Destination Thailand: A Healthy Honeymoon? (Part 2)

Best Green Curry Ever: I Made It!

Best Green Curry Ever: I Made It!
And a Snazzy Apron to Boot.

I’ve been back from Thailand for almost two weeks now (time flies, sheesh!).  Here’s the second installation of my lessons learned from staying healthy when traveling to the other side of the world.  This post focuses on tips to stay healthy and happy while enjoying your vacation destination:

Indulge in local treats rather than “usual” ones

Thailand had many of the usual indulgences available, from ice cream to Oreos.  But unlike the U.S., Thailand had some awesomely flavorful tropical fruits, so I chose to indulge in those instead (coconuts, mango shakes, rambutan, mangosteen, pineapple, guava, bananas [much better than what I get in NJ], etc.).  In contrast, when I was in Italy, I did have gelato just about every day.  Moderation was key: one scoop, which is actually one small scoop in Italy (vs. two heaping scoops for the “small” in most U.S. ice cream parlors).  If you want to indulge, seek out foods or desserts that you can’t get anywhere else (or not as good anywhere else).

Try new things (or old things in a new place)

When going to Thailand I knew there would be a number of foods that I never had before and I made it a point to try them: fruits (mangosteen, rambutan, fresh guava), veggies (baby eggplants, fresh(!) baby corn) and even raw peanuts!  I just never brought myself to trying the insects (though I’ve heard they are very good, per an 8 year old Thai boy).  When traveling, check out what’s new, different and possibly tasty.  Who knows, you may have a new favorite food to look for when you get back home (it’s amazing what’s actually available when you’re looking for it).

Of course I also had to try all of the usual dishes I have at my local Thai restaurants: papaya salad, pad thai, green curry, panang curry and more.  I can tell you one thing: it’s spicier in Thailand; and in many cases, much more flavorful.  The coconut milk and curry flavors were fantastic and better than most that I’ve had stateside.  At the same time, I decided to try some dishes that I’ve never been a fan of in the U.S. Many of the noodle dishes in Thailand (pad see ew, pad thai, etc.) were less greasy than I’m used to dealing with, which is a welcomed change.  In fact, some of the best dishes I ate were the ones Becca and I made ourselves in a cooking class in Chiang Mai.  When in doubt, make it yourself!

*Note: When traveling to other countries, if you’re trying some new foods be aware that your digestive system may not always be adapted yet.  Also, be aware how safe the water system is (we only drank bottled water in Thailand just in case, but we brushed our teeth with the tap water without issue).  A few days of GI upset can happen in any radically new eating environment and honestly it’s not the worst thing in the world compared to the experiences we got for it.  Worse comes to worse you can always go to a pharmacy (or bring with you from home).  Thailand is very hospitable in helping you find solutions to any GI problems.

Look for alternative ways to stay active

None of our hotels had gyms, so my usual workouts were out of the question.  But you always have your body, so running/jogging/walking, pushups, squats, pullups, lunges are always fair game.  I actually brought along a Pinky ball, mini band and super band for some extra options (under one pound in the baggage).  In addition we did a number of activities that are not in my usual routine such as paddle ball, kayaking, rock climbing, jungle hiking, snorkeling and walking everywhere.  Here’s some tips:

  • Take a look at your surroundings to see how you can be active (any unique opportunities to go sightseeing and be active?)
  • Remember you always have your body weight
  • Consider bringing some light workout equipment like mini-bands, Therabands, super bands, etc.  Even a TRX can work well.
  • Walk everywhere.

Stay in touch with your body’s hunger signals

Often we’re so busy and rushed in our daily lives that we lose touch with when we’re actually hungry and full.  As a result we’re usually alternating between ravenously hungry and totally stuffed.  Use your vacation as an opportunity to listen to, and get back in touch with your body’s satiety signals.  Your body usually takes at least 15 to 20 minutes to know when it’s full, so take your time when eating meals on vacation.  Eat slowly and savor the local foods (where else do you have to be?!?).  Stop when you’re satisfied, not stuffed.  Unless you’re hiking the Sahara, odds are there will be lots of food available everywhere you go.  When you’re hungry, have a small snack (choose a local flavor) to tide you over until meal time.  At meals, don’t feel compelled to buy a three-course meal every time.  Get what looks good and unique; split dishes with others when possible.  If you have a big day of sightseeing or evening out, you may even want to focus on eating “light” so you don’t run into a sluggish period when you’re trying to be your most energetic.  Taking the time to get back in touch with your hunger and satiety signals during vacation can help recalibrate your system for when you return if you make it a point to eat slower and listen to when your body is actually hungry upon your return.

I decided to weigh myself on the last night of my vacation (mainly because it was the only hotel room that had a scale) just to see if my weight changed since my eating and physical activity habits were very different than my usual habits.  Turns out my weight was exactly the same.  What I noticed was I ate when I was hungry but did not force dessert or extra foods on myself when I was full.  I just waited until I was hungry again (at the next snack/meal) to have them.  I think I only felt “stuffed” once during the entire 14 days (I ordered a whole fish one night to try it and Becca’s a vegetarian…and the fish was really good!).

Stay hydrated

Thailand was hot and muggy.  I think I had water bottles in my hand most of the day.  And the days I didn’t drink enough water, I started to get a headache by the end of the afternoon.  So I would pound back some H2O and was right as rain.

Many of us fail to stay hydrated even in day-to-day life, let alone when on vacation.  There are many opportunities to become even more dehydrated on vacation, from lengthy flights to long days sightseeing/sunbathing in hot weather.  Regardless of the health effects, becoming dehydrated can be a huge drag on our vacation because it can make us feel lethargic, headache-y, irritable and even hungry (when we’re actually thirsty).

Start hydrating as soon as you get to the airport and drink throughout the flight.  Either bring your own big water bottle on board or just keep getting up for more water (makes for a good stretch too).  If you’re brazen like me, you can even ask a flight attendant for a whole bottle of water.  Once at your destination, aim to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day.  I’m 170 pounds, so that’s 85 oz. of water, or about 5 regular Poland Spring bottles of water. Add in more if you’re spending a lot of time out in the sun.  If you ever start to feel tired or a headache during a busy day, make water and shade a go-to first intervention.

Hope you found some of these tips helpful for the next time you travel (if you do, tell me which!).  And as they say in Thailand, lah gorn kop! (see you later).

Destination Thailand: A Healthy Honeymoon? (Part 1)

Kayaking in Railay Bay

Kayaking in Railay Bay

Howdy everyone, I just returned from beautiful (and sometimes rainy) Thailand!  Two weeks of amazing fun with the woman that I love, and am now married to!  We spent one week trekking around, exploring a friendly, welcoming country full of history and nature (including monkeys and elephants).  The other week was spent relaxing (and climbing, kayaking, etc.) on the confines of a pristine beach surrounded by natural limestone cliffs.

Needless to say, I was very much out of my usual “routine” of both physical activity and eating.  While reviewing the photos of my trip, I decided to also review what lessons I learned in the pursuit of staying healthy when traveling to the other side of the world.  Turns out I wrote a lot on this topic (surprise!), so I’m splitting it into two posts.  This post will discuss tips for getting to/from your destination (particularly, long flights) feeling great and how to re-acclimate upon your return.  My second post, in a week or so, will review tips to stay healthy, and happy, at your destination.

1. On the Plane (To & From)

Getting from New York to Bangkok required two flights, one 14 hours and the other 4 hours.  A long time to be sitting in a tight space (ahhh, coach).  Here are three ways you can prepare yourself for long flights:

  • Drink water

From the moment you get to the airport, start drinking water.  An airplane can be a very dehydrating place, between the dry air and difficulty in getting access to fluids during the trip (unless you’re like me who asks the flight attendant for an entire liter of water a few hours into the flight, with a smile of course).  In fact, I recommend bringing your own water bottle (empty first to get through security) and then go to the food area to refill it regularly during the flight.

Dehydration could contribute to physical discomfort during the flight including headaches and even upset stomach.   I’ve also talked to people who said being dehydrated prolonged their jet lag, so if you want to enjoy your trip, stay hydrated!  Try to avoid alcohol on long flights as well, as it becomes another stressor on the body and can have a dehydrating effect too.

  • Bring some of your own food

Food, of course, does depend on the airline.  Even if you know you’ll love the food on your flight, most of the time you’re going at least 8 to 10 hours between meal services on long flights.  Having some non-perishable, healthy snacks (i.e. nut/fruit trail mix, fruit, Kashi/Lara bars) can go a long way in keeping you satisfied and avoiding hunger pangs/crashing.  And if you don’t like the food, be sure to bring your own meal (from home or the airport) on-board.  Just be careful how long you hold onto the for, since perishable foods like dairy and meat can start to spoil after 4 hours.  If you want simpler food options on the flight, consider booking your meal preference as a “vegetarian”, even if you aren’t one.  Becca’s vegetarian meals actually looked better than mine on the flights (I was surprised…and jealous!).

  • Get up and move around regularly

Moving during the flight is essential to prevent you from feeling stiff for the first few days of your trip, keep your GI tract happy during the flight  (prolonged sitting could lead to indigestion or cramping) and to ensure you avoid a rare, but serious condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which involves developing blood clots in your leg.   Areas that tend to get tightest during long flights are calves/hamstrings, hip flexors, quads and chest.

If you’re drinking a lot of water, you’ll have to get up often to go to the bathroom, so that’s a great start.  Stand up in the aisle or go to the back of the cabin and run through a 5-minute series of stretches starting from your toes to your head (calf raises, quad stretch, hamstring stretch, chest stretch against a wall/ledge, shoulder/arm circles, wrist folding, marching in place, mini-squats, wall pushups, lunges).  If you don’t want to get up you can still do a few of these in your seat.  In fact, the airline I was on had a seat-based, 10-minute exercise video that they played towards the end of our flight.  Doing this even a couple times during the flight can pay significant dividends both during the flight (more relaxed) and when you step off the plane.

2. Getting Back Home

  • Avoid Injury by Gradually Returning to Your Workout Routine

When I went to Thailand, I stayed quite active, doing hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, swimming, etc.  But these activities were very different from my usual training routine.  Missing just two weeks of exercise can result in strength and endurance losses.  Therefore I am not planning on immediately running the same distances and lifting the same weights as I did when I left.  To avoid injury, I plan on giving myself a week at 50% intensity followed by a week of 80% intensity to ramp myself back up into my training regimen.  I may add an additional “recovery” day of foam rolling, dynamic warm-up and core stability training as well after having to sit for that long flight back home.  On the other hand, if you maintained your usual training routine during vacation, then feel free to continue as is (i.e. you’re a runner and have were able to log similar mileage and intensity to your home training regimen while traveling).

  • Review Your Habits

Did you pick up any new, healthy habits while you were away?  Would you like to continue them?  Take a few minutes to review those new habits and how you could potentially fit them into your current routine at home.  Did you eat more fruit because you were in a tropical place?  Were you more physically active because you had more time?   Did you try some new foods that you’d like to work into your routine?  Did you walk more?  Were you able to regulate your appetite better during your vacation because you could eat slower? To make room for these habits, consider any “usual” habits that you didn’t need to do while traveling, and don’t need to resume now that you’re back at homey (you probably have to go back to work, but maybe you don’t need to watch 2 hours of TV every night).

On the flipside, consider if you started any unwanted habits that you can make sure to stop doing once you’ve returned.  When I went to Italy for a week a few years ago, I had a scoop or two of gelato every day (it’s really good there!).  So when I came home, I made sure to avoid the ice cream shop for a week or so to allow my body to forget the ice cream habit.

Do you have any healthy travel tips?  Please share by commenting below!

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