Travelling is a wonderful luxury that many of us get to experience a few times throughout our lives. I see many people who are about to travel who are worried about what their trip will do to their body, or people who have injured themselves doing something they don’t normally do in their day to day lives whilst away.
Moderation is key - even for movement
The most common issues I see tend to surround prolonged sitting - planes, trains, buses, ferries - they almost always require you to stay seated for a really long time. Our bodies are designed to move, bend, twist and lift, so when you cramp it into a small space and stay really still for a long time, it’s going to let you know about it one way or another!
The best way to get around this is to take movement breaks, much like when you’re at home, uni or work. Get up and move around when you feel stiff. Don’t feel bad about bugging the person next to you! Your back/legs/neck/hips will thank you when you get to your destination and can comfortably walk off the plane, pain-free.
You’ll definitely catch me standing up, doing calf raises and lunges in the aisle and maybe even a few back stretches if it’s starting to bother me.
It’s good to moderate lots of forward bending with some backward bending, to keep your back happy.
In contrast, to too little movement whilst sitting, I also see plenty of injuries where people take on too much at once. Many people who go from couch potatoes and desk jockeys straight onto the ski fields, whitewater rafts and bungee cords often find that their body isn’t ready to handle the extreme loads that those sports require. Even those who don’t walk more than a few thousand steps a day find that their leisurely walks through new cities day after day are very tiresome on their legs. It’s often much safer to do some targeted exercise or training in the 12 weeks leading up to your holiday to prepare your body for what it’s about to experience. Pacing is key!
Choose Your Bag Wisely
Not all suitcases are created equal! Choose one that rolls smoothly, has a light but sturdy frame and avoid over-packing and making your suitcase too heavy. Keep in mind your travel destination - are there a lot of stairs? Will there be paved paths to wheel your suitcase down? If not, you might want to consider choosing a bag that can be put on like a backpack in case you run a path that isn’t accommodating, like the subway stairs of Japan or the steps over the bridges of Venice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it to load bags into overhead lockers, vehicles or suitcase lockers at the station - that’s what the attendants are there for.
When packing a backpack, try to put the heaviest items closest to your back. This keeps that weight close to your centre of gravity and means you don’t have to spend as much energy holding it up. Get an expert to fit your pack to you (with and without stuff in it!), and adjust the straps to your size to make sure you’ve got the best fit for you and the load you’re carrying. Again, avoid overpacking! Packing well, and wearing your pack well can avoid a whole stack of neck, shoulder, back and leg injuries.
Pack For The Holiday You Are Taking
If you’re going for a hiking holiday, it’s a great idea to invest in a decent pair of sturdy hiking boots before you go. Talk to an expert about the hikes you’re taking and they should recommend a boot style for you. Don’t forget to train your body for those boots! It pays to do your 12 weeks of training beforehand in those boots to wear them in. Your legs will adapt to the weight of the boots, you will discover any blisters before you’re away from home and you can experiment with the best ways to tie the laces.
Other holiday sports and activities might require special equipment as well. Make sure you chat to the rental attendant and source something that is right for you body size and shape. Skill level can also impact on this. For example, if you’re learning to surf it’s a great idea to choose a bigger rather than smaller board. It could mean a few less times getting dumped by waves, which is pretty hard on the body. The same goes for the snow. Depending on who you talk to, some say that snowboarding is easier than skiing (or vice versa!). It might be worthwhile to stick to something easier for longer, instead of stacking it into the snow and having to sit out nursing an injury while you watch everyone else enjoy!
If you’ve got any prescribed tools for your movement or health, like orthotics, walking aids or small equipment for a hotel-room physio exercise routine (!) make sure you take them with you. Continuing your normal self-care routine goes a long way to avoiding preventable injuries.
Pay Attention To Your General Health
What’s a holiday without a cold? A lack of movement isn’t the only reason that you’re probably feeling achy. Illness and inflammation can make joints and muscles tender. To avoid getting sick, make sure you’re eating a variety of wholesome foods, moving around during your day and getting some solid sleep at night. Sleeping in unfamiliar beds can be tricky, so do whatever you need to do to make yourself comfortable. Bring your own pillow, use an eye mask or ear plugs, or meditate before bed. Some people find melatonin helpful for combatting jetlag, to make sure they start their holiday on the right foot (or for coming home again, depending on your direction of travel around the globe). Good quality rest is essential to ensure you’ve got enough energy for your adventures during the day.
Holidays Are For Deloading Exercise, Not Stopping Altogether
Just because you don’t have access to the gym, doesn’t mean you can’t exercise! If you’re not off on an adventure holiday, you can get your 30 minutes of physical activity in for the day in other ways. You could walk to see the sights instead of catching an Uber. If you feel safe in the area you’re staying in, you could always go for a run, or find some stairs to jog up and down. Other more leisurely activities count as well, like snorkelling or walking along the beach or in the snow. Even a shopping spree counts towards getting your steps for the day in!
For those who are off on a more physical holiday, like hiking, snowboarding, or cycling tours, you probably don’t need to schedule too much formal exercise in, but doing the same leisurely activities can soothe sore muscles, by using them gently.
Isabelle Kelly- Physiotherapist
Isabelle is currently the 1st Team Physio for Samford Rangers. Isabelle is currently taking a 6 week trip around South East Asia!