It's hard to prepare for every health eventuality when you're away from home, and when I travel I usually assume that the hotel I'm staying in will have the basics. (I don't have any particular health issues or allergies that would require me to carry medication or other equipment.) Or that a local pharmacy will have something if I need it — though I typically don't use Western medicine except in emergencies. When I have had the need, drugstores from Trinidad to Egypt have had everything I needed (and even more than is legally available in the U.S.). Pretty much the only thing I pack is Band-Aids for blisters, because I tend to walk — a lot — when I voyage to someplace new.
Whether you like to use food as medicine, or if you are inconvenient to a druggist, here are some great foods to help cure what ails you when you are on the road. Of course, if you are really sick, or have an infection, get to a doctor! Chances are, it will be plenty cheaper to see a doctor outside the U.S., and in many places, doctors still make house calls too.
Ginger for nausea: For an upset stomach, or travel-related nausea (car-, boat-, or air-sickness), ginger is a fast, effective remedy. Since it is a part of many local foodways worldwide, it is generally easy to find, and cheap. You can slice ginger root and heat it in hot water, or for a more immediate fix, just peel off the exterior of the root and gnaw on it. It's a bit spicy, but it will settle your stomach in no time and give you fresh breath to boot. Preserved ginger candy (basically just ginger and sugar) is easily found in North America, Europe (especially Eastern Europe), the Caribbean and Australia, and is a sweeter way to get that ginger in — kids are more likely to eat it too.
Sugar for cuts: Plain old packet sugar is a natural anti-bacterial, and actually accelerates wound-healing by drawing moisture from the wound. It's so effective, I even use this remedy at home. Simply clean your cut with plenty of fresh water (make sure to wash your hands with soap first if you touch an open wound), let air dry for a few minutes, then sprinkle the sugar into the damp cut — you can also make a simple paste of sugar and just a bit of water — and cover with a Band-Aid. On the first day, replace the sugar paste again before you go to sleep.
Gum for constipation:
I've found that this remedy, cited by the New York Times
, really does work. "For reasons he describes as "mysterious," Joe Graedon, a pharmacologist in North Carolina, notes that many travelers suffer from constipation, for which he says sorbitol, the artificial sweetener used in sugar-free gum, can provide relief. "The nonsugar sweeteners draw fluid into the colon and digestive tract," said Graedon, who with his wife, Teresa, a medical anthropologist, wrote the book "The People’s Pharmacy: Quick and Handy Home Remedies."
Green tea bags for puffy eyes: Some of us have to travel for work, not just pleasure, and showing up to a meeting with puffy eyes (or face) can seem as stressful as any of the above illnesses. I like using green tea bags (refrigerated if you have access), to bring down facial swelling. If you can, soak the bags the night before in a cup of water and leave in the fridge. When you wake up in the morning, wash your face as you normally would, then lie down for five minutes with the tea bags over your eyes. I use the water the bags soak in as a toner too. Black tea can also work if green isn't available.
Coffee for a headache: Caffeine is a natural vasoconstrictor, so if your headache is caused by stress or too much alcohol the night before (or on the plane), both of which dilate blood vessels, coffee is a natural antidote. Since it's so easy to get dehydrated when you travel, especially on planes, it can be hard to know what your headache is caused by, and coffee can also be a diuretic. My solution when traveling is to solve both problems. I drink two large glasses of fresh water when I feel a headache coming on, followed by a half a cup of coffee or a few sips of espresso (don't go nuts with the caffeine — used as a medicine, you only need a little). I lie down for 15 minutes, and voila, I almost always feel 50 percent better or my headache has cleared right away. If I don't have to pee after that time and that much water, I'll know I was dehydrated, and I drink some more water before I head out. If I do pee, then I know it's a stress headache, which the caffeine cures. Either way, I'm hydrated and perkier 15 minutes later, which is a bonus even if you still have a bit of a headache.
Related natural remedy stories on MNN: