Health Tips for Savvy Women Travelers

Travel Health is an especially important issue to women travelers. In this section we'll be offering tips for healthy Girlfriends Getaways.

Eating Healthy

In her book, 100 Places Every Woman Should Go, Stephanie Elizondo Griest (see our Book Reviews Page) offers the following advice for women travelers heading to unfamiliar destinations:
"Parasites just love to hitchhike. Keep them away by avoiding the following, especially in the developing world: salads and other raw vegetables, unpasteurized products like milk and yogurt, iced drinks, cold meat and cheese platters in Soviet-era hotels (where it's probably been sitting out for hours, if not days), and shellfish. When choosing a restaurant, check out the bathroom first. If the Board of Health would condemn it, the same probably goes for the kitchen. Give your body time to adjust to local spices before hitting the street stalls, and only patron the busiest ones when you do. If you wind up somewhere even remotely sketchy, go vegetarian--or at the very least, avoid chicken and fish, as it goes bad fast. If you do get sick, drink Sprite, ginger ale, or carbonated beverages (or electrolytes if you have severe dehydration) and monitor your stool. If it turns yellow, bloody, or has pus in it, get to a doctor fast."

Feminine Hygiene

Ms. Griest gives this advice to women taking a long journey: "A friend once traveled the developing world for nearly two years with a single device--a menstrual cup--and swears it is the greatest contribution to womankind. Simply insert it into your vagina and empty it a couple of times each day. No strings, no wings! Another friend eliminates her menses altogether by taking Depo-Provera, a shot of progesterone that can prevent ovulation for intervals of up to three months. Otherwise, pack o.b.s or other non-applicator tampons, which take half the space of regular tampons and are less likely to be tampered with by customs agents searching for drugs. Chances are you'll be able to buy tampons abroad, but if you're picky or have a heavy cycle (as in, only super-absorbency-plus will suffice), bring your own."

Spores on a Plane

In a recent New York Times article, Michelle Higgins writes about protecting your health while flying. She relates how one frequent flying germaphobe she interviewed regularly carries a spray disinfectant to wipe down his seat cushions, arm rests and tray table--and then, just for safe measure, he avoids touching the in-flight magazines and struggles to avoid using the airplane toilets.

You may think this extreme but tests performed recently by scientists from the University of Arizona, microbiology department, found Staphylococcus and norovirus bugs on 2/3 of airplane tray tables. ("Cold and flu viruses can survive up to 72 hours on plastic surfaces.") And 1/3 of the bathrooms tested had E. coli bacteria (ugh!) on sinks, flush handles and faucet handles. Oh, and ditto for 20% of the toilet seats. Maybe just holding it is the best approach--just kidding.

The airlines do try to keep their passengers safe. American Airlines deep cleans its planes once every thirty days. Southwest has a new cleaning regime. It does a light "deep" clean twice a week, and a heavy scrub each month.

It's a myth that airplane air recycles germs. The real likelihood of catching a cold or the flu comes from sitting next to someone who is already infected. The use of a surgical face mask can protect you from that. Carry one along wherever you go, just in case.

But as more health scares arise, American ingenuity has come to the rescue in the form of travel friendly health products.

Magellan, the company that makes portable GPS navigation systems, offers an array of health and hygiene products in their catalog. These include antiseptic sprays, ultraviolet germ killers and bed bug protectors (you, not them).

A Los Angeles-based company, Wein Products, sells an air supply ionization mask ($135)said to reduce air-borne pollutants.

Maybe the best protection, scientists say, is to "wash your hands prior to touching your face and also before you eat or drink anything. Always carry hand sanitizers or disinfectant wipes.

Remember, take your time and be thorough when washing your hands. Did you see the Woody Allen movie, "Whatever Works," starring Larry David? A certifiable germaphobe, his character, Boris Yelnikoff, times his hand-washings by singing "Happy Birthday to Me" slowly, twice. Yes, it was funny, but that's exactly what the CDC recommends. So remember, sing slowly.

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