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Surviving Air Travel

The other day I was speaking with a friend of mine and she was telling me about her experience flying from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Toronto.  Her story started when she was notified at the airport that her flight would be a bit late.  Well as can often happen, a ‘bit late’ turned out to be about 4 hours.  When she did finally board the plane she had a horrible headache and needed to take a sinus tablet before the plane took off.   At the first opportunity she asked the flight attendant for a glass of water. By this point flight attendants are frazzled, they are dealing with passengers who are upset and tired, they may have missed connections, they’re hungry, they’re thirsty and I’m willing to guess their blood sugar has dipped and these once happy travelers are now cranky.  My friend didn’t get her water until after the plane took off.

Why am I telling you this story?  Because in my former career, before I was a Holistic Nutritionist, I worked for a large company and I had to fly for business most weeks of the year.  I learned the hard way about the ins and outs of surviving air travel.  There are many things I could talk about and I could write a small book of travel horror stories, but for the purposes of this blog and in keeping with my new role as nutritionist I am going to write about food and drink.

One of the first things I learned in my many years of flying was to never be in a position where I didn’t have food and water.  You don’t want to end up in an airport after all the food venues have closed and you have nothing to eat.  Don’t end up thirsty and ‘foodless’ when your plane is sitting on the tarmac because of weather delays and who knows what else.  Always, always carry a snack or two and the largest water bottle you can carry when you are travelling (in an airport you’ll have to purchase water once you’re through security).

Here are some suggestions and tips.  I’m not saying these meal/snack suggestions are ideal, but they’ll keep you full longer and you will hopefully be getting some nutrients to tide you over until you get to your destination:

Ideally and whenever you can, pack your own lunch and lot’s of snacks for the ‘just in case’ times. The advantage of making your own snack or meal is you’ll know where the ingredients come from and you can choose better quality.  To make a lunch or a snack choose a lean protein, a good whole grain, lot’s of fresh, raw veggies, a piece of fruit and a bag of whole, raw, unsalted nuts.

Or if you can’t pack your own snacks then your best choice for purchase are:

Green smoothie such as the one at Starbucks

Bag of unsalted nuts

Unsalted trail mix

Nut and Seed bar with limited or no sugar

Tim Horton’s egg salad sandwich on whole grain bun

Lean meat or veggie burger with a salad (toss the white bun and add as many veggies as the venue has to offer)

A high quality protein bar – if you travel a lot, stock up on your favourite high-quality protein bar so you can grab them on the run and throw them into your purse or briefcase

Avoid:  sugar, alcohol and caffeine – they’re all dehydrating and add to jet lag, blood sugar spikes and crashes and bottom line – they just don’t do anything to help your energy levels

ALWAYS carry change for vending machine – just in case you can’t find anything anywhere and have to rely on a vending machine – especially to purchase bottled water

If you’re travelling internationally you may be more restricted in what food you can take through security.  If you aren’t able to take your own snacks try to purchase a better quality snack and avoid the sugar and low nutrient snacks.  And always buy at least a 1 litre bottle of water.

If you’re travelling by car then you have a lot more room and therefore more options.  You can pack a cooler with snacks and drinks and be prepared.  You don’t want to end up at a gas station purchasing a stale, soggy sandwich for your lunch.  You can even pack a thermos with coffee, tea or soup.

The most important thing to do from a health perspective is to stay hydrated, no matter how you’re travelling (bus, plane, train, walking).   Being dehydrated not only makes you feel tired and headachy, it’ll make jetlag worse and it weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to catching ‘bugs’.  We all hear people complain all the time that they “caught their cold, flu or whatever bug on the plane”.  It doesn’t have to happen.  Eating nutritious whole foods, staying hydrated and taking some practical steps in avoiding germs can go a long way to helping you avoid getting ill during and after travelling.

By the time you get on a plane and are eating your own snack or one the airline is serving, you have pushed elevator buttons, touched hand rails, pushed your t.v. screen and volume buttons a hundred times and who knows what else.  So washing your hands or cleaning them up a little with hand sanitizer is a really good idea.  And, don’t dump the contents of your snack/lunch bag right out unprotected on the tray table.  Uck.  Sleave sneeze…..snuff said.  I don’t want to be a germ phobe but that’s just not a good idea.

Let me know if you would like to hear some of my travel horror stories.  I can tell you about the time a baggage handler got trapped in the cargo hold, or perhaps about the time I got on a plane in Boston to travel to Toronto and ended up landing in Buffalo nine hours later only to sit on the tarmac there for another 2 hours.  See why I carry food and drink with me now?  All I had on that Boston flight was a bottle of duty free Rye (which by the way I could have sold for quite a profit).

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