Travel hints at excitement, new scenery, old friends and family, celebrations, and even business opportunities. Yet a lot of people get sick when they’re away from home. Why? According to ayurveda, travel aggravates the vata dosha. Literally translated as “wind,” vata is dry; it comes in bursts; it moves (and changes directions); and often, it is cold. Even for those with pitta or kapha constitutions, vata rises during travel. Unchecked, it can result in dehydration, constipation, anxiety, and sleeping problems. Luckily, ayurveda has some tips for staying healthy and happy on the road.
According to ayurveda, travel aggravates the vata dosha.
Keep Your Own Rhythm
At home, we live in a state of equilibrium. Traveling exposes us to changes in weather, altitude, humidity, and our daily schedule. Exacerbated by stress and fatigue, these changes makes us vulnerable to illness. Since vata is stabilized by routine, try to stick as close as possible to the schedule you follow at home. Do your best to eat, sleep, wake up, and exercise at your regular times. If you usually rise at five a.m., shower, brush your teeth, and do a nasal wash, continue this practice on your trip. If at home you spend ten minutes in relaxation before going to bed, remember to do so on the road. In short, make space for your usual stabilizers.
Be Nice to Your Belly
According to ayurvedic expert Carrie Demers, M.D., director of the Total Health Center in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, people often become constipated when they travel. Ayurveda says that sickness begins in the digestive system, so it helps to treat your belly well.
On the journey. Eating lightly might be better than eating badly. Try to avoid fast food, especially dry, crunchy, salty snacks like popcorn, chips, and crackers. Instead, pack your own goodies—foods that are hydrating, grounding, and rich in protein. Fresh fruits, nuts, and pasta salads are good options. And then, when you reach your destination, take the time for a nurturing meal.
Try to avoid fast food, especially dry, crunchy, salty snacks like popcorn, chips, and crackers.
During your stay. Choose fresh, warming, moist foods. Soups are an excellent choice. So are Mexican, Chinese, and Italian dishes. You can also opt for lightly cooked veggies served with beans, tofu, or cheese, combined with rice, pasta, or a tortilla. If you can, do 1–5 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing before you eat. Or, at the very least, take a moment to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and say a prayer of thanks. And avoid drinking with meals—it weakens your digestive fire.
Quench Your Thirst
Dehydration is a common problem on the road, not only because your routine is disrupted but also because the atmosphere, especially in planes, can be so dry. (Fact: Desert air is 30% humidity, while plane air is only 10%.)
Drink 2–3 liters of water per day when traveling. And choose herbal teas, milk, and juice instead of alcohol and caffeinated drinks (at least on plane rides), which are dehydrating and tend to increase vata’s nervous energy.
You can also enjoy walking in the warm rain or a dip in the pool, a hot shower, or a bath. And moisturize your skin with good-quality spritzers.
Touch the Earth
Although it can be exciting to soar 35,000 feet above the earth or race down a highway, high speed aggravates vata. According to David Frawley, author of Ayurvedic Healing: A Comprehensive Guide, “Any form of transportation that removes our direct physical contact with the earth increases vata,” because “it dissociates us from the ground.” As a result, nervous energy, anxiety, and spaciness increase. The solution? Reconnect with the earth. Treat yourself to a foot massage with organic sesame oil, relax in an inverted yoga pose, or, in warm climates, walk barefoot on the ground.
Although it can be exciting to soar 35,000 feet above the earth or race down a highway, high speed aggravates vata.
Since vata is aggravated by cold, dress warmly, in layers, and don’t forget your hat and gloves. If you’re flying from one climate to another, be prepared for both.
Nurture Your Body
Long trips, when you’re sitting for hours, create muscle tension and stiffness. Take the time for breaks—stretch at rest stops, walk around the plane, and make sure you’re breathing deeply.
Traveling in general is often filled with rush and worry, and it’s hard to slow down. But doing so is the best medicine. Enjoy the moment. Breathe. And enjoy your stay.
Former Yoga International editor-in-chief Shannon Sexton writes about food, travel, yoga, and natural health.