Summer is almost over, but there’s a good chance you’ll be traveling again soon: Fall leaf-peeping is upon us and family-filled holidays are right around the corner. While travel is exciting and rewarding, it often isn’t easy on the body — especially as you get older. I’ve strained my back muscles more than once by hoisting my luggage down the stairs (is it called “luggage” because you lug it?). They don’t really have a training program at the gym to prepare you for pulling 40-pound suitcases while sprinting to catch your connecting flight. So, to help make your next trip less painful, we’ve collected four tips that’ll keep you comfy while flying or driving outta town.
Be mindful with your travel plans.
First things first: Know your body’s limits and do your best to accommodate them. For example, if you recall that sitting in a car for a long road trip hurts your back, see if you can catch a quick flight to your destination instead.
If you have no choice but to take a trip that’s likely to irritate your body, prepare to combat any pain in advance. “If you have arthritis that makes walking painful, consult a physical therapist or physical medicine doctor in the months leading up to your trip in order to improve your range of motion and endurance,” Dr. D.J. Kennedy, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, recommended to The New York Times. He also suggested bringing doctor-recommended pain meds with you, just in case you need some pharmaceutical assistance.
Limit your luggage weight.
To avoid dragging around heavy luggage, it’s obviously easiest to just pack light. But if you do need to pack a big bag, one that rolls is ideal — that way, you won’t be straining your muscles carrying it by hand or slung over your shoulder. Bags with four wheels roll more easily than bags with two; I personally have a four-wheeler, and I typically push it in front of me rather than drag it behind, at least when I’m on smooth surfaces (like an airplane floor). Pushing feels better on my joints.
If you need to carry a bag on your body, Dr. Deborah Venesy, a physician in the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Spine Health in Ohio, recommends a backpack. Backpacks are convenient because the straps can be adjusted to fit your figure, and you can use both straps to distribute the weight you’re carrying evenly.
Finally, if you need help lifting your bags into the plane’s overhead compartment, don’t be afraid to ask! The flight attendants are there for this reason (or a friendly fellow passenger may offer an assist).
Take breaks to stretch or move.
If you’ll be sitting for long periods of time while flying or driving, try to take frequent breaks to move your body and help prevent stiffness and pain. On a car trip, this could mean pulling over and getting out to stretch your legs every hour or so; you can get a bite to eat, drink a cup of coffee, or merely park at a rest stop and take a brisk stroll around your car.
On a plane, moving is a little trickier — but you can still take trips to the bathroom (booking an aisle seat will make this less of a bother!). There are also some simple stretches you can do while sitting to alleviate pain. Yoga therapist Judi Bar recommends a seated cat-cow pose to loosen your spine, a seated spinal twist wherein you gently rotate your upper body in one direction (especially easy to do within the confines of a chair), slow neck and shoulder rolls, or a seated forward fold to stretch out your lower and upper back (you’ll need a little more room for this one, so try it in the airport or train station). Read her explainers of these travel yoga stretches over at ClevelandClinic.Org.
Lastly, if your legs and feet tend to get swollen during sedentary hours of air travel, try wearing compression socks on board to squeeze and stimulate circulation. After spending a long time in a confined space, the veins in your legs will have a hard time circulating blood back up to your heart, which can cause pressure and swelling. When your leg muscles aren’t constricting, circulation isn’t happening efficiently, so it’ll also put you at a higher risk for pulmonary embolisms and blood clots.
Sitting may sound simple, but there are definitely positions you can take that’ll limit body aches later on. “Make sure you are sitting as far back in the chair as possible, so that there is no space between your hips and the back of the seat,” Amanda Brick, a physical therapist at Professional Physical Therapy, tells Bustle. You can also roll up a sweatshirt or blanket and place it behind your lower back for lumbar support and better posture.
Many people entertain themselves on a plane or car ride with a phone, tablet, or book; but looking down for hours at a time can cause unpleasant neck strain. To avoid this, it’s smart to bring whatever device you’re using to eye level. The SkyClip, for example, allows you to clip your phone or iPad to the back of the seat in front of you — without disturbing any fellow passengers. For more holder options, check out this list at Knaviation.net. And if you plan to take a nap on a train or flight, be sure to invest in a neck pillow; these are typically U-shaped and designed to provide support to your head and neck muscles, preventing the head from bending too far on either side once you doze off.
We hope you can use these tips to travel safely and comfortably this fall! Bonus tip: If you’re bringing a dog or cat along on your journey, check out this article on flying safely with your furry friend in tow.