Natural remedies for travel ailments

From jet lag to sunburn, the body takes a beating while we're out exploring the world. Some ailments can be assuaged by a well-timed painkiller, but there's also a whole world of effective natural remedies that are easy to pack and handy in a pinch.

We asked Dr. Kate Brainard, one of the resident naturopathic doctors at Pharmaca, as well as Dr. Karen Hurley of Bastyr University for the best tips about staying healthy naturally on vacation.

Jet Lag


Jet lag, which occurs when your sleep-wake cycle is disrupted by a flight across multiple time zones, can ruin you for the first few days of your vacation.

On flights, Dr. Brainard suggests using Miers Laboratory No-Jet-Lag, a blend of five homeopathic remedies that she calls "safe, easy to take, and proven effective in tests." She also recommends melatonin. "Melatonin is the hormone our bodies make to regulate the sleep-wake cycle—taking extra in a supplement form may help to reset the cycle disrupted by jet lag."

Travel Anxiety

Travel is one of life's greatest thrills, but for most people it also comes with its share of stresses. Travel anxiety can really take you out of the moment, and since you want to enjoy every minute of vacation, it's an affliction worth treating.

Dr. Hurley recommends Bach Flower Rescue Remedy, a blend of five flower-essence formulas, stating that it can be "very helpful." Dr. Brainard suggests L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea that "supports mental calmness and relaxation by increasing dopamine and GABA in the brain. … without any drowsiness." She also recommends kava kava, a popular ceremonial drink in Polynesia that "supports relaxation from tension, encourages a sense of well-being, and promotes relaxation of nerves and muscles," all without disturbing mental clarity.

Motion Sickness

For motion-sensitive travelers, Dr. Brainard recommends PSI bands, "adjustable wristbands that apply acupressure to help relieve the symptoms of nausea and vomiting." She also suggests traveling with a concentrated-peppermint product, such as Pharmaca Peppermint Spirits or Herb Pharm Breath Tonic, and taking vitamin B6 or homeopathic Gelsemium Sempervire 30C by Boiron, both of which are known to relieve motion sickness. Dr. Hurley adds that ginger chews or ginger tea can also be helpful.

Traveler's Diarrhea

With so much new input during travel, the microbial balance in the digestive tract can be easily disturbed. Dr. Brainard says, "It's important to plan ahead and supplement with probiotics to give the immune and digestive tract a head start." She suggests starting a good probiotic (such as Jarrow Formulas' Jarro-Dophilus EPS, which doesn't require refrigeration) a few weeks before leaving "to build up healthy colonies of friendly flora."

And you can't go wrong, says Dr. Brainard, sticking to bottled water from a trusted source and making sure to wash your hands frequently. If you are hit with TD while traveling, try UrgentRx Upset-Stomach Relief. These pocket-sized packets are easy to transport and can be taken with or without water.


When choosing a sunscreen, Dr. Brainard says that "it's vital to always choose a broad-spectrum product that protects against both UVA and UVB rays." Sun-protection factor (SPF) ratings measure only UVB rays, which are largely responsible for both burns and skin cancer, but it's important to protect against UVA rays as well, since they "penetrate deeper and are responsible for premature aging and wrinkling of the skin." Of the more natural sunscreen brands on the market, Dr. Brainard recommends Sanitas, Eco Logical Skin Care, Kiss My Face, Badger, La Roche Posay, and Alba Botanica products.

Treatment can't fix a sunburn, but it can offer some soothing relief. Dr. Brainard recommends All Terrain Aloe Skin Repair with healing herbs or Boiron Calendula Lotion. She also notes that rehydrating after being out in the sun all day is important, and she suggests coconut water as a good way to get more electrolytes than with water alone.

Sleep Problems

Sleep problems can turn a good vacation bad overnight. Luckily, there are a number of natural options for improving sleep. At the most basic level, you can try an eye mask and earplugs to block out stimuli. Dr. Brainard recommends a magnesium supplement before bed to "promote relaxation and calmness." For more stubborn sleep issues, she suggests Herb Pharm Relaxing Sleep Tonic, an "herbal blend with valerian, sold in a small one-ounce size convenient for travel."

Sore or Tight Muscles

Aching muscles everywhere prove that airplane seats were not designed with comfort in mind. If your destination has a bathtub, Dr. Brainard recommends getting into a warm bath full of Epsom salts to help relax your muscles. Another effective treatment is arnica (in homeopathic-tablet or topical-cream form), since it "helps to relieve stiffness, swelling, bumps, bruises, trauma, and inflammation. Arnica is nondrowsy, has no side effects, and is safe to use with other medications and with children."

Insect Bites and Stings

Bugs have impeccable taste in vacation destinations. They love beaches, nature, and beautiful sunsets. Dr. Brainard recommends WishGarden Catnip-Oil Bug Spray as an alternative to DEET-based toxic bug sprays. According to Dr. Brainard, "Recent research from Iowa State University shows that catnip oil has produced the best results over other essential oils for bug protection."

And if you're one of those people who seems to get mosquito bites no matter what you apply to your skin, Dr. Brainard suggests taking vitamin B1 (thiamine) starting about two weeks before your departure to buggier climes. "Thiamine is believed to help repel bugs by creating an odor undetected by humans that bugs are repelled by," she explains.

Scrapes and Bruises
Dr. Brainard suggests arnica for scrapes and bruises (and since it's also a great option for sore muscles, it really earns its place in any suitcase). She also likes tea-tree oil as a natural first-aid antiseptic alternative. She also suggests Herb Pharm Original Salve, a "soothing topical skin salve made with organic herbs and olive oil and wild-crafted beeswax." She says, "I use this salve for just about everything that needs soothing or moisture, including chapped lips and hangnails."

Digestive Issues

New foods, unfamiliar water, and schedule changes can wreak havoc on the digestive tract. When mild discomfort does strike, Dr. Brainard suggests keeping Pharmaca Chewable Papaya Enzymes on hand to "promote healthy digestion by breaking down carbohydrates and proteins." If you're headed to a place where the food may present a greater challenge to your digestive tract, Dr. Brainard recommends digestive enzymes such as MegaZymes by MegaFood or Complete Digestion by Enzyme Science. And if you're struck with food poisoning, Dr. Brainard says Peaceful Mountain Stomach Rescue is "an all-natural, simple formula of elemental silver and peppermint to kill bad bacteria and soothe an upset tummy from food poisoning."