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How To Stay Healthy On Your Gap Year

Written by: Fran Tatman

8 Mantras for Healthy Backpacking

We often think we’re too busy seeing the next great sight to take the time out, but feeling well and keeping in shape will help make your travels even more brilliant. Here’s a quick guide to staying healthy on your gap year.

1. What goes in

First stop for good health on the road is eating the right stuff. We all know that there is a McDonalds in most destinations and particularly airports are chock full of deep-fried fast food.
If you’re canny you can combine hunting down the good stuff with a bit of cultural adventure too.
Check out local farmers markets or floating markets; this way you meet local people and often get a really good price on some fresh produce. In places like India where eating the locally grown food is not such a great idea, go for long-cooked or high-heat street food and stews.
If you’re worried about missing out on some of the nutrients you get at home or want an extra sparkle in your eye why not take a multivitamin with you to ensure that bounce in your backpack –laden-step.

2. Get that shut eye

Another spring-inducing activity is sleeping. A lot. As backpackers the thought of spending up to 8 hours asleep with a bustling city, or crystal waters or jungle adventures right outside the door is difficult to say the least but it’s a must do for good health. So snuggle up with a super fabulous eye-mask on, plunge in the ear plugs and start counting sheep.

3. Water up

When you wake up glug some H20. Dehydration is the surest way to get seriously ill, and honestly it just makes you feel pants. Nothing slows you down faster than not keeping your body properly watered, so drink up. If you are travelling to countries with poor water supplies, buy bottled (try and recycle), look at water purifying tablets or a technological ally like a SteriPen.
In this vein, don’t underestimate the importance of sun protection. We all want to be that golden god or goddess particularly when you eventually rock back up home, but not at the expense of being poorly or opening yourself up to some serious skin damage. Think high SPF reapplied regularly; light, loose clothes and hats (find a cool one if that helps).

Read a Doctor’s Guide to Staying Healthy on Your Gap Year.

4. Get up and go

Now that you are fed, watered and well rested it’s time to start being a bit more proactive. As travellers we’re in a brilliant position to keep fit and healthy, the best way to see a new place is walking, skip the expensive taxi and hot-foot it to the train station or around the city, it’s cheap and burns calories. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous why not hire bikes or, for the water-babies out there, a kayak and take a scenic and invigorating sightseeing meander.
Step this up further by incorporating exercising with your sightseeing. In China join a community Tai Chi class, Yoga in its home country of India, Muay Thai boxing in Thailand or take a day to surf in Australia. All of these are excellent for your body and give you the chance to see how the locals keep in shape.
If you are stranded deep in the outback or in the depths of a jungle why not pre-download some exercise videos onto your laptop or phone and take 20-30 minutes out to get your heart pumping. Having four or five Tabata pieces of music are great as short, snappy but killer work-outs. Tabata is a high intensity workout of four minute blocks, easy, quick and brings the buuuurrrnnn.

5. What goes out

Okay so we’ve talked about what you ought to do now let’s take brief kill-joy look at things to avoid. Number one on the list is drugs… I know, I know! But they are short term fun, we’re working on long-term feeling good. Cut back on the drinking, at the risk of being hung-drawn-and-quartered, binge-drinking is pretty harmful and also as a victim of the hangover god you waste so much time on the recovery. Keep it to a few Cosmos and not every night!
Dodge the deep fried delicacies; there are healthy options out there, but indulge a little, no-one wants to regret missing out on that deep-fried tarantula when you’re back home, just keep them as a treat.

6. Poorly tummies and quick fixes

Diahorrea is a major concern when travelling to far flung places. The new food and different bacteria that abound vary so greatly from what your body is adjusted and can cope with that it has a tough time adjusting, poor tum. Aside from the regular advice to avoid tap water, including veg and salad washed in it, make sure all meat and vegetables are cooked thoroughly and to wash your hands to a medical standard. The only thing to be done is to brace yourself.
Packs of Dioralyte and the like are great for rebuilding your electrolytes and sugars after you’re poorly so always carry a handful along with any other quick fix medication like paracetemol and use Imodium etc. to stop the flow. Always be aware that tummy bugs and food poisoning can leave you severely dehydrated, so again water-up and if the symptoms persist check in with a doctor as soon as possible.
On the note of hangover’s there are some weird and wonderful practices round the globe for ‘cures’ that could be an interesting experience on your travels, Italians grab a pizzle (dried bulls penis), while Hungarians opt for juicy sparrow droppings in brandy. Unless you’re feeling brave or are trying to instigate further upset, your best bet in reality is to keep hydrated as much as possible, retreat to a hammock and pop a few aspirin.

7. Get yo’ jabs

Don’t forget to contact your GP well in advance of leaving the country to book in for your injections, Hepatitis, Yellow Fever, Cholera and the like will not a happy trip make. This is the time to look into long-term medications like anti-malarias but remember there is no medication for things like Dengue Fever so try and avoid getting mosquito bites at all with nets and spray. Those fellas are dirty buggers.
Always consult your doctor before travelling.
Along these lines please, please have protected sex while travelling, Chlamydia might be dry-wiped away with a course of antibiotics but AIDS can’t be, wrap up!

8. Splash out for insurance

Yes insurance is expensive, especially if you are into scuba diving, base-jumping or other extreme sports, but just get it. Heaven forbid anything awful happens and you are lying in a hospital somewhere, the last thing you need to be worrying about is how you are going to pay to have surgery or a cast for a break. If it helps think about it in the sense that it’s making sure you’re back on your feet and back on the road as quickly as possible.
If you are abroad and you get sick, go see a doctor just like you would at home. There are doctors in every country, you may be more selective about how ‘bad’ it has to get before you go, but they will be there when you want to. On a side note though be prepared to pay, even it’s just initially before your insurance reimburses you.
The world is littered with pharmacies; beyond our borders they even stock things that in the UK would require a prescription. That doesn’t mean go nuts like a kid in a candy shop and take all the antibiotics you can find.
It does mean you can pick up medications to fix almost any problem, though there will of course be a cost which can be quite high in some of the less developed parts of the world. Check the availability in your destination before travelling.
All in all travelling and backpacking are by nature healthy undertakings, they push our boundaries and in a bid to see and experience more we are far more active.

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