By Amanda L. Dale
As expats, the reality is this: if you want to see your family and friends back home, you’re going to be taking a lot of long-haul flights – often two in the same day, if you live in the Eastern US! Even though I am lucky enough to hail from California, where there are two direct flight options (Los Angeles and San Francisco) every day from Singapore, it is still a challenge to fly healthy, avoid temptations on the plane and at the airport, and arrive in the US feeling fresh and well rested.
The first key to healthy air travel is to prep yourself and your family for each segment of your journey. It may sound obvious, but so many people get swept up in the holiday season that they don’t adequately prepare for all that lies ahead – which ends in a lot of stressed-out rushing, last-minute forgetful packing, and utter exhaustion before you even hit security. As they say, “failure to plan is planning to fail”, so as soon as you are aware of your travel plans, start to conceive your strategy. Map out how long each flight segment will be, have contingencies for delays or cancellations, and arm yourself with reading material, connectivity-free entertainment options (for when batteries die out or you find yourself in an airport without WiFi), and enough clothing and toiletries in your carry-on to cover even the most unexpected of layovers.
When it’s time to get going, be thoughtful with your packing. Choose comfortable clothing for the flight, and if you tend to swell, choose compression socks, forgiving shoes and loose pants. Toss an empty water bottle in your bag for some in-flight hydration, and purchase your in-flight support items, such as neck pillow, moisturizing face mask, and compression socks, well ahead of time to avoid paying airport prices.
Decide when and how you’re going to eat your meals (on the plane? before you travel? upon landing?) and whether you’ll need to bring healthy snacks to bridge the gap in timing – there’s nothing worse than landing in Beijing at 3am for a two-hour layover and realizing there’s nothing open to feed you or hungry kiddos!
Determine also what hours you’ll need to sleep on the plane to minimize jetlag on arrival, choose where you’re going to sit. Choosing an aisle seat near the restrooms means you can stretch and ‘go’ as you please, while staying well hydrated by taking the opportunity to fill your water bottle.
A quick note on actually finding healthy food in an airport or on an airplane: never assume you can, and prepare as though you won’t. Pack non-perishable food as a backup (nuts, beef jerky, protein bars, and dried apples are easy choices) and commit to finding the best quality food possible when you are scouring the airport – a bag of almonds and banana from Starbucks is still a better, whole-foods-based snack than nearly anything from McDonalds, and mostly everything from budget airline food menus. If you are flying on an airline that allows it, pre-book a diabetic, vegan, or low-sodium meal for the plane – these keywords often mean you’ll receive just-as-filling meals with less of the junk (think fatty meats, high-sugar desserts, or overly salted veggies).
Once you’re actually on the plane, focus on frequent handwashing. The moment you hear someone with a hacking cough or wet sneeze means you’ve probably already come into contact with something they’ve touched or breathed on, and it should be a red alert to jump up and wash your hands (or in a pinch, use hand sanitizer). Most common illnesses can be combatted with this simple act, yet it’s the easy thing so many travelers forget to do that leaves them landing with a sniffle of their own.
Of course, as a trainer, I must also remind you to move! The aforementioned handwashing and hydration are great excuses to get up from your seat, and each time you do, perform a few bends and stretches to encourage circulation, keep your muscles active, and maintain mobility so that you don’t land feeling stiff and tired. Movement is another reason I always grab an aisle seat – I won’t feel guilty having to climb over someone just so I can stretch my legs, and it’s easy to meet my ‘move goal’ of standing up at least once for every hour of flight time.
Once you land, resist the urge to immediately plunge into full vacation mode. Your favorite foods from home will always be there as a treat, but they shouldn’t be the central component of each and every meal. Commit to eating at least one vegetable-heavy, clean meal per day while visiting home. Stay well hydrated and prioritize vitamin C-rich foods to boost immunity and stay well.
If you can, stick as closely as possible to your normal eating and exercise routines. If you’ve found weight control success using protein shakes, stick that powder in a Ziploc and make your shakes wherever you’re staying. If you’re a runner, make sure to bring along your running shoes and gear, and ask your hotel concierge for a safe local route, rather than saying “I didn’t know where to go!” and skipping the whole thing. Sleep as close to your normal hours as possible, and don’t overdo it on booze more than you would in Singapore.
My last tip for enjoying a healthy holiday is to plan for a glorious return. Even with relatively healthy habits, long-haul travel and its associated time changes, dietary changes, and often-harried schedules can leave you frazzled the moment you reach home. Put together a little detox routine (mine includes as much sleep as possible, a deep tissue massage for my swollen lower limbs, a short run or yoga class, and a few days of juicing with green vegetables) so that you always have something to look forward to as a re-energizing and relaxing treat upon returning to Singapore. You’ll always be happy to come home!