EXECUTIVE HEALTH : Beat the business travel blues

New Zealand has well-deserved reputation as land of intrepid travellers. In 2008, Kiwis made 46 trips abroad per 100 head of population, compared to an international average of just 14 trips.
While some cite romantic factors such as curiosity and wanderlust as the cause of our collective travel bug, being tucked away on an island quite far from anywhere is undoubtedly major factor.
The latest Ministry of Tourism statistics show that 281,000 New Zealanders travelled abroad for business in 2008. While the median length of absence for business travellers was six days, 30,000 business travellers reported an absence of more than 30 days.
The recession in 2008/09 meant dip in New Zealanders’ outbound travel. But with the economy improving, it seems businesses are moving to renew international acquaintances. In May, business travel by New Zealanders was up 19 percent on the same month last year.
Travel – whether regular occurrence or one-off – can easily place strain on your health and wellbeing if not managed properly.
In this new age of austerity, business trip must represent excellent value for money. Jam-packed schedules and early rises – and late bedtimes – are often required to make the most of the time away.
The resulting tiredness, combined with an unfamiliar environment and long periods spent in enclosed public spaces, can leave business travellers especially susceptible to illness and infection.
The simplest way to prevent illness is to pay close attention to hand hygiene. Regular hand-washing and the use of antibacterial wash or wipes are effective measures to help stop the spread of infection. If you are particularly concerned about catching bug in-flight, paper surgical masks can be purchased in chemists or at the airport.
For those travelling long distances, applying everyday health rules to your in-flight routine can pay dividends upon arrival. The usual advice applies: get as much rest as possible, avoid alcohol and heavy meals, and drink plenty of water. It’s not exciting, but it really does work!
Several years ago there was large amount of publicity surrounding individual cases of deep vein thrombosis (the formation of blood clot in deep vein, usually in the leg). For travellers in good health, the risk is small. Current preventive advice for all air passengers is to get up at least once an hour to take short walk, stretch the legs and keep hydrated. If you think you might be at heightened risk of clots, seek advice from your doctor before travelling.
In less developed countries, water quality is one of the main causes of travellers’ illness. In these circumstances, the best way to prevent the dreaded ‘travellers’ diarrhoea’ is to drink bottled water only (including when you’re brushing your teeth).
The Lonely Planet travel health guide recommends sticking to major brands and ensuring the bottle seal is unbroken. The bottle rule should apply to most drinks – even in good hotels, juices may have been watered down straight from the tap. Ice is another source of potential contamination to be avoided.
For your peace of mind, travel insurance – even for short hop – should be considered an absolute must. Online insurance sales make travel insurance easy to organise. Frequent travellers might also wish to consider multi-trip policies, which cover travel within certain time period.
Research by TNS Conversa in April 2009 revealed that 45 percent of New Zealand travellers have experienced some form of misfortune – such as lost luggage, theft or falling ill – while overseas.
Six percent said they or someone they were travelling with had become seriously ill. Medical treatment costs can be stratospheric in some countries – and when your health is at risk, price should be no barrier to seeking immediate, quality care.

Craig Morrison is chief executive officer of Southern Cross Travel Insurance.

Healthy travel tips
• Take doctor’s certificate for prescriptions to show Customs should they query its provenance. Ensure you take an ample supply for the time you are away.
• For those travelling to destinations where communicable diseases are likely to be an issue, visit www.safetravel.govt.nz for the latest travel advisories. Check at least two months ahead for any health precautions you may need to take, as some vaccinations require period of time to take effect.
• Check your travel insurance policy wording to ensure it has the cover you need – many do not cover pre-existing conditions.
• In the event you need to seek medical help, retain all receipts and copies of medical
reports. If the medical treatment is going to be serious or lengthy, call your travel insurance emergency assistance number immediately to report your problem and obtain advice.

On the road again?
Sticking to hard-won healthy habits can prove problematic while travelling.
Unfamiliar environs and tightly packed schedules can mean regular exercise is placed in the ‘too hard’ box, while diversions such as airport lounge buffets, petrol station pit-stops and canapés with clients offer ample temptation to take holiday from healthy eating.
Here are few strategies to help keep up healthy lifestyle on the road:
• Try as much as possible to stick to your regular food choices and exercise routine – or down-sized version of it. Even snatching 20 minutes for brisk walk can make difference.
• Websites such as www.mapmyrun.com provide detailed maps for jogging/walking routes in cities all over the world. Your accommodation should also be able to help out with local recommendations.
• So your hotel doesn’t have gym? If you’ve got floor, you’ve got workout space – ask your gym instructor to show you exercises that can be performed without equipment. Or download an exercise programme or podcast to your iPhone or laptop.
• Be mindful that restaurant meals often contain more fat and salt than we would add to similar dish at home. Choose barbecued or grilled meats where possible.

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