For those of you who love to travel as much as I do, or for those of you who must hit the road regularly for work, the same thing applies: travel is stressful on your body. I would argue the stress of travel is far outweighed by the benefits (The food! The culture! The sights!), but that discussion is for another day. Vacation can only be enjoyed, and work travel can only be productive, if your body feels good. Here are 5 simple tips to stay pain free while traveling:
1) Consider your luggage choice
Each luggage choice has its benefits and drawbacks. The first question is always “Do I check a bag or do I carry it on?” The carry-on route ensures your bag arrives at your destination. But remember, you have to pull or carry it through the airport and hoist it into the overhead compartment. Depending on how your body feels leading up to the trip, perhaps you put an outfit and toiletries in your carry-on in case of a lost bag, and check the rest.
If you choose a carry on, should it be a backpack? Tote bag? Roller bag? Again, each has its positives and negatives. Backpacks place symmetrical stress on your shoulders and spine, but tote bags can be alternated side to side. A roller bag takes the weight off your spine but requires gripping and more wrist/hand mobility.
There is no right answer- but always consider your strengths and weaknesses and how to avoid overusing the wrong thing at the outset of your trip. This answer may be different for you and your travel partners, and that is OK!
2) Lifting mechanics
We all feel rushed when we see the line of cars waiting behind us as we unload the car at the airport, or other passengers anxious to de-plane stacked in the aisle behind us. But try to resist the urge to rush! And most importantly, don’t forget the basics:
-Lift with your legs
-Avoid pure rotational movements, especially with momentum
-Avoid reaching into the back seat of the car to pick up that extra heavy backpack
Many of my clients struggle with sleep when on an unfamiliar mattress with lackluster pillows. The mattress is an uncontrollable factor, but remember to look for the extra pillow often stashed in the closet at your hotel. Test out the pillow options under your head to determine which feels best to your neck. Then, consider using pillows for extra support around your body to prevent waking up with the classic kink in the neck or stiff low back. Try one between your knees if you struggle with low back or SI joint issues, or one under your ribcage if you have shoulder pain. Bring a neck pillow or low back roll (you can use an extra sweatshirt rolled up!) for the plane or car ride. Anyone who knows me well knows I am an expert plane sleeper, but that means I have to be careful I don’t sleep the wrong way for too many hours! Variety in positioning is always the best choice since we’ll never achieve the perfect position all night long.
4) Keep your existing movement habits
If you usually stretch 5 minutes in the morning, do it while you’re out of town! If you usually walk every day, try to find time and space for that. Bring that lacrosse ball to work out stubborn knots in your muscles or that theraband you keep by your desk for quick posture resets. Travel adds stress to your system, so try not to also subtract something from your routine that you know really helps you! That being said, sometimes you need to completely mentally step away from the constant routine. And if that’s more important on your next trip then listen to that instinct. Depending on the trip, one may be more important than another!
5) Boost your immune system
This tip is the one I personally need to hear the most. Or, more importantly, the one that I need to listen to 😊. Travel stresses your entire system, beyond just the musculoskeletal. Early departure times, late arrivals and time zone changes disrupt your sleep. You may be extra busy with work leading up to or coming back from your trip so you feel spread thin on either side of the time away. The stress of packing, planning and preparing before the trip is real! So is the pile of laundry and grocery shopping on the other side. So consider ways to boost your energy and immune system around and during your trip. A few ideas are:
-Drink an extra glass of water daily leading up to the trip
-Be consistent with immune boosting supplements (Vit C, D, zinc and lysine are all some ideas, but consult your physician for most important supplements for you)
-Commit to 7+ hours of sleep/night leading up to your trip
-Perform diaphragmatic breathing as needed to reset your nervous system pre, during and post trip
Give these travel tips a try and let me know how it goes!