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In our first installment of this series, we touched upon three common travel ailments and natural remedies that you can try. If you enjoy hiking, diving, cycling, kayaking and other adventure sports while traveling; you undoubtedly increase your odds of falling ill or injuring yourself. Here are three common risks of adventure travel and some natural medicines that can help.
Altitude Sickness: One of the most common ailments in high altitude areas such as the Andes or the Himalayas is altitude sickness. Although relatively harmless and short-lived at lower altitudes, it can make a traveler feel miserable for 2-3 days if not treated effectively. Because of reduced oxygen levels and changes in air pressure, sufferers experience a range of symptoms from body aches and fatigue to nausea. In Peru, locals recommend treating altitude sickness with hydration and chewing coca leaves or drinking of coca tea. Coca leaves are legal in many parts of South America and can help alleviate symptoms quickly. Although many people associate coca leaves with cocaine, the leaves serve only as a mild stimulant and muscle ache reliever. Coca leaves are to cocaine what coffee-flavored candies are to a triple espresso. The effects are very subtle, but effective. Many locals chew coca leaves as a daily habit, since the leaves are rich in vitamins, protein, calcium, iron and fiber and help to fight fatigue and reduce appetite (useful when performing manual labor or traveling).
Injuries: You should always travel with an emergency first aid kit, especially when hiking or climbing. Simple things such as an elastic bandage or duct tape can support twisted ankles or broken toes until you can reach a medical facility. To reduce swelling naturally, if no ice is available, carrying dried herbs such as comfrey, ginger and meadowsweet can serve as anti-inflammatory aids. To relieve pain until the injury can be treated, capsules of dried kratom, a leafy plant mostly grown in Southeast Asia, or kava kava, found in the Pacific Islands, make useful, natural analgesics. Anti-anxiety herbs such as valerian, linden and kanna, a South African psychoactive herb, can help alleviate stress and bring a sense of calm. Keep in mind that, although not narcotic, anti-stress and analgesic plants can be addictive and should only be taken in small quantities as needed. To avoid injuries in the first place, take frequent breaks, don’t let yourself get distracted by multitasking (e.g. walking on a rocky or tree root-filled trail while simultaneously trying to take a photo) and keep protected using appropriate clothing, sunscreen and insecticide.
Sunburns/Insect Bites: Prevention is the key here. Never trek (or for that matter, sight-see) without sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and insect repellent. In the short term, sunburn can be painful and make your trip very unpleasant. In the long term, sunburn can be devastating, causing everything from leathery, wrinkled, prematurely aged skin to deadly skin cancer. Biodegradable, effective sunscreens are widely available and contain non-toxic ingredients. According to the Natural Living for Women website, “Many beaches are now requesting their visitors use biodegradable products because the chemicals in many sunscreens washes off in the water and is harming the reefs, aquatic life and other wildlife.” Biodegradable brands include UV Natural and SanRe. PETA2 has a very useful list of cruelty-free vegan sunscreens and insect repellents. For a natural insect repellent, try citronella, cedar, lavender or clove oils. If, despite your best efforts, you need to treat a sunburn or insect bite, the pain and swelling can be reduced by applying poultices of aloe vera, apple cider vinegar, cooled black or green tea, shredded apple or chamomile. A cup of baking soda added to a cool bath can greatly relieve discomfort.