Holiday tips from Cochrane. What’s in our suitcases?

Flip-flops – check, camera – check, passport – check; it’s holiday time! Like me, many of you will be taking a holiday during the next month. But before I head off to beautiful Ireland, I thought I’d ask some of my Cochrane colleagues to share some evidence they think could be useful to holidaymakers. Out of pure curiosity, I’ve also asked them to tell me what they’ll be reading and what essential or luxury item they’ll be taking with them on their travels.

Anne Littlewood, Trials Search Co-ordinator, Cochrane Oral Health Group (Manchester, UK)

Anne Littlewood

Anne’s ready for some serious toothbrushing, tea and a good read!

One of the best things about holidays is sampling all the food – including lots of sugary ice cream on the beach… That’s why at the Oral Health Group we take toothbrushing very seriously, even on our summer break. I’ll be taking my trusty powered toothbrush away with me, and packing a triclosan/copolymer containing toothpaste in my washbag.  Two recent Cochrane reviews showed the benefits. Choosing a powered toothbrush over a manual toothbrush can reduce plaque by 21% after three months of use. The addition of the antibacterial agent triclosan to a fluoride toothpaste can reduce gum inflammation by 22% compared to other fluoride toothpastes*. Two simple yet effective ways to keep your teeth pearly white in all of those holiday snaps!

I’m counting down the days until I jet off to Crete in August, and I won’t be without my travel kettle and teabags for that essential morning cup of tea. As for holiday reading, besides evidence based medicine (of course!) my other passion in life is pre-World War II cinema, so I’ve loaded up my ebook reader with Simon Callow’s biography of Orson Welles and Mark Cousins’s Story of Film. Sunshine and relaxation here I come!

Toby Lasserson, Senior Editor, Cochrane Editorial Unit (London, UK)

Toby's eReader

Toby hiding from the sun

My luxury item is my eReader. I can also see it being a risk factor for me getting sunburnt. Distracted by some slowly winding, deeply impenetrable history of the Paris Commune, I’ll neglect to stay sun safe. This is a big problem for me because my skin tone means that I don’t tan so much as veer dangerously towards lobster in the space of 30 minutes.

The review I think would make a difference to my holiday actually has only just been published as a protocol . Ok, so it’s more of a public health question looking at primary prevention with educational interventions, rather than an evaluation of a specific intervention for me to follow, but it helpfully lists the recommendations listed in the background section which come from the Cancer Council of Australia (in brackets are my mental notes):

1. seek shade; (I PROMISE to do that….if the sun loungers are all occupied)

2. wear sun-protective clothing; (That means more new clothes – damn)

3. wear sun-safe hats; (You mean a brim? I have to find one that doesn’t make me look middle-aged)

4. apply broad-spectrum, water-resistant, SPF 30+ sunscreen to sun-exposed skin; (Is that before or after the bandage?)

5. wear sun-protective sunglasses (I have an excuse to buy some now as my others fell apart some months ago)

Nancy Owens, Cochrane’s Web Content and Social Media Editor (Canberra, Australia)

Nancy Owens Jul14

Nancy, feeling perky thanks to melatonin

Living in Australia, traveling to get almost anywhere includes a long plane flight, likely crossing a few time zones, and the daunting possibility of jet lag – which can definitely put a crimp in your holiday. That’s why, when I was lucky enough to spend my holiday in France this year, I made sure to take my melatonin along. Melatonin, a hormone which occurs naturally in humans and helps to regulate waking and sleeping cycles, is available in pill or tablet form, and a 2009 Cochrane Review found conclusive evidence of its effectiveness in preventing and treating jet lag in adults. Despite this information, however, its availability and regulation vary considerably across the world; in the US it’s treated as a dietary supplement and unregulated. Here in Australia, it’s regulated as a pharmaceutical and available on prescription in a 2mg daily dose. It’s become one of my travel essentials for overseas trips since I moved here two years ago – right up there with my iPad, which allows me to stay connected wherever I am. Even more important, the iPad allows me to pack as many books as I want to read without having to overload my suitcase! My favourite holiday book this year was a food book, which I brought along to help inspire buying and cooking with delicious French ingredients in holiday-house kitchens – Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus. All of which was much easier to do when not disoriented and exhausted.

Jo Anthony, Cochrane’s Senior Media and Communications Officer (Oxford, UK)

Jo Anthony

Jo – happy on holiday!

Any Mum with a small-fussy-eater-person knows how meal times can be a battle! So our family summer holiday to Spain gives me the chance to make a choice – do I give in to my manipulative ‘munchkin’ and let her have chips and ice cream for breakfast lunch and dinner, or do I use it as a way to maintain our five a day through the perceived benefits of a Mediterranean diet? Well there’s no better place to try to tempt the whole family with red ripe tomatoes, breads, olives, fruits, local fish and meats. Yum! Or is it?

According to recent Cochrane evidence the benefits of a Mediterranean diet are promising. It suggests that this dietary pattern is good for us in terms of its effects on individual risk factors such as blood pressure and potentially illness and death from CVD. This is supported by biologically plausible explanations for the benefits of the diet as a whole such as our recommended five-a-day fruit and vegetable portions.

I would still apply caution. The review’s limited evidence suggests that more research is needed to fill in some of the gaps of the benefits of a sustained Mediterranean diet (such as costs, any ill effects, and sustainability over time and in different populations). However, I’m going to use our holiday to tempt my little “senorita” with trying new tastes. As my mother taught me – everything in moderation. So, ’ a blood red seville orange first, a few spoonfuls of seafood paella, try the lush vine tomato salad, and then… you can have your ice cream!

My ’must pack’ item will always be a good floppy sun hat. My recommended summer read is ‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion – I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud at a book. A real feel good read, then pass it on!

Miranda Cumpston, Senior Training Co-ordinator (Melbourne, Australia)

miranda cumpston holiday photo

Miranda imagining she’s on holiday

It’s grey and wintery here in Melbourne, but with all my northern friends heading off on holidays, it’s easy to start dreaming of summer. When I was a kid, we often spent Christmas by the beach, and many’s the year that someone had to spend the day with no trousers, sporting bright red welts across their legs from a bluebottle jellyfish sting. There were always conflicting opinions about what to do: “Vinegar!” “No, cold water!” – my aunts and the local surf life savers could never agree. In 2013, a Cochrane review was published to put the folk wisdom to the test. Sadly, there were a number of trials that didn’t report outcomes in a usable way, and the remaining evidence was of low quality. Interestingly, the evidence available suggested a possible beneficial effect of immersion in hot water rather than cold ice packs – who knew? And the evidence on vinegar was lacking, although it did seem to make the skin look worse. So, an evidence-based packing tip? Alongside some lovely fresh limes (for refreshing holiday drinks!), and that copy of Ulysses I’ve been meaning to make time to read, I’ll just have to make sure there’s a lovely warm bath wherever I’m staying, and keep an eye out for the next update of the review for more evidence.

Jani Ruotsalainen, Managing Editor, Cochrane Occupational Safety and Health Group (Kuopio, Finland)

Jani Ruotsalainen

Jani getting arty with his camera!

What do I take on holiday? Well, before the taking of things, let us first address the taking of the holiday itself. You see, we Cochrane boffins can see even something as innocuous as time off from work as an intervention aimed to improve health. So the key question then is: does it help? Thankfully there is a systematic review – albeit not yet in the Cochrane format – that has dug into this. The review found evidence of a small effect on health and well-being. That is of course why we take holidays and may seem self-evident to many (D’uh!). However, the second finding was that the obtained effects tend to fade away within two to four weeks. Thereby it would seem better to take shorter holidays sprinkled evenly around the year than one long one in the summer as most Finns do (myself included). This way also the restorative effects are smeared more evenly across the year!

Now, as I shake off the office dust, I take with me my trusted camera. With it I can hopefully stretch those happy memories of summer to last over the long dark winter. As for my chosen book, it’s got to be P.G.Wodehouse: Jeeves Omnibus 3. Utterly delightful.

As for me…

Well I will be enjoying the delights of Ireland’s west coast and probably won’t need to worry about hot sun there, nor will I be battling jet lag. While Miranda gets into hot water, I’ll be shivering in the Atlantic! The sea is so cold I sometimes chicken out of going in at all, but maybe a bracing dip will be just the thing to reduce my chances of getting sore muscles after exercise, as suggested by this Cochrane review. The evidence was low quality though, so the picture may look rather different when the review is updated. Given the water temperatures, my must-pack item will be a wetsuit. I’m looking forward to having the time for several books and will be favouring Irish authors, starting with ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Tóibín.

While I’m away, Evidently Cochrane will be having a break, with the next blog out on August 22nd. We’d love to hear your top tips, must-pack items and what you’ll be reading! Stay well and have fun!

*Editor’s note: This Cochrane Review will not be updated given that as far as we are aware toothpaste containing triclosan is no longer commercially available as of early 2019


Yaacob M, Worthington HV, Deacon SA, Deery C, Walmsley AD, Robinson PG, Glenny AM. Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD002281. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002281.pub3.

Riley P, Lamont T. Triclosan/copolymer containing toothpastes for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD010514. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010514.pub2.

Langbecker D, Diaz A, Chan RJ, Marquart L, Hevey D, Hamilton J. Educational programmes for primary prevention of skin cancer (Protocol). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD011061. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011061.

Herxheimer A, Petrie KJ. Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD001520. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001520.

Rees  K, Takeda  A, Martin  N, Ellis  L, Wijesekara  D, Vepa  A, Das  A, Hartley  L, Stranges  S. Mediterraneanstyle diet for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2019, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD009825. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009825.pub3

Li L, McGee RG, Isbister G, Webster AC. Interventions for the symptoms and signs resulting from jellyfish stings. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD009688. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009688.pub2.

de Bloom J1, Kompier M, Geurts S, de Weerth C, Taris T, Sonnentag S. Do we recover from vacation? Meta-analysis of vacation effects on health and well-being.J Occup Health. 2009;51(1):13-25. Epub 2008 Dec 19.

Bleakley C, McDonough S, Gardner E, Baxter GD, Hopkins JT, Davison GW. Cold-water immersion (cryotherapy) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD008262. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008262.pub2. 

Page last updated 07 October 2019.

Holiday tips from Cochrane. What’s in our suitcases? by Sarah Chapman

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

2 Comments on this post

  1. Good stuff…My question: Does wearing a filtering mask inflight reduce incidence of respiratory infections?

    Kelly Wellington / Reply
    • I’m afraid we don’t have any Cochrane evidence on that. Have any readers come across any good studies on this topic?

      Sarah Chapman / (in reply to Kelly Wellington) Reply

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