Most days I’m the weirdest traveler in the guesthouse.
“What’s that?” people hesitantly ask and point to my glass jar of bacteria.
“Umm what are you drinking?” they probe with concern as I mix green powders into my fruit smoothie.
Last night my dorm mate was stricken with food poisoning. I mixed black charcoal powder with water and offered it to her to drink.
I may be eccentric, but I’m pretty damn healthy.
My immune system has never been strong. With constant strep throat, sinus infections, and the stomach flu as a child, I took many courses of antibiotics throughout my life. When I left home for college my illness amplified. Chronic cough kept me awake at night for most of Spring quarter and monthly bladder infections pulled me out of class.
You can imagine what happened when I started traveling.
My already struggling immune system had no armor against the intense physical strain and exhaustion. I was a victim many times to questionable street food. Last January alone I had four rounds of food poisoning. Fevers and frequent bathroom visits became a regular part of my life.
However last May, after being pummeled by a virus on a remote island, I found myself so worn down and exhausted that I simply could not continue traveling. I realized that my physical wellness was essential in pursuing my passions. I returned to Puerto Viejo on a mission to take control of my health.
Puerto Viejo is a place where one can cure his own cancer as easily as he can drink himself to death. In the past I skirted the gray space between: passionate in my yoga practice in the morning, dedicated to my dance moves in beach bars at night. This time was different.
Visiting Dr Gregory Damato at the Tierra de Suenos Wellness Center was a huge turning point. In addition to creating a natural treatment plan to restore my health after a year of antibiotics and food poisoning, he opened my eyes to the truth that I have the ability to heal myself, no matter what ails me. He showed me that food was more than calories and pleasure; it was medicine.
I also began practicing Reiki. A dear friend and gifted yoga instructor, Kristin, attuned me in Reiki through a course at her studio Om Yoga in Puerto Viejo. Adopting this practice into my repertoire gave me another tool for self-healing that went beyond food. It also allowed me to heal others.
Fortuitously, during my Reiki Level I course, I met a fascinating woman named Graciella. In the past she worked as a medical doctor in San Jose. Today she practices Reiki in the jungle. She and her husband, a hippie from San Francisco, are strong believers in the power of probiotics. Graciella spoke to me about the importance of regularly ingesting fermented foods with the ferver of a Baptist Minister.
So I began cleansing. I began giving myself Reiki. I began making kefir and sauerkraut. I became immersed in alternative medicine and healing. I realized that feeling good began with taking care of my body.
Two months ago when the time came to hit the road again, I was determined to maintain my health. Sure I could stay healthy in the hippie enclave of Puerto Viejo or in Seattle with the comforts of home, but what about backpacking through Southeast Asia?
In preparation, I departed Vietnam armed with my most essential health supplies. I’m happy to report that it has gone quite well. With the exception of a cold my first week in Vietnam and a brief stomach bug I have stayed healthy, even after countless overnight bus rides, rooms with air conditioning, and sharing beds with friends with fevers.
This is what I packed:
This wonder oil is antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal. I drink raw organic coconut oil in my smoothie, lather it on my skin, brush my teeth with it, and even use it as sunscreen. It protects against parasites in the tropics, repels insects, has an SPF10, and smells oh so good. Make sure that the brand you buy is organic and cold pressed to retain the beneficial enzymes.
Before I left I knew that I would go through serious green veggie withdrawal. For months I was drinking a green smoothie every morning loaded with kale and spinach. While I miss that smoothie dearly, I’ve compromised by adding spirulina powder to my water or fruit smoothie. I packed a large bag to last me months. Spirulina has tons of vitamins and minerals found in dark leafy greens. The taste is not the greatest, but if you mix into a mango banana shake it’s not bad at all. Expect a green mustache and lots of stares.
Chlorella is a powerful cleanser that I use only occasionally. It works by binding with heavy metals and toxins then flushing them from your system. I find it to be quite potent so I reserve it for the day after flying or when I have a stomach virus.
Grapefruit Seed Extract
I packed grapefruit seed extract for its versatility. It is a natural antiseptic, which I use for cleaning wounds, mixing with water for a mouthwash, and drinking diluted in water to maintain a healthy ph level in my stomach.
What would I do without this miracle powder? It is the only thing I have ever taken, pharmaceuticals included, that clears up stomach poisoning almost instantly. You can purchase it in pill form, but I prefer the versatility of the activated charcoal powder. I use it as a skin scrub mixed with coconut oil to detox and exfoliate, occasionally brush my teeth with it for a whitening treatment, and mix a small amount with water to drink when my stomach is acting up.
Tea Tree Oil
I did not actually pack tea tree oil, but I really wish I had. In the past I have used it to clear up infected wounds. It is quite potent and is proved to even kill staph infections. It also works as an insect repellent when mixed with coconut oil and applied to your skin. You can find inexpensive tea tree oil at Trader Joe’s.
Ok, humor me for a moment. I know this makes most people squeamish, but I promise it’s really not that bad! In fact I feel pretty amazing after doing a coffee enema. My skin clears up, my energy lifts, and I feel a strong sense of clarity. Unfortunately it is not the most convenient tool when you are sleeping in hostels with shared bathrooms. I typically aim to do one per week, though when traveling it has been less frequent. I recommend doing a coffee enema after flights and when you have food poisoning in particular. Make sure to do your research, enemas are controversial, but in my experience when done properly they are completely safe and highly beneficial. You can order enema bags online and be sure to use filtered clean water and organic coffee.
Full disclosure: traveling with water kefir is a pain. It needs to be fed daily, it takes up space, and sometimes my jar leaks. However for me the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience. Water kefir is a fermented drink made from kefir grains, sugar, and water, and produces thousands of strains of probiotics. Probiotics are, in my opinion, the single most important supplement for your health, particularly when traveling. Taking probiotic supplements is certainly more convenient, however if you are taking high quality pills they can get quite expensive. Also, I find that making your own probiotic foods is much more effective than probiotic pills and purchased probiotic foods because you are using the bacteria that actually exists in your local environment.
If you want to set up your own water kefir batch, you can start by finding someone in your local community who has some water kefir grains to share or you can pick up dehydrated water kefir crystals from a local co-op or order them online.
Yoga, Meditation, and Reiki
I strongly believe that health and wellness is more than what you put into your body. Illness can often emerge from our emotions, particularly stress, anxiety, and fear. By regularly practicing meditation, yoga, and Reiki, I seek to restore balance in my mind, body, and spirit. Plus it just feels damn good to stretch your muscles, clear your mind, and relax.
I’ve fortunately had access to some of my health staples in the countries I’ve traveled through. In Vietnam I was able to find raw cacao (for Magnesium), chia seeds (for fiber and omega 3s), and local bee pollen (vitamin B and other minerals). There are also loads of natural, indigenous health treatments all over the world if you ask the locals. In the tropics the aloe vera plant, young coconut, ginger, and turmeric can all be used as medicine for various ailments. Best of all they are cheap and readily available.
While I have tried to use exclusively natural products, I have made a few exceptions in extreme circumstances. Early in my trip I got a nasty burn from the exhaust of a motorbike. After two weeks of cleaning with salt and grapefruit seed extract and coating with coconut oil, my wound was not healing and it was infected. I finally broke down and cleaned it with hydrogen peroxide and used antibiotic cream. Sometimes when you are traveling you have to weigh your risks. Developing a serious infection was too big of a cost for me.
Disclaimer: I am in no way a nutritionist or a health expert. These are simply the tools I have found that work for me. Please do your own research and use what works for you. Whether you have travel sickness, a chronic cough, or cancer, the more you research and experiment the more you empower yourself to take control of your own health. It could change your life.
What do you pack in your suitcase to stay healthy on the road? Are you a crazy hippie like me? 🙂