Traveling is fun, but taking a trip can stress and strain your body in a variety of ways. Think of it like a travel tax that you unwittingly have to pay.
I’ve listed some of these stressors below, with recommendations for how to reduce the toll they take on our bodies.
1) Carrying Luggage
It starts with lugging a suitcase or duffle bag that weighs 15-30 lbs from your bedroom to the front door. From the front door to the car. From the car to the airport check-in area. If it’s a carry-on, you have to hoist it up onto the conveyor belt to be scanned by the TSA. From there, it gets wheeled or carried to the gate, forcing one arm/shoulder to do all the work. At the gate, you have to bring it over to the line where you wait to board. Then there’s the long walk from the terminal, down the jetway to the entrance of the plane. Next, you have to carefully maneuver down the narrow aisle until you find your seat, where you hoist it up into the overhead cabin, or scrunch down and push it underneath the seat in front of you.
After you land, you essentially have to do all that again in reverse. And then again two more times for the trip home. Since most people aren’t terribly concerned with biomechanics and proper posture during this process, it adds up to a lot of body strain.
Recommendation: If you don’t have to check luggage, don’t. Checked bags are always heavier; carry-on is the way to go. Pack as light as you can, and whether you have a rolling bag or standard duffle, remember to distribute the burden of transporting it equally between right and left shoulders.
2) Cramped Seat
Unless you’re flying first class, you’ve probably got an uncomfortable seat. If it’s the aisle, you’re routinely bumped or jarred by flight attendants and passengers as they move throughout the cabin. Or you’re wedged against the window where the wall of the airline is curved. God help you if you’re stuck in the middle seat sandwiched between two passengers. There and back, this adds up to several hours of bodily stress.
Recommendation: The “lesser of three evils” is the aisle seat. It offers the freedom of standing up to stretch without pissing off the people in your row.
3) Craning Your Neck to Look Out the Window
Even when they’re not in a window seat, most passengers can’t help but stare out the tiny porthole during the flight. Without giving it much thought, passengers gaze through the small window for minutes at a time, which can apply considerable strain to one side of the neck.
Recommendation: Limit your “look time” to under 5-seconds. Balance it out by turning your head to the opposite window for the same duration. Sustained head turns for long periods of time can induce painful muscle spasm.
4) Disgusting Airplane Ventilation and Filthy Seat Surfaces
I have a number of pilots as patients, and I’ve taken time to ask each one the same question: “How clean is the inside of an airplane?”
Unsurprisingly, they’ve all admitted that commercial airline cabins are typically sanitized at the end of the day, rendering them incontrovertible cesspools of germs and illness. Want proof? Just read how sneeze particles travel within an airplane.
Recommendation #1: Bring a travel-size pack of lysol wipes with you onboard. Wipe down every surface you’re likely to touch. The armrest, seatbelt clasp, window shade, front and back of the tray table, as well as the headrest and overhead directional air blower thing (pretty sure that’s the technical term). Nearby passengers will look upon you with envy as they regret not doing the same thing.
Recommendation #2: Bring oral zinc spray. 8 squirts before and after each flight (seems like a lot, but it isn’t), and throughout the day while you’re traveling. It boosts your immune system and fights off the nasty germs you’re exposed to in poorly ventilated spaces.
5) Sleeping in an Unfamiliar Bed
Unless you’re staying at a premium hotel or with a friend who invested in an expensive mattress for their guests, there’s a good chance that the bed (or couch!) you’re sleeping on is going to be crummy. Waking up with aches and pains while traveling is fairly common, and it can certainly impact your sleep quality and nightly routine.
Recommendation: Implement this mobility exercise each morning (via @JohnRusin)…
6) Sleeping on an Unfamiliar Pillow
Hotels pillows, no matter how luxurious, are typically awful. There’s really no avoiding them unless you bring your pillow with you. Speaking of which, don’t be the weirdo who brings his/her pillow on a trip. You’re not 10 years old, and this isn’t your first sleepover at a friend’s house. It looks ridiculous.
Recommendation: Take a hotel towel, fold it three times (long ways), and place it under the pillow. This will add stability and depth to help level your head and improve neck alignment.
7) Sleep Deprivation
If you have a nightly routine at home, it’s unlikely that you’re able to stick with it while traveling. Most people either stay up late or have to wake up earlier than usual, and this throws off your sleep cycle. It’s extra stress that your body doesn’t want or need.
Recommendation: Use a sleep mask (here’s what I use) to completely blackout the hotel room you’ll be sleeping in… This encourages a deeper level of sleep by eliminating intrusive lighting that can disrupt brain activity.
8) Nutritional Roller Coaster
Eating healthy and tracking food consumption is much easier to do at home than it is on the road. Unfortunately you can’t bring 12 different smoothie ingredients or pack your 15-pound VitaMix blender. The food and drinks that are consumed while traveling, while delicious, throw off our digestive patterns, and often cause gastric distress like diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.
Recommendation: Take a daily probiotic. Bring a dose for each day of your trip. This promotes regular bowel movements and healthy gut flora.