Travel may be largely on hold for now, but that's not going to last forever. Whether you're traveling across the state, across the country, or around the world, you want to feel your best. It just wouldn't do to be under the weather – or worse, sick – when that important business meeting, or that second day of vacation, rolls around.
While there are no certainties in life, you can take a few steps to try to stay healthy, happy, energized, and resilient during your trips. Drinking enough water to stay hydrated, practicing proper hygiene and cleanliness, and eating well are all good ideas. Of course, you can't leave out the supplements.
Even if you're not the kind of person who usually takes vitamins or supplements, you should strongly consider doing so for a trip. A boost to your body's natural immune system, and the associated systems that keep your body healthy, can be a great idea. Even if you don't get sick, vitamins and supplements can help keep you energized, keep you awake, and keep your mood up during your trip.
The only question is, what should you take? That's why we compiled a list. You can take everything on it, or pick and choose to meet your specific concerns.
First up, let's talk about vitamins specifically.
Vitamin D is the vitamin your body synthesizes when you're exposed to sunlight, so people call it the sunshine vitamin. While you might think just being on vacation will help you get enough, it can be worthwhile to take some in supplement form as well. In addition to its primary role in allowing the body to absorb calcium, vitamin D also helps with producing insulin, inhibiting cancer growth, and reducing high blood pressure.
Most of that isn't all that important for travel, though, so why is it on the list? Well, it turns out that vitamin D is probably the best vitamin you can take for boosting your immune system. On top of that, it can help boost your mood, so you feel better on your trip.
Vitamin C has long been considered the go-to immune-boosting vitamin. It's the core of a lot of immune-boosting supplements, and taking vitamin C tablets were a staple for many of us when we had childhood sniffles - not to mention the orange juice!
Vitamin C is powerful, but it only goes so far. Your body can only absorb so much of it at a time before the rest passes through you, so large supplements aren't all that worthwhile. That said, it's still powerful for boosting your immune system and your body uses it for a variety of purposes. I would avoid taking anything over 1,000 mg, as your body will likely just flush out the rest.
In particular, vitamin C is used in wound healing, which helps your body recover from soreness and aches as much as it does cuts and scrapes. Long, busy days on a trip can make you feel fatigued the next day, but taking vitamin C each morning will help you recover faster.
Vitamin B Complex
Some people will recommend individual B vitamins, but why not just take them all? A B Complex is a collection of B vitamins all in one capsule. Specifically, it typically contains Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6), Biotin (B7), Folic Acid (B9), and Cobalamin (B12).
This big pile of vitamins has fingers in just about every pie in the body. Cell growth, wound healing, energy levels, eyesight, mood, brain function, appetite, stress reduction, nerve function, cardio health; it does a little bit of everything. Frankly, pretty much everyone should be taking a B Complex vitamin on the regular as it is, so taking one as part of a travel routine is certainly a good idea.
Now that we have the most important vitamins out of the way, let's look at some minerals.
The number one most common supplement recommended for travelers is magnesium. Other lists might disagree about other vitamins and minerals, but magnesium is always on every list. There's gotta be something to it, right?
Magnesium is one of those minerals that isn't used in large quantities but is used in hundreds of different reactions in the body. It's everywhere, and your body is constantly starved of it. Almost no one gets enough magnesium in their diets, so supplementing it can be hugely beneficial.
For travelers specifically, the biggest benefit you'll get out of magnesium is sleep. It helps you sleep more easily and deeper, and for longer, so you're more rested on your trip. It can also help keep the bowels moving which, if you've ever had travel constipation, you know is a valuable effect. Just be careful not to over-do it and take too much.
Zinc is interesting because it's not commonly on lists for travel, but it has the potential to be quite helpful. Zinc is the primary ingredient in anti-cold medications like Zicam, meant to be taken before you get sick to help limit and lessen the duration of colds.
Hey, you know what typically happens before you get sick on a trip? Travel! If you take zinc starting when a day or two before your trip and while you're traveling, you reduce your chances of getting sick, and you lessen the impact and duration of any illness you end up contracting.
There aren't many minerals that do much for travel-related wellness, but there are other compounds you can take, so let's look at those next.
Theanine, also known as L-theanine, is an amino acid found primarily in tea and some mushrooms. As a supplement, the most common use people get out of it is a boost to mood.
While there's not a ton of evidence to support high-level effects, it can increase your overall mood and make you more resistant to stress, while also helping boost your cognitive abilities. If you've ever found yourself getting flustered while traveling, Theanine can be a good supplement to take to help calm your nerves.
Lycopene is an antioxidant, and it's the chemical primarily responsible for turning food red. You find it in foods like papaya, watermelon, and tomatoes. As an antioxidant, it primarily serves to help protect your body against oxidative stress, which makes it easier to recover from both physical and mental stress, as well as boosting your overall immune system and health. Some studies have also indicated that it can help protect against damage caused by pesticides and herbicides that could contaminate food products you eat while you're traveling.
Melatonin is a natural hormone found within the body. It's produced by the pineal gland, and it's released on a schedule every 24 hours to help induce sleep.
Melatonin is the most natural possible sleep aid you can find, and it's hugely beneficial while you're traveling through time zones. If you frequently confront jet lag, or you just run into the problem of needing to sleep when you can't, melatonin can "trick" your body into deciding it's time to sleep.
It's also not nearly as harsh or as forceful as other kinds of sleep drugs, which will knock you out but may harm your sleep quality in the process.
One of the biggest problems most people encounter while traveling is digestive issues. Digestive problems plague us all, and in large, they tend to be caused by exposure to bacteria not local to where you live. Different areas of the world have different biomes, and different gut bacteria can cause problems when your body isn't used to them. Sometimes it's a little upset stomach, and sometimes it's a lot worse.
Taking probiotics helps your gut maintain healthy gut flora. You can do this with natural probiotics like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, or kimchi. You can also do it with specific probiotics like acidophilus, a bacteria specifically cultivated for use as a probiotic.
Fish oil is one of the best supplemental sources of omega-3 fatty acids you can get. You can get it from eating fish, but since you're not likely going to be packing away a filet of salmon on your carry-on, getting a fish oil supplement is a better option.
Fish oil has a wide range of benefits, but in particular, it can boost your mood, help fight mental disorders, and reduce bodily inflammation. All of this can be beneficial for travelers looking to keep healthy on a trip. Frankly, though, we recommend fish oil as a daily supplement for a lot of people just because of the beneficial effects it has on the body.
With those compounds out of the way, let's look at some other supplements you can consider taking.
Turmeric is a spice, but it's a spice that has also been used as a traditional medicine for centuries. The effects are not well studied, but it does seem to have a variety of perks if you take it as a supplement rather than just a spice for the occasional meal. In particular for travel, it has some anti-anxiety effects, as well as stress reduction. Some people recommend taking it alongside black pepper to ensure your body properly absorbs it.
Elderberry is a berry, but it's also a common supplement found around the world.
It seems to have potent effects similar to zinc up above; it helps prevent getting sick, it reduces how bad an illness is when you get it, and it reduces the duration of illnesses. Since getting sick is the number one concern for many people when they travel, it seems like a no-brainer to bring a little elderberry along for the ride.
Ashwagandha is an herbal remedy hailing from ayurvedic medicine and is probably the oldest supplement on this entire list. We've written about it before. It helps stabilize the mood and suppress anxiety. It can help as a diuretic and as a stimulant, giving you additional energy and helping your body process nutrients, including other supplements. It's a decent choice to pursue if you want an additional level of stress relief on top of the other supplements you're already taking.
Licorice root is not a common supplement for a lot of people, but maybe it should be. The fact is, the root is a powerful herbal remedy to help combat the effects of stress. It does this specifically by inhibiting the production of cortisol, the "stress hormone", which allows your body more time to deal with less of the hormone whenever you're stressed.
The only potential downside is that it does this to adrenaline too. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, this may also reduce the excitement of some adrenaline-pumping vacation events, like roller coasters or sports. Adrenaline junkies need not bother with this particular supplement.
Milk thistle is another herbal remedy, but this one works a little differently. Rather than suppressing a hormone or delivering a particular nutrient to the body, milk thistle works to help bolster your liver.
While this isn't necessary for everyone, it can be very useful for people who like to sample the local alcohols, so to speak. It's also useful for people who take acetaminophen, which is notoriously harsh on the liver and can do a lot of damage before you notice it. Taking some milk thistle can help minimize that damage.
Another common recommendation for travelers, Rhodiola is another herbal remedy that helps support your mood and your energy levels. You might not need it if you've taken some of the other options on this list, but it can be a good supplement or alternative nonetheless.
Words of Caution
As always when you're dealing with supplements and medications, you want to know what you're taking, how it interacts with other things you're taking, and how much of it you can safely take. Avoid taking too much of any supplement, vitamin, or mineral without first looking into a safe dose. Some will be harmless in excess, like vitamin C, but others can be more damaging to your organs. Additionally, if you have any ongoing health conditions or are taking any ongoing medications, make sure none of these will have a negative interaction. Be careful to make your trip a success!