Having literally spent years of my life on the road, I’ve faced my fair share of travel-induced ailments– grisly tummy troubles, bizarre skin funguses and boils, all kinds of bug bites, bus and boat sickness, and cuts, scrapes and bruises owing to jungle treks and motorbike spills.
Stubbornly against chemical-laden allopathic medicines, I used to let the sickness or pain run its course for lack of natural-cure knowledge. This usually took ages, and was surely not the smartest thing to do.
Now that I have the wisdom of Ayurveda to guide me to self-healing, travel has become much less painful and healing time is swift. On my last few trips abroad I’ve curbed sickness at its onset with all-natural Ayurveda. Nature offers everything we need for general first aid. These are the ten herbs, oils, and supplements I always keep in my bag when journeying afar.
1. Tumeric powder
Tumeric is a natural antibiotic and pain-reliever. Used externally on cuts and scrapes, it helps to quickly clot blood and disinfect wounds. Tumeric also relieves itching, bruises, and strains.
Make a paste of 1 tsp honey (organic Manuka would be ideal!) and 1/4 tsp tumeric, and apply to the wound. If you don’t have honey, you can apply tumeric powder directly to a wound, or make a paste of water and tumeric and use where needed.
2. Kutaja bark powder
If you’re traveling to an exotic foreign land where traveler’s diarrhea is so common that it has a slang name (Delhi belly, Montezuma’s revenge, or Turkey trots), kutaja is a must-bring. This Ayurvedic herb is one of the best for diarrhea and dysentery. It restores colon function, destroys parasites, and promotes well-formed stools.
In case of diarrhea, take 1/2 teaspoon kutaja in 1 cup of hot water twice a day.
3. Aloe vera gel
Aloe vera naturally soothes and hydrates. It’s great to have on hand when you’ve been overexposed to the elements.
Apply aloe vera gel externally to rough, dry, itchy, or sunburnt skin.
4. Triphala powder
Triphala comes in handy for sore throats, constipation, and to boost the body’s natural defenses before and during travel. This combination of three fruits has natural antibacterial properties, a high Vitamin C content, and supports healthy elimination.
For sore throat, gargle with 1/2 teaspoon triphala mixed in warm water. For constipation, mix 1 teaspoon triphala with 1 cup hot water and drink before bed. To boost your immunity before and during travel, take 1 tsp triphala mixed in 1 cup hot water daily.
** Do not use triphala if you are pregnant, have diarrhea or dysentery.
5. Ginger capsules
Backpackers especially face frequent bumpy/windy/swaying modes of transportation and impending motion sickness. Ginger helps to relieve nausea, minus any drowsy side-effects.
Take 1 to 2 ginger capsules every few hours while on rough roads and seas.
6. Fennel seeds
Fennel is a great spice to bring on travels. When you’re eating out every meal and regularly over-indulging– or even just consuming foods your belly isn’t used too– odds are you’ll face indigestion. Fennel helps to relieve acidity, cramping, gas, and strange stomach pains.
Chew and swallow 1 1/2 teaspoons of fennel seeds after lunch and dinner (and oily breakfasts).
7. Tulsi tea bags
Tulsi, or holy basil, acts primarily on the respiratory system. It alleviates the symptoms of cough, cold and flu, and helps to dispel the kapha dosha from the respiratory passageways.
Sip on tulsi tea if you feel a cold or cough coming on.
8. Tea tree oil
Though not a traditional Ayurvedic medicine, tea tree oil is a panacea when traveling. It’s a natural anitfungal, antimicrobial and antiseptic; making it useful for mosquito bites, flea bites, ringworm, nail fungus, cold sores, ingrown hairs, acne, and minor cuts and abrasions.
Apply a few drops of tea tree oil to the affected area.
**Tea tree oil should only be used externally and in very small amounts. Some people may be sensitive or allergic to tea tree oil.
9. Sesame oil
One of the vata dosha’s qualities is movement, so any type of travel can send vata out of balance. Sesame oil’s warming and unctuous properties help to pacify vata, keeping you in balance while on the road. It doubles as an all-over body lotion in cool months, and can be used for all of this stuff, too.
Rub your temples, hands, and soles of your feet with a little sesame oil before traveling.
Ayurveda traditionally recommends takra (Indian buttermilk) as a natural probiotic to replenish intestinal flora. When traveling, probiotic supplements help to strengthen the GI tract’s natural defenses and prevent traveller’s diarrhea.
Choose probiotic supplements that don’t need to be refrigerated. Look for those with at least 10 billion CFU and multiple strains of probiotics. The strain saccharomyces boulardii is one of the best for preventing diarrhea. Consume at least 10 billion CFU per day, or between 20 to 30 billion CFU (taken in 2 or 3 doses daily) if you’re in a country where traveler’s diarrhea is likely.
** Consult your physician before taking herbs and supplements; especially if you’re pregnant. **
Frawley, David, and Vasant Lad. The Yoga of Herbs. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 2001.
Gogte, Vaidya V. M. Ayurvedic Pharmacology & Therapeutic Uses of Medicinal Plants. New Delhi: Chaukhambha Publications, 2012.
Huffenagle, Gary B. The Probiotics Revolution. New York: Bantam Books, 2007.