Make Your Next Trip a (Healthy) One to Remember
By Bo Babenko, DPT
During my travels travels, I’ve out in some great boxes, spent time with excellent people, and endured some good and bad airlines. But mostly, I’ve honed my travel habits to maximize recovery/rest and minimize any disruption to my routine. Here are my finely tuned lessons-learned about the best way to travel.
What to Pack
Our focus in packing is typically on the clothes we need for our final destination and planned activities. However, you should add a few more items to your packing list to support sleep and restoration during travel.
Sleep and Rest
Whether or not you are taking the red-eye, you’ll want to arm yourself with tools to get some quality rest while you have the opportunity of forced downtime:
- A neck pillow is vital for sleep, as well as your awake time. Wear it to support positive posture.
- Eye covers – you may or may not have control over the lighting situation.
- Ear plugs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlH9XG3Gbmo) – noise canceling headphones are awesome but sometimes a bit bulky for packing, and ear plugs take almost no room in your bag.
Sleeping pills (e.g., dramamine) may give you the illusion of rest and recovery, but they are questionable for sleep help as they often just knock you out, but don’t provide actual recuperative sleep. Alternatively, magnesium (e.g. natural calm or ZMA) and melatonin are likely to enhance the quality of your sleep so consider taking those and feeling more refreshed.
Comfortable clothing during travel is an obvious choice, but why not go the extra mile (pun intended) by wearing clothes that promote recovery? Travel can be an inflammatory experience, but compression wear can help minimize these effects. Choose graded compression gear so you have more compression closer to your feet and progressively less up towards your thigh.
The timing of our travel is often dictated by obligations and budget (that 5:00am flight with two layovers is a bargain for good reason!). However, if you have flexibility in your timing, it might be worth considering the monetary trade-offs for different flight options. After all, if you wreck yourself during travel, are the savings really worth feeling wrecked for the entire day or, worse yet, the week?
Here are some trade-offs I’ll make every single time, fully worth the extra $50 or so:
- Take the non-stop flight. With every added leg in your itinerary, you increase the chances of delays or cancelations
- Fly Virgin America. If you haven’t yet tried this airline, make it your next flight! Among the many benefits (I unfortunately do not get paid by them to say any of this):
- Healthier food options – protein packs, nut mixes, etc.
- Video and food/drink orders on demand at every seat
- Electrical outlets (yes, at every seat)
- Phased moog lighting, designed to enhance your relaxation
- Modern airplanes (guaranteed) with comfortable seats
While You Travel
Chances are high that travel will disrupt your sleep schedule, whether it’s due to departing early, arriving late, or changing time zones. While these things may be outside of your control, do as much as you can during your travel time to minimize the impact.
Range of Motion and Posture
- If you live in a sufficiently metropolitan area, take public transportation to the airport. This usually promotes much more moving around before your flight, during which you will be cramped and unable to move very much for an extended period of time.
- Stretch through as much full range of motion as you are comfortable performing (yes, they will stare) in public right before boarding.
- Avoid slouching. Use your travel as an opportunity to form new postural habits. As they say, “you are either getting better or getting worse” (hint: slouching makes your body worse).
Bonus fun tip: If you are traveling with someone, play a posture game. (Hint: not recommended for incompatible travel partners.) Earn a point by catching your partner in a slouching or bad position. The most points chooses the restaurant for your first meal after you land. In-N-Out Burger, anyone?
While mercilessly strapped in seated:
- Tighten the seatbelt to reinforce a better position for your spine and help avoid slouching.
- If you are reading, typing, or watching videos on your own device, avoid cranking your head all the way down. Pin your head back against the seat and use that neck pillow.
Diet and Hydration
Food and drink choices during travel are rarely ideal, and most assuredly, different than our typical nutritional routines. Take matters into your own hands by anticipating little-to-zero healthy options and following three simple guidelines:
- Pack your own food. Airlines will permit you to carry on an extra bag of food. If they stop you for having “too many bags,” just flash open your food bag and say simply, “Food.” That’s the secret password.
- Be prepared to pee, frequently. Buy a big bottle of water in the terminal pre-flight to ensure you have ample hydration throughout your flight. Most airlines still offer drink service as a minimum, so this frees me to enjoy club soda and coffee (depending on time of day).
- Avoid sugars. Enough said.
My food bag always includes protein options, meal replacement options, and hydration/immune system boosters.
- Pumpkin seeds (good source of protein) and delightful
- Perfect Food Bars
- Steve’s Paleo Jerky/nut mixes
- Nut butter packets
- Balance Hydration from NutriForce Sports
- Protein powder
Air travel exposes us to not insignificant amounts of radiation, and there is some interesting preliminary research about how our energy is affected during this process. One proposed solution is known as grounding: as soon as you land, find some actual earth (grass, dirt, etc.) and expose your bare skin against it (i.e., roll around on the ground in nature). Best case scenario, your energies get properly sorted out. Worst case scenario, you can revel in the fact that you are, once again, planted on firm, solid earth.