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5 Must-Haves For Healthy Travel

This article is more than 9 years old.

If you typically get home from a trip feeling tired, bloated, or worse, downright sick, you're in good company. Statistics show that travel takes a toll on our health, particularly short trips that don't give us time to settle in to a healthy routine. Entrepreneurs are constantly coming up with travel aids, and frankly most seem overpriced, off-target, or just more baggage for an already over-weight suitcase. But here, just in time for the winter travel season - and flu season - are five travel aids that really do something unique to keep you healthy on the road and en route.

1. SteriPen Water Purifier

Questionable water quality can sabotage your vacation faster than you can say "Where's the beach?" The SteriPen, A small, handheld battery-powered ultraviolet light stick, takes care of that problem quite handily. Rechargeable from any outlet, it purifies a half-liter of water in under a minute. (Killing 99 percent of bacteria and protozoa such as giardia and cryptosporidium, according to research testing.)

Small enough to keep in your purse or pocket, it's also  unobtrusive enough that you can use it in restaurants without calling attention to what you're doing. While Steripen hasn't been around long, but it's already recommended by experts.  I used it on two recent trips, one hotel, one camping, and didn't get sick. (But of course there's no way to know whether there was anything in the water that would have made me sick.)

2. Saline Nasal Spray

Ever wondered why the air is so dry on planes? It starts with altitude: Get above 30,000 feet and there’s not a lot of moisture in the air. Add the effects of the cabin’s recirculation system and you’ve got desert-like conditions. Unfortunately, when the tissues of your nose and mouth dry out, it sabotages the body’s defenses against cold and flu germs.  the body's natural defense system. And if you're already congested from allergies or a cold, the problem is even more acute.

To the rescue comes this simple solution. Use saline nasal spray before you board, doctors say,  and at least once in-flight on longer trips. If you are already suffering from allergies or a flu or cold, take a decongestant about half an hour before take-off, recommends the Centers for Disease Control.

3. Good to Go

Let's just say it - constipation is a constant companion for many people while away from home. Why? There are a host of factors, including changes in diet, sleep pattern, that cause traveler's constipation, but the simplest and most common cause is simply changing your routine, says the Department of Health and Human Services.

What I like about Good to Go is that it's specifically formulated to address traveler's constipation without the risk of going too far and doing the opposite, equally problematic while away from home. A day's regimen includes separate capsules for morning and evening, formulated with different combinations of fiber, magnesium and chia seed powder. Additional plant-based bowel stimulants in the PM formula set you up for an efficient morning bathroom trip before you head out for your day.

4. Pressure-Venting Ear Plugs

One of the most common complaints about air travel is ear pain, which happens when barometric pressure changes put pressure on the inner ear. The solution is ear plugs, but they have to be the right kind of ear plugs, designed to let air through. One kind recommended by the American Tinnitis Association  is E.A.R. plugs, made of breathable foam, which allow air to seep through steadily. Another type, developed by the House Ear Institute and tested by the U.S. Navy, and is Ear Planes which are made of silicone molded around a controlled air vent that responds to pressure changes in the cabin.

5. DEET-Based Insect Repellent

There’s a lot of scary news in the world of “vector-borne illnesses,” making both mosquitoes and ticks serious health threats. Mosquitos can carry West Nile virus, which sickened 5,674 Americans last year and killed 286, CDC statistics show. Just yesterday, Oklahoma announced 15 new cases of West Nile.

Mosquitoes also transmit deadly dengue fever, which was considered eradicated in the U.S. back in the 1940s, but is back. Dengue has caused outbreaks in Texas, Florida and Hawaii in the past 15 years, and is extremely common in northern Mexico, which isn't very far away.

Ticks carry not only the dreaded Lyme disease, but Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and babesiosis, a disgusting parasite that invades red blood cells.

Why DEET? While DEET and another active ingredient, picaridin, are both very effective against mosquitoes, only DEET is also effective against ticks, making it the CDC’s top choice. And while there were once concerns about DEET's safety, they've been laid to rest. The watchdog Environmental Working Group - usually the one issuing toxicity warnings - picked DEET as the best repellent after a very thorough testing and evaluation program in 2013.

A few more tips:

  1. Mosquito repellent is not waterproof - no matter what manufacturers say. Reapply after swimming, wading, fishing, boating, washing dishes - you get the picture.
  2. Insect repellents wear off fast, particularly those at low concentrations. The CDC says formulations with under 10 percent of their active ingredient may last as little as an hour. Go stronger, and reapply as soon as bugs come buzzing again.
  3. No need to go above 50 percent. While some DEET repellents tout DEET percentages in the 80s and 90s, there are no additional efficacy gains after 50 percent.

The CDC's Pack Smart list of healthy travel necessities offers a more comprehensive list of what to bring to stay healthy while you travel.

For more health news, follow me here on, on Twitter and Instagram  @MelanieHaiken, and subscribe to my posts on Facebook.