How To Stay Healthy On Spring Break

mezcalWhether you’re a beach-bound college student or a middle-aged couple headed to the Rockies for some end-of-season snow, spring break presents the same health risks every year. Fortunately, they’re all easily preventable by using common sense and following a few basic rules.

This year, here’s hoping your only souvenirs are great photos and even better memories.

Hangover helpers
You could just watch your alcohol consumption, or try drinking a glass of water in between drinks, but I hear you laughing. Try to maintain, especially if you’re in a foreign country, traveling alone or at altitude. If I wake up with a hangover that not even a truckload of Tylenol can cure (it’s also not good for your liver when taken in combination with booze), I swear by coconut water, which is loaded with electrolytes. Don’t forget to consume regular water, as well, and get something in your stomach that’s full of complex carbs and protein, not grease (sorry).

Adjust for altitude
Regardless of your physical condition, altitude sickness can strike anyone. Give yourself a couple of days to acclimate, hydrate frequently and take ibuprofen, aspirin or even Diamox if you’re really feeling bad. Watch your alcohol consumption! One drink has the effect of two (see above if you ignore this advice).

Prevent food- or waterborne illness
Far be it from me to tell anyone to avoid street food, unless they have a compromised immune system, or are very old or young. You can safely enjoy street eats in foreign countries, as long as you know what to look for. If a stall or vendor doesn’t have a line, or their sanitation practices are poor, give it a miss; the same rule applies to restaurants (just because gringos flock there doesn’t mean it’s safe). As for water, I avoid ice cubes in rural areas and from street vendors, and always check bottled water in developing nations to make sure the seal isn’t broken. Don’t forget to travel with Imodium, because nothing is ever foolproof.

Save your skin
Yes, you need to wear sunscreen, even if it’s cloudy, rainy or snowing, and you need to reapply it thoroughly every two hours. Wear a minimum SPF 30 broad spectrum product. Ask your dermatologist for referrals; not all brands are created equal.

Be self-aware
Being drunk n’ sloppy is never attractive, but it can also be downright dangerous. Know your limit, stick with you friends if you’re not traveling solo, and if you (ahem) get separated, maintain phone contact, let them know where you are and who you’re with, and when they can expect you back. We’ve all had a spring fling, but safety should always come first.

[Photo credit: Flickr user dbrekke]@

It’s That Time Of Year: Neova Sunscreen

We had a run of spectacular weather recently, and some of it even fell on the weekend. I hung the hammock in the backyard for the first time in over a year and then, fell asleep in the blazing sunshine. My face wasn’t completely tomato red, but I was pinked up. I had forgotten the sunscreen.

I’m much better about sun protection than I was when I was a younger, California based, tan pursuing lass. Some of it’s a byproduct of moving north to Seattle, other parts of it are just that I’m considerably more aware of the damage sun can do to my skin. I got a brutal sunburn on the tops of my ears last year while on safari in Tanzania due to neglect – at least I’d been wearing a cap and didn’t burn the top of my melon or my nose.

On day two of the best weekend since last summer, I remembered to cover my face, neck and the tops of my ears with SPF 45 with some sunscreen that’s been kicking around waiting for a reason to exist. It worked, and though I fell asleep in the hammock again, I woke up half an hour later no more reddened for the, uh, effort.

NEOVA’s DNA SPF 45 damage control sunscreen is expensive stuff. It’s about $46 for a TSA approved serving (that’s three ounces). The main ingredient is zinc, but it’s transparent so you don’t get that white smeary look when you’re wearing it. It feels just a little sticky when it goes on, but that doesn’t last, and it has almost no scent, so it’s easy to forget you’ve got it on. It’s waterproof, though it never hurts to reapply every few hours if you’ve been swimming or especially active.

There’s a lot of marketing language with this product around anti-aging and DNA repair and the kind of stuff that makes us think we can reverse the effects of 20-plus years of forgetting to apply sunscreen when we go to the beach. I’d like to tell you that it made me look like I was 20 again, but no dice. I will tell you that it’s not rocket science that you should wear sunscreen and that if you spend a little more money, you get sunscreen that feels a bit nicer and doesn’t smell like plastic.

Travel health gift guide: what to get the incessant wanderer on your list

travel healthTravel junkies are a special breed. Only a very distinct personality type gets a rush from being on the road as much as possible, or relishes the discomforts and situations most people go to lengths to avoid. Homesickness is a foreign concept.

I know, because I too suffer from this malady. It started early, because I have a vivid memory of bursting into tears when I was six or seven, after we dropped a friend off at the airport.

“What’s wrong?” my dad asked. “I’m sad because we’re not getting on an airplane,” was my reply (ironic given my aviophobia, which had its onset about 12 years later).

A paralyzing fear of air travel hasn’t stopped me from roaming, however. So, whether you have a loved one who practically lives at Club Med or one actually enjoys sleeping on the ground or in janky Third World hostels rife with cockroaches…lucky you. You have a travel addict in the family or as a friend.

One experience incessant wanderers don’t go looking for? Illness or injury. While not inevitable, the more time you spend abroad, the greater the likelihood of suffering from anything from an infected bug bite or Bali Belly to…worse. But as I’ve always said, you can get hit by a bus crossing the street.

Of course travel isn’t inherently unsafe, but there are precautionary measures that minimize the odds of having health issues on the road. Below, my road-tested gift picks for frequent travelers (especially those who visit sub-tropical or tropical climes) and outdoor enthusiasts.

SteriPEN or LifeStraw portable water filter
Reasons why one of these is a worthwhile investment:

  • Saves money on purchasing bottled water in developing nations/places without potable water
  • Better for the environment (see above)
  • You can contract giardia or other nasties from improperly “bottled” water (trust me)
  • You don’t have to be out in the backcountry to have a potable water shortage; owning a filtration system is good insurance you stay hydrated and healthy, even in the city.

[Photo credit: Flickr user fauxrealphotos]travel healthTravel first aid kit
Even infrequent travelers should carry basic first-aid supplies: band-aids, gauze pads, Neosporin, OTC meds, etc.. Personalize your gift by tailoring a pre-purchased kit (REI is a great place to find different types and sizes) to suit the interests and needs of your recipient.

Wilderness first aid class
CPR or a general first aid class is a good idea for anyone, but if any of your loved ones live for backcountry pursuits or traveling off the beaten path, a WFA course can be a lifesaver–literally. Look one up in your area through the American Red Cross.

Controlled-release DEET and/or Insect Shield apparel
There was a time, several years ago, when I shunned DEET unless I was in a malarial region. Why, I asked myself, would I willingly douse myself in a pesticide? Why would I inflict said poison upon the environment?

That philosophy is all well and good until you get bitten by something harboring an infectious evil (in my case, it was sandflies carrying the Bartonella bacilliformis bacterium) that anti-malarials can’t prevent. Also note that malaria prophylaxis is not without considerable side-effects and may not protect you against certain strains of the disease. Be sure to talk to an infectious disease, tropical medicine, or travel physician experienced with actual working experience in these regions.

These days, I’m all about DEET if I’m traveling somewhere with potentially harmful biting insects, especially now that there are controlled-release versions on the market (there are various brands on the market; Sawyer Products is highly recommended). One application is good for up to 12 hours.

As for clothes, I love my Insect Shield long sleeve button-up shirt from ExOfficio. Good for up to 70 washings (after which you still have a good-looking, lightweight travel top), bug-repelling garments are treated with permethrin, EPA-registered, and free of toxic-smelling fumes.

Sun protective clothing
As you likely know, heat exhaustion or heat stroke can be serious; even fatal. In addition to a good sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat, sun protective clothing is a seriously smart idea for outdoor types. Once again, I recommend ExOfficio, or REI own brand, which will save you a few dollars.

Bear bell or spray
Google “2011 grizzly attacks.” ‘Nuff said.
travel health
SmartWool
socks
What they say in the military is true: you gotta take care of your feet. Once your dogs go, you’re SOL in the backcountry or tropics. Keeping feet clean and dry (and warm, if applicable) is of utmost importance (at the very least, fellow travelers will appreciate your hygiene efforts). These moisture-wicking, stench-resistant socks are invaluable even if you’re just planning an extended trip.

Ibex woolies
Getting chilled can quickly become serious or fatal, and hypothermia prevention in the form of extra layers is key. These 100% merino wool underlayers from Vermont-based outfitter Ibex are the bomb. Comfortable, warm, moisture-wicking, and seriously odor-proof (anything that remains fit to wear in public after a month-long backpacking trip from the Andes to the Amazon–sans laundry–is a product I heartily endorse). Plus, they come in cute stripey designs as well as solids.

[Photo credit: Band-aids, Flickr user m.gifford, feet, Flickr user Cin]

How Deep Vein Thrombosis Develops

Protect your melon; pack the right hat.

This is kind of gross, and I’m a little bit sorry for that, but I still have scaly bits on the tops of my ears. This because I burned the daylights out of them by wearing the wrong hat while on a recent adventure. I made it worse by neglecting to apply sunscreen to my poor ears — I’ll skip the part about what happened when I started to peel.

I pack a baseball style cap for my travels. I’d picked up a Sun Tripper cap from Sunday Afternoons while at the Outdoor Retailer show. It’s really cute, it’s that military shape, it’s got a split bill so it packs down nice and flat, and it’s got a stretchy drawstring on the back so it stays on your head in the wind. This matters; I watched the wind take a travel-mate’s cap and hurl it into the desert, there was no retrieving it. My cap stayed securely on my head the whole time. I also found that the funny little pocket in the top of the hat was actually useful. I tucked my ID and a little bit of cash in there, it was nice to have a secret stash and I didn’t worry about my head being pick-pocketed.

But as I’ve mentioned, I needed coverage for my ears. This was a tactical error on my part — I should have gone with a safari hat instead of just a cap. Sure, the extra coverage looks a little silly, but my ears hurt like hell and did I mention, they were kind of gross about a week later. Sunburn isn’t a joke, even when it’s limited to the tops of your ears, and I could hear my doctor’s voice in my head giving me the melanoma lecture. What I’m saying, is go with the extra coverage. Sunday Afternoons has some other options that I’d have done better to choose for this trip. I won’t soon forget that painful sunburn and I don’t expect to make that same mistake again. Get the coverage, people. The Sun Tripper cap is 24.00, the safari range starts there and goes up to 48.00. There’s a convertible cap too — just snap on the ear and neck coverage — that goes for 28.00. That would have kept the sunburn at bay.

In addition to sun coverage, I was delighted to find that I still had my SmartWool beanie in my photo bag. I’d used it to wrap up some camera gear I wasn’t using, but I ended up wearing it on cold mornings and evenings in camp. This stretchy little reversible beanie takes up negotiable space in my kit (really, I’d no idea it was in there!) and I was delighted to find that it had hitched along with me on my camping trip. SmartWool brands this little cap as a “training beanie” — whatever with that. I’m calling it a travel beanie and leaving it right where it is, stowed in my photo backpack, holding my lens polarizer. I’ll be happy the next time I find the wind is biting my ears or the night is a little cold. 25.00 from SmartWool.

Five uses for carabiners (besides climbing)

carabiners
I’m a big multi-tasker. I’m also tiny, cheap, and a “lite” traveler. Even when I’m going on the road for a couple of months, I somehow manage to cram it all in my backpack. I use a daypack for carrying my essentials (passport, credit cards, cash, documents, sunblock, sunglasses, water, etc..), but it’s only so big. At 5’2″ I don’t like to haul around something the size of a parasitic twin.

This is why I love carabiners. These oval, pear-, or D-shaped metal clips–of the style used by rock and mountain climbers–are handy and versatile, and come in a variety of sizes, gauges, and prices. I never use professional carabiners, which are more weighty and costly than my intended uses (they also have screw, auto-, or triple-locks, rather than straight gates, which I find more handy for light use). I do, however, purchase heavier, stainless carabiners of the sort found at REI or other outdoor stores.

I seem to find a new use on every trip, and admittedly, I sometimes resemble either a pack mule or a bag lady after a day of exploring, shopping, or hiking. But who cares? It’s better than wrecking my back by using a bigger pack or traveling with shoulder bags that don’t don’t compress well (I do, however, keep a canvas tote rolled into the bottom of my big backpack so I can haul souvenirs home).

So what exactly can you do with ‘biners? Read on.

1. Carry your baseball hat or shoes on your backpack
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this, both on my daypack and large pack. Sometimes I don’t have enough room to pack my running shoes, Chaco’s, or hiking boots, or maybe I need a spare pair of shoes for a day trip (apologies to former seatmates who have endured the stench of my sweaty shoes during flights). I also wear a baseball hat for sun protection if I’m doing any kind of outdoor recreational activity, but once I’m done with it, snap.

2. Clip on some shopping bags
I travel with a nylon shopping bag in a stuff sack (I recommend ChicoBags) so I can cut down on plastic if my daypack is full. But it’s a pain to carry multiple shopping bags, regardless of material–especially if, like me, you’re easily distracted and tend to leave them behind at every stop. Clip ’em on to your day bag and they’ll make it back to your accommodation. I also carry my travel coffee mug this way (obviously, you want to purchase one with a full handle, which can be tough to find for some reason).

[Photo credit: Flickr user chriscom]carabiners3. Air-dry your bathing suit
Knot the straps or, if you’re a guy, use that little waistband tie (many boardshorts also have key rings in their pockets). Um, don’t forget a change of clothes.

4. Key ring
I love travel-size tubes of sunblock that come with carabiners on them. Not only does it provide me with an accessible way to reapply when I’m paddling, hiking, riding, or skiing, but I get a free key ring out of it once I’ve refilled the tube to death. When I’m traveling, I snap my hotel keys (card keys are few and far between on the budget traveler trail) to a carabiner, and attach them to my body or within my daypack. Some people prefer to leave keys at the front desk, but the control freak in me likes to hang on to them.

5. Makeshift/emergency zipper
I discovered this one last week when I acquired a few too many ponchos and woolen hats in Chile. My tote bag was overflowing, so I snapped a large ‘biner onto the handles. It helped contain the alpaca within, and kept my souvenirs from scattering throughout the overhead bin on the plane. The same concept applies if you have a zipper break on a bag. It won’t solve things if it’s an item that requires checking, but at least it will help keep your belongings together until you find a replacement.

Got any cool travel uses for carabiners? We want to hear about them!

Learn about the Muscles used in Backpacking