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]@

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

Searching for travel-size sunscreen

It really shouldn’t be that hard, but finding the right travel-size sunscreen is one of my least favorite things to do before a trip. Though it’s often more cost-effective to go for the larger bottle, sometimes all I need is a small tube for a quick beach trip or weekend getaway.

Unfortunately, my local drugstore never seems to have the size I need in the brand that I prefer. Yes, you can easily find a 1 oz. tube of Banana Boat SPF 30 on Amazon.com for 90 cents, but shipping is $4.67. No, thanks.

So I find it refreshing to learn that last month, Neutrogena rolled out a men’s line with 1.7 oz. sizes. (See the black tube in the center of the photo). I’m told there are plans to add even more travel-size versions of its skincare products by the fall. Small innovations, but a surprisingly big help when it comes to last-minute packing. Since a 1 oz. tube doesn’t last long enough and a 3 oz. bottle hogs all the space in a Ziploc bag (how can anything else fit?), I welcome the happy medium of 2 oz. or 2.5 oz tubes. And if these travel-size sunscreen tubes become easier to find at the drugstore, perhaps I can finally stop my hoarding.

Other travel-size sunscreen solutions


Find reliable D.I.Y. containers
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I usually end up filling up a travel-size container with sunscreen (lately I’ve been using these squishy GoToob bottles). But I know it’s just a matter of time until the contents explode in my carry-on bag.

Consider sunscreen sticks or sunblock wipes
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I’m not a huge fan of sunscreen sticks or sunblock wipes (so far), but I’ve resorted to packing them in a pinch. To be fair, I think I could grow to appreciate these travel-friendly products, especially whenever I end up with a spilled bottle of sunblock all over my stuff.

Buy your sunscreen on arrival
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After running out of sunblock, who hasn’t shelled out for an overpriced bottle? Save yourself the trouble of packing a travel-size tube and just plan to pick up a bottle at the drugstore once you get off the plane. Just don’t be surprised if the $8 bottle at home now costs double. Justify it this way: Is buying some toiletries at your destination still cheaper than paying the checked luggage fee?

Mooch off someone.
You’re either the ultimate cheapskate, or you’ve cleverly worked out an arrangement with your travel partner(s). “You bring the sunblock; I’ve got the toothpaste.” Personally, I don’t mind sharing my sunblock, but I’ve noticed that some people can be very picky about the SPF (30 or 100?) or sunscreen formula (sport, waterproof, sweat-proof, scentless, no-grease, etc…). Ok, so maybe I’m one of those people.

Got any other sunscreen tricks?
I’m all ears.

[Image Credit: Amy Chen]

Summer travel: how not to sizzle your skin

The good folks at CNN have released a helpful guide and accompanying photo gallery horror show of solar ray-blasted epidermis. In “5 ways to avoid getting deep-fried,” you’ll find dermatologist’s tips to protect your sun from UVA/UVB damage, skin cancer detection links, and entertaining anecdotes of CNN reporters’ worst sunburns/precursors to melanoma.

I love the sun as much as most holiday-makers, but years of basting myself in baby oil, combined with the onset of crow’s feet in my early twenties and my mother’s own ongoing struggle with basal and squamous cell carcinomas have turned me into the Queen of Sunscreen. While my friends still mock me, and a former farmers market employer once remarked, “I can always tell when you’ve been hugging my dog, because he smells like sunscreen!” I feel vindicated because at 41, I look a good ten years younger, and have yet to develop my first pre-cancerous lesion. I get an annual screening at my dermatologist, and religiously apply a minimum of SPF 30 UVA/UVB sunblock over all exposed body parts (please remember the back of your neck, hands, ears, and knees, and tops of your feet).

Gadling has a more detailed explanation of what the heck all this SPF stuff means, and a guide to choosing sunglasses that do more than just look hip. I also wear, and heartily endorse (unpaid, of course) the sun protective clothing by ExOfficio, and sun protective hats by Outdoor Research. Sounds wacky, but these items are constructed with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) textiles that, while not a substitute for sunblock, provide a great dual-defense system. They’re also attractive, and incredibly versatile and travel-friendly. Don’t hide from the sun this holiday weekend; just take precautions, have fun, and think of all the money you’ll save by not requiring reconstructive surgery and Botox.

(Image credit: Flickr/Saspotato)

GADLING TAKE 5: Week of May 10-16

If you’re interested in finding out about good or bad health habit travel, turning into Gadling this week would have been a good place to start.