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Natural Remedies and Top Tips For Travellers

I have to point out that I am in no way qualified to hand out medical advice but all of these remedies have come in useful at one time or another while I've been away. The one thing they have in common (apart from often sounding bizarre and sometimes tasting worse), is that they are based on bits and pieces you can get in the middle of nowhere, even if you can’t find a chemist (or are having language difficulties. I have had a pleasant 15 minutes in one chemist in Sumatra, trying to find an indigestion remedy and repeatedly being offered condoms).


I have to say though that I am not a qualified aromatherapist or doctor so please check with yours if you are in any doubt or if you are pregnant; this paper is only intended as a general introduction to the possibilities and should not be taken as an alternative to professional advice. Please contact your doctor or travel clinic prior to departure and ask them for the all the relevant information you need regarding your destination. In general the only oil that can be applied directly to the skin is lavender, but in an emergency tea tree can be applied undiluted in small quantities; otherwise dilute them in oil or water.

Natural remedies for Bleeding gums

Often a sign of an immune system which is overwrought! A teaspoon of salt dissolved in a cup of hot water and used as a mouth wash may help.

Natural Remedies for Burns

Obviously severe burns need medical treatment, but small ones can be soothed miraculously by a splash of lavender oil in a bowlful of ice cold water; it takes all the heat out of them and they rarely blister or scar. For minor injuries, make sure you hold the affected area under cold running water for at least 10 minutes before applying a remedy; it will seem like AGES but is the best way to treat it.

A cold wet tea bag will also help to soothe after you have done this but best of all is aloe vera gel, taken directly from the plant if possible.

Natural Remedies for Colds

Absolutely the best thing you can do is retire for a couple of hours kip with two paracetamol and a cup of hot honey and lemon; this is even more effective if you can find some ginger root to peel, smash and throw in.

Honey is a natural antiseptic; the vitamin C in the lemon helps the immune system and the ginger warms and stimulates the circulation, thus helping you sweat the illness out. As an emergency decongestant, you can drop a small spoonful of Tiger Balm, a couple of crushed garlic cloves or a few drops of tea tree oil into a sinkful of hot water, throw a towel over your head and inhale deeply.

Natural remedies for Cuts and grazes

Wounds can quickly become infected in a tropical climate so it is important to keep them clean and dry. Tea tree oil is one of Nature’s great antiseptics, so dab it on slightly diluted to any cuts, scratches or grazes.

If you don’t have any antiseptic, honey can work very well, as can garlic. Either rub a cut clove over the area, or cut fine slivers of it and tape on to the affected area. (The Romans used a mixture of garlic and cobwebs to help wounds knit and heal, and garlic was also used in the First World War as a field dressing in the trenches).

In an emergency you could use alcohol such as vodka or gin as a disinfectant for cuts and grazes, or of course salt water.

Natural remedies for Cystitis

Cranberry juice is the famous cure for this, but if you can't find any, any citrus based drink may help alter the acidity of your urine and stop the burning sensation. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids.

Natural remedies for Fear of Flying

Arnica or aconite tablets are very good for this, but by far the best thing I've found is Rescue Remedy. A couple of squirts seems to the trick admirably (and a good stiff gin seems to calm my nerves as well). If you really have problems, a chief purser once taught me this trick on a particularly bumpy ride across the Pacific; sit with both feet on the floor, plams flat on your thighs, shoulders held down. Now push as hard as you can with your feet and feel all the tension go out of your body.... sounds a bit odd, but it does work! Also read the article on plane travel on the GTC blog for an explanation of all those funny noises!

Natural remedies for Fungal infections

For fungal nails infections dab on a 2.5% dilution of tea tree oil twice a day. It may take about six months for it to clear but a few drops in your bath water will act as a preventative. Tea tree oil can also be used to treat athlete’s foot, and you can put a few drops in your shampoo to kill head lice and help prevent dandruff.

Natural remedies for Headaches

Rub some tiger balm or a lavender rollerball on your temples; for migraines rub the rollerball along the sides of your neck from the base to the nape and massage in. An infusion of ginger root will also help, or valerian tea if you can find it in a local health food shop.

Natural remedies for Hiccups

This sounds and looks ridiculous but really does work, the only downside being that you need a friend to help you! Put both your index fingers in your ears, then using your little fingers push against either side of your nose so you block both nostrils. Now get a friend to feed you a glass of water, as much as you can drink, and hey presto, the hiccups will stop. I've never seen this fail, even on girls who are plastered in the loos at weddings!

Natural remdies for Insect Bites

Some people react badly to bites and stings and may need medical treatment although your average bite or sting can be soothed with a smear of Tiger Balm, a dab of tea tree oil or a squeeze of lemon juice. Ant and bee stings are acidic, and so need to be neutralized with baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) dissolved in a little bit of water. Wasp stings are alkali, so dabbing liberally with vinegar will help (remember, bicarb for bees, vinegar for vasps!).

Ice cubes applied to the bite or sting may also take away pain or itching. Obviously the best thing you can do is avoid being stung or bitten in the first place so wear long sleeves, long skirts or trousers after dusk, and don’t forget your insect repellent.

Having said that, I always tend to have a bad reaction to most repellents, so I just dab the tops of my sandals and the bottom of my trousers with citronella or lavender oil and this keep the mozzies away. Apparently they don’t like folic acid either, and thanks to my predilection for Marmite I must ooze the stuff as I rarely get any interest from the little darlings. They also don’t like the smell of garlic or onion, so eat lots and sleep with a cut onion next to your bed. Toothpaste smeared on a bite will also take the itching away, as will a dab of lavender oil.

  • Don't wear perfume.
  • Buy some anti-mozzy coils to burn if you want to sit out after dusk.
  • Don't leave the light on in your room if you're going out as you could come back to something that looks like a dogfight from WWII.

Natural remedies for Insomnia, Jet Lag

Try and acclimatize to your new time zone as soon as you get on the plane. Dehydration exacerbates the symptoms of jetlag so make sure you drink plenty of fluid, slap on plenty of moisturizer to compensate for the harsh air-conditioning onboard, then lie back and relax.

Lavender oil is your best alternative bet for both preventing jet lag and then treating it. Use a rollerball on your temples and pulse points, or use our traveller’s pulse point gel to calm the tension of travel and ease restfulness. Sprinkle drops of lavender liberally on your pillow and inhale. Lettuce sandwiches are often surprisingly effective (really!), if you are in an area where lettuce is safe to eat, as is a warm bath with a couple of chamomile teabags thrown in, followed by a cup of chamomile tea.

Natural remedies for Prickly Heat

This occurs when the body’s sweat glands become blocked. A squeeze of lime and half of teaspoon of salt in your water bottle can help prevent this.

Natural remedies for Sore Throats and Coughs

This remedy sounds disgusting but doesn’t actually taste too bad. Peel and chop an onion finely, then cover with honey and leave to infuse for a few hours until it turns syrupy. Drink spoonfuls of the resulting liquid as if it were cough mixture. Works brilliantly.

Alternatively squeeze the juice of a lemon into a cup of hot water (add honey if you like), and gargle, then drink the rest.

Natural remedies to soothe Sunburn

Don't get burnt in the first place! Avoid going out between 11am and 3pm, or otherwise cling to the shadows like an agoraphobic vampire, and beware on breezy days as the wind can cool your skin so you don't realize how hot you are.

Take especial care when swimming or snorkelling; damp skins burn more easily, as do ones that  are coated in salty water. I had the worst sunburn on honeymoon from snorkelling, by paying so much attention to the fishes that I forgot about my back; even though I had a white shirt on, the sun's rays were enough to penetrate it and cause all sorts of problems!

While calamine lotion is the best treatment, sunburn can also be treated by washing the affected areas with cold, strong chamomile tea or lavender oil in water. Alternatively drop a couple of camomile teabags in a cool bath and stew for a while! Make sure you drink plenty of fluids.

Natural remedies for Toothache

Should you be able to get hold of Oil of Cloves, then dab this around the affected area, where it acts as a local anaesthetic. If you can’t find any, (and I very much doubt you will in rural Sumatra), then chewing on a dried clove will be just as effective.

Natural remedies for Thrush

Live natural yoghurt should sooth this common travellers’ fungal problem, either by smearing it about or by soaking a tampon in it. Twenty drops of tea tree oil in half a cup of water can be used as a wash to sooth the area while a tampon soaked in it and then inserted can help treat the infection.

Natural remedies for Travel Sickness, Nausea

Wonderful ginger root is the answer here. Peel and smash an inch or so of ginger root and infuse in a cup of hot water or black tea, and it will calm your queasy feeling. Even sucking on a piece of crystallized ginger or slowly nibbling a ginger biscuit will help.

  • Avoid rich and spicy foods, and limit your intake of alcohol.
  • Avoiding strong food odours.
  • Don't try reading, instead concentrate on the horizon and if possible listen to a story tape on your walkman or i-pod.
  • Don't sit facing backwards against the direction of travel. If possible sit in the front seat of the car.
  • Keep the windows open, or stay close to fresh air.
  • Stay away from other people who are prone to motion-sickness; hearing them talk about it is never helpful!
  • Find a seat near the middle of the airplane over the wing, as this will experience the least motion.
  • If you are on a ship, lower level cabins in the centre generally are more stable than those higher up, fore or aft.

Natural remedies for Tummy Problems, Indigestion

When two or more travellers get together, one of the first topics of conversation is bound to be the state of their digestive systems, which are often in a state of turmoil when on the road. There are a number of things you can do to minimise the risk of an upset tummy, the most important of which is to only drink bottled water when in less developed countries; ice can often be safe in the better tourist class hotels but you must use your own judgment. Even in smaller cafes or guesthouses, if it’s the round kind with the hole in it will have been produced in a factory and therefore should be more risk-free., but if you’re in doubt, don’t risk it!

There is also a traveller’s adage which is useful to remember; “either peel it, boil it, cook it, or forget it.” This doesn’t really apply in places like Australia, but makes remarkably good sense in Asia when you remember that the fields and crops may well be irrigated with untreated water, and therefore contaminated by sewage. However, after months of eating rice and cooked vegetables, I gave in to the temptation of green salads and uncooked vegetables in expensive hotels and suffered no ill effects whatsoever, where I was assured they were washed in bottled water. This might have been because my immune system had acclimatized however. 

A spoonful of natural yoghurt every day is supposed to help one’s stomach ward off all kinds of nasties, and my mum swears by putting a teaspoon of cider vinegar in her water bottle every time she refills it with more bottled water (this trick has seen her journey all over remotest Africa with no tummy problems whatsoever). Should you be unfortunate enough to get an upset tummy, it’s not a good idea to take Imodium unless you absolutely must travel, as this just blocks the problem up inside you temporarily. It is far better to let nature take its course, as you’ll recover much more quickly in the end.

It is possible to obtain an antibiotic called ciprofloxacin on private prescription from your doctor or health clinic prior to departure. It should not be taken prophylactic ally as this can lead to resistance, but if taken once symptoms appear a single dose of 500-750mg can treat 80% of cases. In an emergency it can also be used to treat other kinds of infection; please ask your doctor or travel clinic for more advice.

Once affected, stick to dry biscuits, plain boiled rice, peeled grated apple if you can manage it, and drink plenty of fluids as you can quickly become dehydrated. Take rehydration salts and get lots of rest. (I’ve never managed to drink the rehydration salts just because they taste so horrible; an alternative treatment is to mix a cup of cold black tea with an equal amount of flat coca-cola (the full-fat kind, not diet). The caffeine acts as a pick-me-up while the sugar gives you an energy boost, and it actually tastes quite pleasant).

Camomile tea is also useful in alleviating the symptoms of an upset tummy. Make sure you use an alternative form of contraception as vomiting and diarrhoea can render the contraceptive pill ineffective. For problems of a more windy kind or belchy kind, stir some powdered cinammon or a pinch of nutmeg into warm milk; trapped wind is often relieved by sipping a mugful of hot water slowly.

Most travellers will get a dodgy tummy at some point or other, but be warned that it can occasionally be a sign of serious diseases so if it lasts for more than two days, has unusual symptoms (i.e. blood or mucus), is accompanied by a fever, acute dehydration or becomes unbearably bad it is time to seek medical advice urgently. Once again please ask your doctor for advice before departure.


  • Wash and dry your hands every time you eat or drink; use a hand sanitizer.
  • Drink only sealed bottled water, fizzy drinks, tea and coffee; beer and wine should also be fine (check the seals on water bottles carefully, sometimes unscrupulous sellers simply refill empty bottles with tap water).
  • Look at the state of the restaurant you’re eating in and use your common sense; if the waiters appear to have dirty hands and there are flies everywhere, do you really want to eat there?
  • Avoid soft cheeses, ice cream or unpasteurized dairy products in risk areas.
  • Shellfish can be hazardous, even if cooked; avoid it if there’s a chance it might have been sitting in the sun all day or might have been caught in an area with a high risk of sewage.
  • Avoid food (particularly buffets) where food may have been kept warm for long periods or reheated. Rice is particularly notorious for developing a bacterium that cannot be destroyed by reheating or reboiling.
  • Either peel it, boil it, cook it or forget it!

How to overcome that niggling fear of flying..

We all know that statistically flying is by far the safest means of transport, but that doesn't stop even the hardiest of passengers suffering a fleeting jolt of panic every time a slight bump of turbulence is felt.

To this end I have compiled a few little facts that might explain all those unpleasant sensations and noises, and a few tips to keep you more comfortable and jet-lag-free!

To start with, anxiety is perfectly understandable; after all, it's not often in our daily lives that we give complete control over our personal safety into the hands of a stranger in such extreme circustances. However, just look at the faces of the stewardesses. They're completely relaxed and, even when busy and tired, still manage to walk about the cabin perfectly calmly without the need for a large stiff gin and two valium. They are completely at ease with being on an aircraft day in and day out, so I always think, if they can do it, so can I!

All planes will make odd thunking noises (when the landing gear retracts or comes down), or changes in engine noise that make it seem like the plane is decelerating. All this is perfectly normal so try not to pay any attention to it; sitting there listening anxiously to the sound of the engines won't help your general state of comfort! Put on the earphones and listen to some music instead.

Turbulence is also completely normal. Most planes fly above extreme weather conditions, and the pilot will know if there are any patches of turbulence coming up and will advise you accordingly; planes are built to withstand these sorts of pressures, so once again, keep an eye on the faces of the stewardesses! They don't panic when turbulence happens, so you don't need to either!

I find the homeopathic remedies aconite and arnica to be excellent for pre-flight anxiety, but by far the best remedy I have found is Rescue Remedy. A couple of squirts is incredibly helpful and will ease those dreadful butterflies. Sit upright, place your palms on your thighs, and push hard with your feet against the floor; you should breathe slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth then you will feel out the fear and tension go out of your body!

In addition, if you start to hyperventilate, breathe slowly in and out of the paper bag in your seat pocket.

Make sure you know where your nearest exit is just in case of an emergency landing; smoke is the biggest danger if this should happen, and visibility may be poor, so always count how many rows away the doors are so you could do it in the dark if you had to.

As to the effect on your body, well, you are in a very artificial situation, and it's no wonder that you feel a bit disorientated as a result. When you are flying at an altitude of 12,000 metres, the cabin is artificially pressurised to around 1500-2000 metres; most people live at around sea level so to be rocketed to this altitude in a very short space of time is going to take its toll. However, there are ways you can minimise the discomfort.

  • Wear loose clothing, as your body swells in the thinner air of the cabin.
  • Take your shoes off, and have a blanket ready as the temperature can rise and fall quite a lot.
  • Cocoon yourself with an eyemask and earplugs and try to rest comfortably (bring your own as many airlines don't provide them any more).
  • Drink lots of water; I know there is a temptation to avoid drinking, just so you don't have to get up to go to the loo but it won't help you feel better in the long run!
  • Seats in the middle of the plane are best if you suffer from motion sickness.
  • Suck a sweety on takeoff and landing to help your ears adjust. They don't seem to provide them onboard anymore so make sure you've got some in your bag.
  • Avoid spicy foods before takeoff and on the plane, as your body is struggling enough without having any extra strain on the digestion!

Jetlag occurs because the body's Circadian Rhythms are out of sync with the time zone of the new destination, and can lead to tiredness, disorientation and bad temper; it can even effect the body's immune system.

Normally hormones and seratonins are released into the bloodstream and govern our appetite and sleep patterns; when we change zones these are affected and it is thought it can take one day for every time zone crossed to recover our health and energy. The dry air on board can also make passengers more susceptible to all the bacteria breathed out by their fellow travellers, and even the efficiency of the digestive system can be affected.

So what can we do? Well, travelling to the east is worst than the west symptomatically. If heading east, eat as little as possible and try to get as much sleep as you can. If going west, you are lengthening your day so try and avoid sleeping until you get there.

  • When you get on board change your watch to the new time zone to help get accustomised to it.
  • Exercise. Keep walking about and wiggling your toes and even try some simple stretching; many airlines now have instructions for some exercises in their inflight magazine. You might look like a bit of a womble but it will help your circulation and make you feel better; it will also help reduce to risk of DVT so keep wiggling about!
  • A celebrity we know who flies all round the world frequently swears by putting a piece of brown paper in each shoe; apparently it really works, though we have no idea how!
  • Lavender on your travel pillow or a tissue helps you to sleep and is very good for alleviating the symptoms of jetlag; add a few drops to your bath when you get there and put a couple of drops on your pillow as well.
  • Arnica is very good for restoring sleep patterns, while our Pulse Point Gel contains lots of essential oils to refresh and revive.
  • We've had very good reports about the No More Jetlag Accupressure Wheel which has become a surprise bestseller, apparently it really helps to reset one's body clock.

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