Filler
Photo of Shira

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Belly Dancing Road Warrior's Health Secrets:
Part 1, Beginning Preparations

By Shira

 

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Table of Contents

This is Part 1 in a series of 5 articles on travel health issues for road warriors, particularly belly dancers. The other articles in the series cover:

 

Many belly dancers love to travel. We take dream vacations to Egypt or Turkey, vend at festivals in our own countries, or participate in weeklong dance intensive courses and retreats. However, some of us don't have much experience with travel, particularly international travel, and we might not know about the health risks that travel can pose. In this series of articles, I'll offer you insight from my own years of experience traveling both for my day job in the technology industry and also from my perspective as a dance tourist.

Before you try any of the ideas I've suggested in this article, please discuss them with your own doctor! If you are pregnant or breast-feeding a baby, you need to consider how your actions might affect your baby's health. If you take prescription drugs for any reason, you'll want to make sure your over-the-counter items don't conflict with the behavior of those drugs. If you have allergies or immune system issues, you'll want to be careful to avoid any actions that could cause you further difficulty. I am not a health care professional, and I don't claim to know how my techniques for travel comfort might apply to your individual health issues.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Shira, taken in Egypt.

Egypt

 

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What If You Need Health Care While Traveling?

Accidents can happen anywhere. Or, you might have had a condition at home that you didn't know about, which may make itself known while you are traveling. I have been on trips with people who sprained an ankle, broke a bone in the foot, and suffered an aneurysm in the brain, all in countries foreign to their own. Bàraka's belly dance career came to an end when she was struck by a bus in a parking lot in France. It's wise to be prepared by having insurance, knowing how to use it, and knowing where to seek care.

  • Before you leave home, research what kind of coverage your health insurance offers while at your destination.
    • If you have a medical emergency, will your insurance cover care while there and medical transport home?
    • If not, consider purchasing travel insurance with medical emergency coverage.
    • Take along your health insurance card and instructions on how to invoke emergency coverage while traveling.
  • If you are planning to travel as part of an organized tour, pick a tour operator with sufficient experience in the destination city to know how to deal with health emergencies.
  • If you are planning to travel on your own, without being part of a formal tour, research in advance which hospitals in the destination city have the best reputation and take that information with you.

If you are a U.S. Citizen, it may be useful to read the information provided by the U.S. Department of State on medical information for citizens traveling abroad.

 

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Vaccinations for International Travel

When traveling internationally, vaccinations are recommended for some destinations and not others. Check the U.S. Center for Disease Control web site to find out what it recommends for the country you will be visiting, and also discuss it with your doctor.

As of 2006, for people traveling to Egypt or Turkey the U.S. Center for Disease Control web site recommends vaccinations for:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid
  • Rabies if you plan to spend considerable time outdoors
  • Any other routine vaccines you would also consider getting when you stay home, such as tetanus

I have chosen to get all of these except rabies.

Whatever your destination, do some initial research on the country you plan to visit, take the information to your doctor, and work with your doctor to make a decision that is right for your individual health situation.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by André Elbing, Bärbroich, Germany, at one of Shira's performances in Egypt.

Shira

 

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Your Normal Prescriptions

Before leaving home, check your supply of your normal prescription medications and make sure you have enough to carry you through the end of the trip plus a couple of extra days.

Take along all prescription items that you might normally use at home, such as:

  • Blood pressure medication
  • Insulin
  • Birth control pills
  • Allergy or asthma medication
  • Psychiatric medication
  • Any other daily medication

Don't forget to include items that you use only occasionally, such as:

  • Treatment for migraine headaches
  • Antihistamine ointment for dermatitis outbreaks
  • Medication for athlete's foot
  • Treatment for acid indigestion
  • Other periodic conditions

If you are traveling internationally, your prescription medications may be controlled substances in your destination country. Therefore, it's important to take along proof that you have them in your possession legally. This could include the original bottle provided by your pharmacist, and/or a printed copy of the prescription from your doctor.

Place your prescriptions in your carry-on luggage, not in your checked luggage. Sometimes checked luggage fails to arrive with you. In 2006, a member of our group going to Turkey waited 5 days for her checked luggage to arrive - for some people, it could be disastrous to be without your medications that long!

 

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Air Quality

If your lungs are sensitive to air quality issues due to illnesses such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, or other medical conditions, take appropriate treatments along on the trip. Your destination may have air quality very different from your home. Consider packing:

  • Medication
  • Inhaler
  • Masks
  • Other gear recommended by your doctor

Air Pollution

  • Within the U.S., some cities have so much air pollution that they issue smog advisories and smog alerts. If you're accustomed to clean air at home, this could be a shock to your lungs. We used to have such advisories when I lived in the area of San Jose, California. If you are traveling to a large U.S. city, be prepared to care for your body's needs.
  • In some developing countries, anti-pollution laws are much less stringent than they are in places where environmental activism has been strong for several decades.
    • Such countries may allow imports of older vehicles which were manufactured before exhaust systems with emission controls were mandated in their original countries.
    • Even within the United States, one state may have different pollution-control laws than another. For example, in California cars are required to pass smog checks every 2 years as a condition for renewing their registrations, whereas other states do not have a similar requirement.
  • The photo at the right shows a typical day in Cairo, Egypt, looking down at the city from the Citadel.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Shira.

 

Air Quality

Tobacco Smoke

Different places have different public opinions and laws regarding tobacco. In California, it is illegal to smoke inside restaurants, office buildings, and other public places, but in other parts of the U.S. smoking may be very common. In Cairo, if you attend belly dance performances, expect a large amount of tobacco smoke in the air.

 

Blowing Sand

Some places such as Cairo experience a large amount of grit in the air due to the fact that the desert is very near, and winds carry the sand throughout the neighboring city.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Shira.

Desert

 

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Pain Remedies

Think about pain remedies that you may need for your particular health issues such as:

  • Migraines
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Stiff muscles

Take these items with you. It can be difficult to find a drugstore near your hotel or retreat center when traveling, and if you are going to a different country it can be difficult to obtain the brand names you are accustomed to using at home.

Don't limit your thinking to drugs. For example, an eye shade or a cool, moist washcloth laid over your forehead and eyes can help cope with migraine, and a handheld massage device may help with some kinds of muscle pain.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.

You might be tempted to try one of those magnet-containing wraps that are sold for neck, back, elbow, knee, eyes, etc. I really don't know whether they work or not (but I'm skeptical). I advise against taking them on your trip if you plan to travel with a video camera, digital camera, credit cards, or computer. If they are strong enough, magnets can erase the contents of all these types of media. Even if you think you'll be able to keep the magnets separated from your media, things can be accidentally jumbled around in your luggage, and you wouldn't want to risk your merchandise, vacation memories, or valuable computer data files.

Shira

 

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Overheating & Dehydration

Some popular dance destinations, such as Egypt, can become very hot in the summer.

  • Cairo frequently exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in the summer.
  • It is common for Abu Simbel, the site of magnificent temples from ancient Egypt, to exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), and it has no shade to protect you from the blazing sun.
  • Even in a milder climate, a person can become overheated during a belly dance lesson when a studio provides insufficient air conditioning.
  • Dehydration can be a problem if you don't drink enough water over the course of a long belly dance workshop.
  • Before leaving home, it is advisable to learn about the symptoms of overheating and dehydration, and learn what to do if they occur.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Shira, taken of the Sahara desert in Egypt near the pyramids.

 

Empty Waste

Dehydration

Dehydration is easy to avoid. Usually you can prevent it by drinking water frequently and ensuring your diet includes enough electrolytes such as salt and potassium. Symptoms can include:

  • Thirst
  • Weak muscles
  • Dry skin
  • Dizziness
  • Light headedness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack of mental clarity

Drinking water at least once per hour during sightseeing or a long belly dance workshop will help avoid these problems. Medical opinions vary about the effectiveness of sports drinks for restoring electrolyte balance — ask your doctor to advise you on current thinking. Snacking on bananas, dried banana chips, and saltine crackers may be helpful.

Desert

 

Overheating

Heat stroke symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hallucinations

If it strikes, get to the nearest cool place as quickly as possible, put ice packs (or cold water bottles) in the armpits and groin, smear cool water on the skin, and fan yourself. U.S. drugstores in the spring and summer sell small handheld fans, and these sometimes include small water bottles that can be used for misting.

 

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Skin Health

The skin is the largest organ on your body, and it is also your body's first defense against many illnesses. We often forget about skin care issues when traveling.

Dry Skin

  • The dry air of hotel rooms, other air conditioned or heated interiors, airplanes, and airports can dehydrate the skin.
  • In mild cases, dry skin is merely uncomfortable. In more severe cases, it can causes cracking and chapping, which creates opportunities for germs to enter the body.
  • Soaking in a bathtub surrounds the skin with the moisture it craves. Bath salts can make this experience even more pleasurable, and encourage you to stay in the tub longer.
  • If you typically use skin moisturizer at home, you may with to consider taking some of your favorite brand with you when you travel.
  • It is possible to purchase aerosol cans of water to spray on your skin, which can be soothing on an airplane or tour bus.
  • Lip balm helps prevent dry, chapped lips. I find it essential to carry some on the airplane and tour buses with me.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.

 

Cuts & Punctures

Minor cuts rarely become big problems, but it can still be helpful to use basic first aid to protect against infection.

  • Maintain a current tetanus vaccination (a booster every 10 years) to guard against one possible consequence of open wounds.
  • Antiseptic first aid cream kills germs before they enter the body.
  • If you prefer a more organic approach to preventing germs from entering the body, try honey. Warm it for 20 seconds in the microwave, then place it on the gauzy part of a bandage, and use that to cover the wound.
  • Bandages shield cuts from further injury, and also protect the broken skin from touching germ-covered surfaces.
  • Healing skin often dries out around the edges of a cut and begins to itch and hurt. Skin moisturizer can help keep the edges of the cut soft and pliable, reducing such the discomfort.
Shira

 

Sunburn

If you travel to a dance camp or a dance retreat, some classes or exercises may be held outdoors. If you stay at a hotel when attending a dance workshop or festival, you may want to spend some time outdoors at the swimming pool. If you are traveling to Egypt or Turkey as a dance tourist, you may visit outdoor archeological sites such as ancient cities, temples, or pyramids. You might decide to go for a camel ride. For any of these activities, sunburn can be a risk.

  • Pack sunscreen, and use it before going outdoors.
  • Some sunscreen is sold in the form of towelettes, which are more convenient than bottles or tubes to pack in luggage.
  • It may also be helpful to pack your favorite sunburn first aid remedy just in case you get a sunburn despite your best precautions.
  • Some people like to use a gel containing aloe vera to soothe sunburned skin. Others prefer to take an actual aloe vera plant itself, cut open a leaf, and place the fluid directly on the skin.

If you are taking any prescription drugs, check the side effects to determine whether they are photosensitive; that is, whether they make you more vulnerable to sunburn. For example, Doxycycline is an antibiotic that is often prescribed for traveler's diarrhea, and it makes the skin more sensitive to sunburn.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Solon, Iowa.

 

Itching

Itchy, burning skin can be very annoying when traveling. There are different things that can cause this.

  • One possible cause is sensitive skin that has an allergic reaction.
  • One common skin allergy involves reaction to metals such as nickel. This could flare up if trying on jewelry.
  • Another common skin allergy is latex, which could be triggered by sweating while wearing a cloth watchband held together by rubber cement, by the elastic in underwear rubbing against the skin, or any other contact with rubber.
  • Skin allergiies can raise an itchy red rash which can be treated with a steroid cream such as Cortaid (over the counter) or Fluocinonide (prescription).

These same creams can also ease the itching of mosquito bites.

Another possible cause of itching is athlete's foot, which often causes severe itching between the two littlest toes. An over-the-counter anti-fungal cream such as Lotrimin can help. To prevent it, wash the feet after being barefoot on surfaces that other people have walked barefoot on:

  • Locker rooms
  • Stages
  • Dressing rooms
  • Classrooms
  • Exercise rooms
  • Swimming pool & hot tub decks

Vaginal itching can be caused by a yeast infection. If you have a history of this condition, you may want to take with you appropriate medication to treat it. If you take antibiotics for travelers' diarrhea, a possible side effect of the antibiotic could be a yeast infection even if you normally don't have any problems with those.

 

Pimples

Traveling disrupts the body's normal behavior in many ways. If you sometimes experience pimples, be prepared for the possibility that change of diet, lack of rest, exposure to air pollutants, and other factors may cause one to appear. Pack your favorite remedy, whatever that may be.

Shira

 

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Insect-Borne Diseases

Some dancers enjoy attending outdoor dance retreats, dance camps, Renaissance Faires, or Society for Creative Anachronism events. Others may travel as dance tourists to places such as Egypt or Turkey and go sight-seeing outdoors. Either way, there can be risk of exposure to insect-borne diseases.

  • In the United States, ticks can spread either Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, while mosquitos can spread West Nile virus.
  • In Egypt and Turkey, there can be a small risk of malaria from mosquito bites.
  • Even if you don't plan to be in an area with mosquitos, sometimes opportunities can arise that you didn't anticipate before leaving home. For example, I was once invited to go on a falukka (sailboat) ride on the Nile river in Cairo. Another time, when in Aswan, I took advantage of an opportunity to tour a Nubian village, and we used a boat to travel to it from Aswan.
  • Because of the risks of insect-transmitted diseases, health care professionals urge people who will be camping or sightseeing close to nature to use insect repellant containing Deet to minimize the risk of being bitten by mosquitos.
  • Some people believe that taking Vitamin B complex (especially Niacin) makes your skin less appetizing for mosquitos and reduces your chances of being bitten.
  • If you want to try Vitamin B, start eating foods rich in it two weeks before your trip, or start taking Vitamin B supplements.
  • While traveling, continue to eat appropriate foods.
  • Foods rich in niacin include chicken breasts, tuna, salmon, halibut, lamb, and turkey breast.
  • Some manufacturers now make dual-purpose products that both repel insects and provide sun protection. Choosing one of these can simplify the packing process.
  • If you should be bitten by a mosquito, you can relieve the itching by swallowing an antihistamine pill such as Zyrtec or Claritin, or by rubbing an antihistamine ointment on the bite area.
  • If you prefer to avoid pills, try applying the inside of a banana skin to the insect bite to relieve the pain and/or itching. It contains a substance called polysaccharide that can ease the symptoms.

 

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Eye Care

The air in hotel rooms, airplanes, convention halls, and airports is often very dry. In addition, the air in popular dance destinations such as Egypt or California have very little humidity. Being outdoors on a windy day can be very drying to the eyes.

  • It can be soothing to take a bottle of salt water to use for moisturing the eyes as needed.
  • Saline spray can also cleanse the eyes if the wind has blown grit into them after a day outdoors.
  • If you wear contact lenses, you'll naturally want to pack the solutions you normally use to care for them.
  • Check the level of fluid in the bottles to ensure there is enough to last for the full length of your stay.
  • Don't forget to pack a case.
  • I always like to take along a spare pair of contact lenses, just in case one of my primary pair is lost or damaged.
  • Even if you normally wear contact lenses, it's advisable to take along a pair or glasses, particularly to use on the long airplane flight. See more about the reasons for this in the second article in this travel health series, Beating Jet Lag.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.

Sunglasses are valuable if you plan to spend any time outdoors. Of course, the obvious use for them is that they provide protection for your eyes against ultraviolet rays, and also make it easier to see in glare. But even if you don't mind bright sunshine, sunglasses can still be valuable. They protect your eyes from grit in the air on windy days, particularly when wearing a style that wraps around close to the face. This can be particularly important when traveling to Egypt, where Cairo perches on the edge of the desert and winds blow sand from the desert into the air of the city.

Shira

 

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Oral Health

When packing, take your normal oral hygiene supplies:

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Toothpicks or redwood sticks.

You might check for travel-sized packaging that requires less room in your luggage, such as toothbrushes that fold or small tubes of toothpaste.

Other oral health considerations to think about when planning travel:

  • If you will be traveling to a place where you're not confident of the water quality, use bottled water for brushing your teeth rather than tap water.
  • If you have periodic problems with mouth sores, you may want to take along ointment to numb the pain.
  • If you are taking ibuprofen for another health condition, such as sore muscles, be aware that some people may develop mouth sores as a side effect of taking it. This is particularly true if you use an extra-strength or prescription-strength dosage level. If you take this medication, pay attention to your mouth and switch to a different type of pain reliever if you start to detect any sensitivity in your mouth.
  • Don't forget to pack moisturizing lip balm. Put it in a part of the carry-on luggage that will be easy to access while on the airplane. Hotels, airports, and airplanes themselves have very dry air which can cause the lips to chap.
  • Lips can sunburn too. If you will be spending time outdoors for sightseeing, going for a falukka (sailboat) ride on the Nile, basking alongside a swimming pool, enjoying the top deck of a cruise ship, or camping, remember to pack sunscreen for the lips.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.

Shira

 

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Anticipating & Preventing Injury

Certain travel-related activities can lead to injury. For example, if the trip will involve a large amount of sight-seeing, then it probably will involve a large amount of walking and sitting on a tour bus. If the trip will involve participating in belly dance workshops, then those can pose certain risks of injury as well. When preparing for the trip, it is wise to anticipate these potential risks and plan how to avoid them.

 

Sight-Seeing

If the trip will involve a large amount of sight-seeing, then you will be on your feet a great deal. Either wear old shoes that are fully broken in, or buy your new shoes well in advance of the trip and wear them frequently to break them in. If you do take new shoes, take bandages to wear in preventing blisters or protecting the blistered area after the fact.

If you will be spending a large amount of time on a tour bus, think about whether you need to take with you remedies for motion sickness. Even if you don't normally have an issue with motion sickness, it could strike if you're very tired from travel. Also consider the risk of deep vein thrombosis from sitting still too long, and look for ways to exercise your legs to minimize that risk.

PHOTO CREDIT: This photo of the Citadel in Cairo was taken by Shira.

 

Citadel

Belly Dance Workshops

Before leaving home, check the list of belly dance workshops you will be attending and consider whether there are particular items you should pack to protect your body against risks.

Here are some examples of what to think about when looking at the list of workshops you are considering....

If you plan to attend a floor work or sword balancing class, you may want to wear knee pads to support your knees, and some kind of padding on the top of the foot to protect it when you are kneeling. It may also be wise to prepare by doing exercises to strengthen your core muscles and your quadriceps (thigh muscles).

 

If you plan to attend an all-day raqs al assaya (cane/stick dance) class, it may be wise to either wear a glove on your twirling hand or place a bandage over it to protect your hand from the friction of twirling the cane. Even though I have no problem working with a cane in a one-hour class, after a 4-hour cane workshop, I found myself with a very impressive blister on my twirling hand.

Some belly dance workshops involve extensive hopping or footwork with pivoting. Examples of such workshops include raqs al assaya, Tunisian, Mahmoud Reda's & Farida Fahmy's style, debke, and Nubian. If you are not accustomed to this, you may want to take some precautions.

  • Wear kneepads to support your knees
  • Consider wearing legwarmers to help prevent shin splints.
  • Either insert padded insoles in your dance shoes, or buy dance shoes that contain some cushioning on the sole. Aruba's Oasis can custom-make sandals that contain some padding on the sole for this purpose.
  • Wear dance shoes that have smooth soles which pivot freely. If you try to dance barefoot or in dance sneakers with "grippy" soles, you could torque your knees.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Shira

 

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Packing Checklist

Of course, you won't take everything appearing on this checklist. Talk to your doctor about the issues described in this article, and let that guide you in which items are right for you. You won't want to take any more than necessary because it takes up space in your luggage and adds weight.

Prepare for the Worst
  • Health insurance card
  • Travel/trip interruption insurance
  • Instructions on how to invoke insurance coverage when hospitalized or traveling abroad
  • List of the best hospitals in the destination city and where they are located
  • Information on how to contact the nearest U.S. embassy if you're a U.S. citizen traveling abroad.
Prescription Medications
  • Daily medications
  • Occasionally-used medications
  • Original container from the pharmacist with the prescription information
  • Written prescription from the doctor
Air Quality
  • Any medications recommended by your doctor for asthma, bronchitis, or other respiratory health issues
  • Mask to protect your air passages from grit in the air
Pain Remedies
  • Migraine relief (pills, eye shade, washcloth to moisten)
  • Menstrual cramp relief (pills, essential oils)
  • Stiff/sore muscle relief (ointment, anti-inflammatory drugs, handheld massager)
  • Soothing foot lotion
Dehydration and Overheating 
  • Small handheld fan
  • Aerosol can of water
  • Washcloth to moisten
Skin Health
  • Cuts
    • Antiseptic first aid cream
    • Bandages
  • Acne remedy
  • Dehydration
    • Moisturizer
    • Lip balm
    • Bath oil or bath salts
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunburn first aid cream or other remedy
  • Antihistamine cream for allergic reactions
  • Anti-fungal cream for athlete's foot
  • Anti-yeast cream for yeast infection
Insect Bites & Insect-Borne Diseases 
  • Repellant containing Deet
  • Vitamin B supplements
  • List of foods rich in Vitamin B
  • Antihistamine pills and/or ointment
Eye Care 
  • Saline solution for dry eyes
  • Sunglasses & case
  • Either spare pair of glasses & case or copy of prescription
  • Contact lens supplies
    • Solutions (check liquid level)
    • Case
    • Spare pair
    • Regular glasses
Oral Health
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Redwood sticks or toothpicks
  • Mouth sore remedies
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen for lips

 

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Related Articles

These articles cover other health-related topics related to belly dance.

 

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Acknowledgements

This article originally was published on the Gilded Serpent, an online web-zine serving the belly dance community. It appeared there in late spring 2005.

 

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