The Side Effects of Travel on your Health
I love traveling. My reasons for doing so have changed over the years as my interests and self-realisation have evolved. What was important to me when I was 11 (riding a horse was a must!) is not as important to me now (satisfying my desire to try new food while striking a balance in these food choices).
Travel forces us to change the way we look at ourselves. It forces us to discover new ways of living and different world views about everyday issues (career, housing, financial status etc.). Travel pushes us out of our comfort zones in one way or another. Travel can also have subtle, undesirable consequences like causing us to gain weight, consume too much sodium and sugar, and to overindulge.
Now I am not saying that this is a good reason to ditch travel–hell no. I’m saying that without developing self awareness and making conscious choices even while on the road, some undesirable side effects of travel can effect one’s health status.
In 2016 I quit my job and went on a six-month backpacking stint in New Zealand. I had spent time there as a little girl, but this was a completely new adventure as a 25-year-old woman. I worked in a kiwifruit packing house with my friend, and we were both excited to be living completely on our own with no set goals or ambitions. We moved from one local house to another, living not for free but in exchange for a few hours of housework every day.
It was incredible and freeing to not know what I would have for my next meal, what I would do the next day, and so forth. It was also stressful for me because I was gaining weight quickly. I resorted to doing HIIT workouts to try and avoid the weight gain.
It was not clear why my body was growing at an accelerated rate when I was living on such fresh and organic lands. I ate fresh fruit and vegetables and drank lots of water. What I pinned it down to many months later was my dairy intake. I loved drinking whole fresh milk, and there were cartons of them in the supermarket at cheap prices. I had milk with cereal in the mornings (this was before oatmeal bowls or healthy high-fat, high-protein oats), and drank a glass of milk every few hours or so. It was delicious and I thought I was getting the best nutrients because it was so fresh.
Once I returned to Singapore I started to slim down quickly. I do not have dairy at home at all, so this was probably a big contributing factor. In hindsight, the change in environment and local foods probably affected my gut microbiome too and changed the way my body was able to metabolise nutrients and minerals.
Avoiding inflammatory food groups such as dairy, wheat, and sugars even when travelling can go a long way to maintaining good health. Sometimes you’re left with no choice but to grab a snack from a gas station, and to try out candies from this new country. I get that, but we do need to be mindful whenever we can to choose whole vegetables and good quality protein, even while travelling.
Take camping for example. I still get sucked into having junk food during a campfire but I try to take healthy options with me. After trial and error when going on camping trips by car, I have found it is possible to bring prepped and cooked vegetables with rice to a campsite. That way I still get fibre, greens and whole grains. Using coconut oil and pink sea salt instead of canola oil and table salt is also a good swap.
Such awareness and mindful choices when prepping for a camping trip or vacation might seem tedious and unnecessary. After all, isn’t travel about letting go and trying new things? Isn’t being on vacation all about having a good time and overindulging without a care in the world? The side effects of getting out of balance can hit you hard after a trip. If you gain weight or fall sick or develop more inflammation, you may feel like you need another vacation!