How to be healthier when visiting the USVI (because alcohol is inexpensive and the sun is blazing).
We just got back from St Thomas right on time for it to start snowing. So we hauled it to the grocery from the airport in flip flops and shorts (lots of judging happening). Between two radically different weeks, one in tropical perfect weather and now this week in leftover snow and sub-freezing temps, we thought it would be a great time to talk about healthy travel to the islands as you're planning your next get away.
In general, there are tons of 'how to travel in a healthy way' articles floating around. But we like specific and efficient. With Chris's 20 something years of USVI experience and family living on island plus my repeat knowledge slowly but surely getting there, here are a few St Thomas, Virgin Island specific health tips in partnership with our friends at Follain.
1. Alcohol is inexpensive and yet your liver and skin don't care.
Booze is so cheap in comparison to here in Virginia. Chris's island dwelling mother says the prices have gone up and are similar to Florida's prices at this point. But with the price discount to most people, paired with alcohol EVERYWHERE, it's tempting. They give you a shot of rum at the airport. You can take a cocktail to go in the car (strangely, driving with an open container is legal, a cell phone is not). And even though I refuse to drink tropical cocktails at home, I take all the Painkillers, Rum Punches and Bushwackers I can get while we are down there. That said...just don't over do it. Alcohol dehydrates you and pairing lots of rum with lots of heat and sun means you're going to be a little raisin. Your skin and your liver don't care about menu pricing if your consumption quantity is through the roof. Be conscious. Drink water.
2. The sun is deceptively strong. Don't be an idiot.
Cowpet Bay, where we stay has a constant, glorious breeze. It's like standing in front of a fan the entire day. And it has perfect palm trees on the beach. You feel cool and comfortable, but remember that just because you don't feel hot, it doesn't mean your skin is safe from burning. You have to wear sunscreen all day, every day from the moment you de-plane. Let's just say, mistakes have been made. I reapply multiple times a day, but I found a stick sunscreen was especially helpful for me to apply directly to prime areas on my body more frequently if we're out and about (nose, cheeks, collar bone). And don't forget your lips! I'm currently loving Ilia's Tinted Lip Conditioner SPF 15. It adds color but more importantly, specific sun protection (reapply every two hours) with plant based ingredients: avocado oil, thyme and sage leaf to name a few. And if you do happen to get a bit too much sun, it's 100% worth it to bring an after sun spray from home. Herbivore makes one that smells amazing (lavender, aloe and spearmint). I want it as a room spray to be honest with you. Buy a TSA approved travel bottle and decant it. It's a super soothing and extra good if you refrigerate it.
3. The breeze is your friend. Bugs are not.
We talked about how the breeze can trick you into sunburn territory, but the breeze is really important for another reason: it keeps mosquitos away. I've been asked a few times about Zika in reference to our travels. Yes, there have been cases in the USVI. Yes, Chris's family that lives there knows people who have had it. Mosquito borne illness are something you accept if you live in the islands. Interestingly, the way my Mother in Law puts it, Zika is the 'least bad' of many of the possible illnesses from mosquitos: chikungunya and dengue are terrible. I'm not discounting Zika at all, especially related to pregnancy. I hear you. I'm just letting you know, you should be aware, but we still travel to the island. Wear a strong bug spray, but more importantly, don't stay somewhere with stagnant air and water. That's a total mosquito breeding ground.
4. Go to the grocery:
One thing I promise you'll hate about the islands is how expensive food is. Like $11 conventionally grown grapes expensive. And it's a shame! I think there's an expectation of tropical produce and fish availability on the island, but it's harder than you think. Even if you plan to dine out, be prepared for sticker shock. You can easily run up a $60 bill at a casual (no shoes- wet swim suit-no problem) beach side spot for lunch with a cocktail each. And in general, the produce offerings at restaurants tend to be few and far between. It depends on the kind of trip you want to have (are you willing to semi cook?), but we stop at the grocery before we head to the condo and get lettuce, fruit and breakfast things (and order all the mahi mahi when we dine out). We've also started picking up something to eat at the airport from the grocery when we leave the island so we aren't stuck with $16 sub mediocre chicken tenders (true story-awful airport food).
5. Take care of your skin, even after you get home.
Exfoliate, protect, hydrate should be my warm weather skin mantra. Herbivore's coco rose body polish (coconut oil, rose oil, sugar) is great pre-vacation (closer shave, removes dead skin so your pores don't get clogged when you sweat more!), but I also like light exfoliation a few days post-vacation (as long as you don't have sunburn). I'm also doing some extra lotion hydration with face oil and a thicker body lotion. I think the shock of my skin going from more humid sea air to dry winter air is making it a bit more dull this time around and let's be real: I'm being a little vain and kind of like the bronze look I have going on right now.
Wishing you healthy travels!
Dietitian Nutritionist and cookbook author sharing flavor-forward recipes and simplified science-driven wellness.