder are readily available and are often more effective than other over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Make sure you have eaten before the journey and are well hydrated. Take 2 tablets before setting off or if you have any hint of nausea. Don’t take medicinal doses of ginger if you have a blood clotting disorder.
Echinacea: if you’re going bush – or anywhere with venomous snakes or insects, a bottle of the liquid extract of this herb is essential. Apply liberally to a cotton pad and place directly on the bite and follow the standard bite first aid (bandage, immobilise the body part and get help). If applicable, take 10 mls internally, every hour ’til medical help arrives.
Aloe vera: is a soothing and restorative herb for sunburn, if your slip, slop, slap routine is inadequate. Aloe vera gel comes in a handy tube and is great first aid for minor burns.
Lavender essential oil: can act as a standby insect repellent and also soothes unexpected bites. A drop on you pillow or wrist can be inhaled to help you calm down or sleep. If you enjoy the smell it can also be a comforting aroma for times you end up in less than salubrious accommodation and as a bonus is delightful to add to a bath. Quality of oils can vary, always invest in pure essential oils, the best you can afford.
Don’t forget: to pack your usual medicines and supplements, sticking plasters for blisters and cuts (also handy for repairing mosquito nets). If heading off to the bush or a remote area, invest in an approved first aid course and carry fully stocked first aid kit.
While we all hope that we’ll beat the lag, this downside of modern air travel will get most of us in the end. During the flight drink lots of water. Aim for at least 1/2 a litre for every hour in the air. Avoid caffeine and alcohol on long flights.
As tempting as it is try to avoid taking sleeping pills, long periods of inactivity can increase your risk of developing a DVT. Adjust to the timezone of your destination from take off. Try to time naps and food accordingly. It’s ok to skip a meal on flight, in fact some people believe they can avoid jetlag by not eating during the journey.
Once you arrive, keep moving and get some sunshine if possible. Avoid the urge to snooze and try not to go to bed until it’s dark.
Melatonin is a ‘natural’ remedy frequently recommended to prevent jetlag. This is a hormone the body makes to help regulate our circadian rhythms. In Australia synthetic melatonin is available by prescription only. The over-the-counter products can contain only homoeopathic melatonin in this country.
As a naturopath and someone who can’t legally prescribe melatonin, I query how natural this product is. But it is prescribed by GPs specifically for sleep issues associated with menopause, which for some women is a life changer. If you’ve read some of the concerns about melatonin and your GP is happy to provide you with a prescription, be aware the standard 2 mg slow release dose, mightn’t be the right type of product or high enough dose to prevent your jetlag.
Have a great trip!
Updated May 2018: this article was originally published in 2008.