How to stay healthy when going abroad: be prepared & proactive

Plan ahead:

Getting sick is a drag anywhere. It is especially heart breaking when you have worked hard all year to take valuable vacation time. When traveling to foreign countries your immune system will likely encounter “new” germs and toxins. So, before you leave home, spend the few weeks ahead preparing your body to fight. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, get lots of sleep and exercise, and try to manage daily stress through Yoga, meditation or mindfulness. It also doesn’t hurt to try and avoid others who may have flu symptoms or colds.Another great way to plan ahead is to ensure that any medications you take regularly are well stocked and easily reachable throughout your trip. Carry any and all prescriptions with you including those for lenses (just in case).  You can also check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for any recommendations for the area you are traveling. It is also a great idea to bring a small first aid kit for any minor emergencies along the way.

Stay healthy:

Now that you have gotten off on the healthiest start possible, stay that way! Here are some helpful tips to avoid unwanted illness during travel:

  1. Drink LOTS of water
  2. Avoid tap water where possible
  3. Wear appropriate footwear for all occasions
  4. Take group or licensed transportation (*a major cause of death or injury while traveling is road accidents)
  5. Always use mosquito repellant when necessary
  6. Don’t forget sunscreen

Although these tips don’t guarantee that you won’t get sick, they will ensure that you are protected from more serious illnesses and injuries that could easily ruin a great trip. And remember, travel with an open mind and be well.

The heat is on…everywhere!

Back in the states this summer and I’m playing all my tunes featuring the heat. Hotter Than Hell by Kiss is my new favorite. So, I’m watching Al Roker this morning on the Today Show and he features a map showing the entire country bathed in red…the color of intense heat. I left Chiang Mai in May to escape the oppressive heat and smog and it appears to have followed me thousands of miles to take up permanent residence in the greater, contiguous USA. It’s hot everywhere this summer!

I am visiting friends and relatives in many different locals this August and because it is so darn hot everywhere, it’s making it pretty easy to pack. About the only difference I’m encountering is the humidity. Tucson visit: hot and dry, dry, dry. Virginia visit: hot and sorta humid. Florida visit: hot, hot, hot, wet, wet, wet and humid to the max. Some days I don’t feel like I ever dry out. Or, when I go to the desert, I feel like every drop of moisture in my body has been sucked out by some kind of sweat vampire.

I will definitely remember this as the summer of two showers a day. So much for my desire to conserve water.

How to handle the heat is the topic of the day. One could just stay indoors all day in the aircon, I guess. But where’s the fun in that?!

K’s Top 12 Ways to Handle the Heat

There are several habits you can adopt and items you can prepare to help you manage the heat.

  1. Know your local weather: You need to understand the weather. If the weather report that day says the UV Index is high, then you must put on the sunscreen and/or cover up. You need to know where the shade is to park yourself and your transportation.
  2. Make a plan: Now you know the weather, make a plan for the day. Are you going hiking? Take plenty of water in an easy to carry bottle or bota bag. A California grandfather and grandson recently perished on a simple day hike because they became overwhelmed by the heat and had no water. Going to the mall, or to see a movie. Great, it’s air conditioned in there. What about the car…where will you park it? Use the garage if there is one or find a shade tree or awning, even if you must walk just a bit further to the entrance.
  3. Let other’s know your plan: It is always a good idea, particularly if you like to go solo, to let at least one other person know what you’re planning to do.
  4. Keep these items handy: water, a few hard candies, a hat, an umbrella. The umbrella is not just to use when it rains; it also effectively blocks the sun and will keep you cooler. Sucking on a piece of candy helps your mouth keep from drying out.
  5. Go out early or later in the day: Know what time the peak temperatures are in your area. At my mother’s place, the hottest temps are not at noon, but at 3 – 5 in the afternoon. If we’re going to get a walk in, we do it before noon or after 7pm.
  6. Put your spritzer and moisturizer in the fridge: This is a personal favorite. I use an herbal spritzer to add moisture to my face. I keep it in the fridge during the hot months and give my face and neck a spritz right before I walk out the door. I also keep a moisturizer in there. It feels so nice and cool when I put it on and cools me right down.
  7. Wear a bandana: When you watch an old Western movie, you see all the cowboys wearing a bandana around their necks. Why? Because it mops up sweat. It can be rinsed out in water and replaced around your neck to lower your body temp.
  8. Wear a hat: A hat that is white or light colored, or straw and has air holes is best.
  9. Dress appropriately: Do not wear black or other dark colors. Wear reflective, light colors or white. Choose clothing made of cotton, flax, linen or blends of these. There are plenty of new fabrics out there, too. The shirts and underwear made by companies like UnderArmor and Columbia say they wick moisture from the body and cool you off. Personally, I prefer natural fabrics but each person should wear what feels best next to her skin.
  10. Layer your clothing: You may think you should only wear thin little strapped tops when it’s hot, but that will not protect you from the sun. Getting sunburned or sunstroked would be worse. Make sure to have a long sleeved shirt to throw on over the tank top.
  11. Eat lightly, drink prudently: When it’s hot is NOT the time to eat a huge steak dinner. This will just be too taxing on your system. Eat light meals with lots of veggies and fruit which contain extra water. Get a little salt in your diet as well. This will help you to drink more water. Similarly, drink lightly when it comes to alcohol. Granted, there is nothing like a cold, cold beer or an icy margarita on a hot day. But seriously, alcohol dehydrates the body. You must drink carefully, judiciously and follow every drink with at least one glass of water.
  12. Drink water: Seems like this goes without saying, but you would be surprized how many people forget to drink water. There are some good apps that help you remember to do this. Drinking 8-10 glasses of water everyday is one of those habits everyone can and should develop.

Hope the remainder of your summer is as wonderful as mine. Be wise and stay cool. -K

All I need is the air that I breathe and to love you…

Remember that tune by The Hollies from 1974 “The Air I Breathe”?  That plays in my head as I speed through Chiang Mai on the back of my daughter’s motorbike.  I wear a white mask along with my helmet.  And sensible shoes.  And long pants. I rode one timewithout the helmet to a night of Thai barbecue.  As cars sped past us nearly sideswiping us off the road, my mantra was “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.”  The little Thai gals sit sidesaddle on the backs of bikes in straight skirts, their pretty dark hair unemcumbered by an ugly helmet.  Nevermind.  I want to live.

Anyway, back to the mask.  If you remain in northern Thailand for the burning season which can run from February to April, you will encounter smoke, dust, and haze.  It is everywhere.  In the mountains, the valleys, the city.  If you suffer from sensitive sinusesas I do, it can be especially problematic. The air quality suffers so badly this time of year because all the rice farmers burn the leftover straw in their fields. It’s sort of like when they burn the sugar cane in Hawaii.

These are photos published in the Telegraph Travel Section in 2012 showing those protesting the declining air quality.  It got so bad that year a record number of people ended up in the hospital with breathing difficulties.  Supposedly, some laws were enacted to alleviate the situation but it is unclear how well these are being enforced.

smog in chaing maichiang mai smog

So what can you do?

Well, first of all, if you can avoid traveling to the north from March through June, you should miss the haze and bad air. With the start of the rainy season in June, the air will begin to get scrubbed clean and the air quality should slowly begin to improve.

Go to the south.  Tour the famous Buddhas of Bangkok.  Lay on the beach in Krabi.

If you must be in Chiang Mai at this time of year, then plan to stay inside as much as you can. Now would be the time to pay more for an expensive taxi and leave the motorbike at home.

Invest in a good quality air purifier.  Go to your local Tesco Lotus and buy the best one you can afford.  Run it continuously.

While you’re at Tesco, buy some nasal spray.  Get two bottles: one of saline and one of Nasacort.  Use the saline often.  Use the Nasacort as directed on the package.  It is wise to be proactive with it especially if you’re like me and get sinus infections easily.

When you must go out, wear a mask.  Get a good one that is rated N95.  You might have to go to a department or home store to get one of these.  I usually purchase a box of them for myself back in the states and take it with me.

Burn season will be unpleasant, but it won’t last.  Spend a little extra money.  It will be worth your health in the long run.