Tips for Healthy & Safe Travel
By Erica Zelfand

As I write this post, my home office is a mess of clothes, itineraries, guidebooks, and the scattered contents of a first aid kit. I’m packing for my upcoming trip to East Africa, carefully considering each item I pack into my deliberately small bag.

This isn’t my first sojourn: I’ve been to over twenty countries worldwide and have always loved exploring and adventuring in new places. Once upon a time I even walked from Georgia to Maine along the historic Appalachian Trail. And, as I’ve learned the hard way, sometimes sickness and injuries plague explorers and travelers.

As I pack my things for this upcoming two-month adventure, I’m therefore carefully considering not only the quick-dry nature of my hiking pants, but also the contents of my medicine bag.

Here’s what I’ll be taking along for the journey:


This one is key for traveling across time lines. When I’m on the airplane, I take note of when it will be nighttime at my destination (in this case, Dar es Salaam) and set an alarm. When the alarm goes off, I take some melatonin (1 to 3 mg), put on my eye mask, and turn on some relaxing music. Note I only do this if I have at least 8 more hours to go on the flight, as it’s pretty annoying to function after taking melatonin! When I arrive at my destination, I continue to take melatonin at bedtime for a few days to help me more quickly adjust to the local time and to give my immune system an antioxidant boost. This technique also works great for kicking jetlag when I’m back home. My favorite melatonin product is the Stress-Relax Tranquil Sleep by Natural Factors, which comes in soft gels or a yummy chewable form.

Shelf-Stable Probiotic.

Traveling to new places entails becoming exposed to new microbes! In our culture of hand washing, hand sanitizer gels, western toilets, and flu shots, our immune systems are pretty naïve when it comes to fighting off infections. (Don’t get me wrong; I love western toilets!) Taking a probiotic helps my belly handle the new and exciting mix of microbes I encounter while traveling, and supports my immune system to boot. Because I don’t always have access to a refrigerator or cooler when I’m on walkabout, I like to travel with a shelf-stable probiotic, such as this one by Jarrow.

Charcoal Capsules.

Charcoal binds to infectious microbes, drugs, and other toxicants. I therefore take a few capsules of charcoal every few hours if I get food poisoning. I also like to keep charcoal in my first aid kits at home at work, in the event that a child or pet accidentally swallows any toxic chemicals or medications. Because charcoal so effectively binds to microbes and drugs, it’s important to take it away from other supplements and medications. Also, fair warning: charcoal will temporarily turn your poop black!

Immune Support Herbs.

The best ways to stay healthy while traveling are to stay hydrated, make smart food choices, minimize alcohol and drug consumption, and get enough rest. When that fails, however, it’s handy to have some herbal allies on board. I love Bio-Vegetarian by Priority One and Host Defense’s MyCommunity Mushroom Blend. For pregnant mamas and kiddos, the Echinacea Vitamin C Elderberry chewables from Integrative Therapeutics are wonderful.


Nobody wants to be around me when I’m hungry! And airport food is underwhelming, over priced, and seldom gluten free. I never travel without a pack of jerky and a bag of trail mix. (Okay, and some dark chocolate.) For a longer trip like this, I’m taking a few packs to tide me over on long bus rides, day hikes, and nights when I just don’t feel like navigating a busy market in a foreign language.

Water Bottle and Salve.

The recycled air in airports, on planes, and in hotels dries out the mucus membranes inside the eyes, nose, and mouth, making it harder for these first lines of defense to fight off germs in the air. Sipping on water throughout a long flight can help prevent dehydration. I also like to travel with an all purpose salve (like the one by Wise Woman Herbals) to use as lip balm for dry lips and to rub into dry hands, cuts, and scrapes while on the road. When I feel the inside of my nose getting dried on out on a long flight, I slip into the bathroom and apply some salve inside the nostrils too. (Don’t worry; I wash my hands afterwards.)

Hand Sanitizer.

Okay, I really hate the stuff, but traveling in developing countries is pretty much the only time I use it. I keep “hand sani” in my bag for moments when there’s no place to wash hands after using the toilet, or before eating.

First Aid Kit.

Packing a small first aid kit is a must for traveling to developing countries. I pack mine with the usual items; antiseptic wipes, Band-Aids, triple antibiotic cream, tweezers, and the like. If I’m traveling at high altitudes or traveling to a very hot climate, I also bring a trace mineral formula and electrolyte packets.

I also think it’s a good idea to pack just a couple of pills of a potent painkiller, just incase (heaven forbid) someone gets seriously injured and needs pain relief during the long journey to the hospital down down bumpy, unpaved roads.

An Open Mind.

The most inspiring moments while on the road have always been the times I didn’t prepare for, like the delayed flight that made me strike up a conversation with stranger who told me about the best restaurants in Antigua, the wrong turn that led me to an Indian classical music concert not listed in the guidebook, or the twisted ankle that made me seek out a traditional Balinese healer.

“When you get there, you are going to have reconfigure your ideas to fit into local reality,” says my contact in Tanzania. I don’t see this as a bad thing. On the contrary, therein lies the magic.

Here’s to safe travels,


PS: Want to see photos? Follow me on Facebook to see pictures of my trip and catch other goings-on. In the meantime, here are some photos from previous adventures: