10 Tips For Pain Free Air Travel
Are you planning a winter vacation? I love travelling, especially when it means I get to take a break from the chilly, grey Toronto winter! But let’s face it – the process of flying to your amazing vacation destination can be pretty uncomfortable! Air travel can be pretty tough on your body! I just got back from our winter trip to Kauai (OMG, the prettiest place I have ever been. I still can’t get those pink sand beaches, green mountains and perfect turquoise waves off my mind!) – and it was a super long flight. So I’ve been thinking a lot about how you can fly in ways that are better for your body!
If you’re planning an amazing vacation this year, here are my best tips for flying pain-free. Of course, these also work great if you’re travelling for work or any other reason!
Air travel can be pretty darned uncomfortable. The seats are the wrong size, there’s no leg-room, it’s easy to annoy your neighbours (hey, they’re hurting too!), going through security is terrible and you’re going to be immobilized for hours. Oh yeah, and the food sucks.
I can’t really speak to the food (except to say that we always pack a healthy meal and lots of snacks. And chocolate, of course) but what I can share are some great ways to move better and to move more during air travel.
#1 Bring Some Movement Tools In Your Carry-On
A little bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to travel. I always bring a half dome, a pair of Yoga Tune-Up balls and a pair of Joy-a Toes or My Happy Feet alignment socks in my hand luggage. These are all small, light and versatile tools that you can use in lots of ways both before and during your flight.
# 2 Dress For Movement
What you wear makes a huge impact on your movement! Making movement-focused wardrobe choices can be the biggest factor in helping you enjoy more comfortable air travel.
I prefer to wear multiple layers of non-constrictive yoga clothes. I want clothes that give me lots of room to move and that don’t restrict my breathing, my belly, or any other bit of me. And lots of layers because the temperature is always wrong. Air travel is so much better when your clothes aren’t squashing you!
#3 Pick The Right Shoes
When it comes to shoes, I prefer options that can slip on and off easily (but which still attach well to my feet) – such as my Altra sneakers. This means I can go barefoot when I’m sitting on the plane but I can get my shoes back on without a lot of fuss if I need to head to the washrooms or take a stretching break.
It’s always better to wear shoes without raised heels, but it’s twice as important when you’re going to be sitting for a long period of time like during air travel. That’s because both heels and sitting will shorten your calves, so adding them together can really tighten things up. Remember that ‘raised heels’ means any heel at all, even the rise that you can find in most running shoes. Look for zero drop shoes – here’s a handy guide.
Also, I can’t imagine why you would want to be standing in long lines and hauling luggage around wearing heels. But maybe that’s just me.
# 4 Book An Aisle Seat
I used to insist on window seats. I was all about the view at takeoff and landing. And although I still love the views, I started to feel bad about asking my neighbor to get up all the time when I had to take a stretching break. So now I am an aisle seat convert and I always do my best to get one every time I travel by air.
#5 Before You Head To The Airport
If you have a really early flight or if you’re going to be in a mad rush to get to the airport, skip this step. However if you happen to be an organizational genius, try to get some extra moving in before you head off to the airport. Going for a long walk, hitting the playground for some climbing and hanging, or doing any of your favourite movement practices or classes are great ways to prepare for feeling better post-flight.
#6 On The Way
If you have the option, take a train to the airport instead of getting a ride in a car. And here’s the key – do not sit down on the train. Stand near the doors and practice your balance. Maybe do some side hanging or stretch your hips. I find both of these work really well on most commuter trains because they have so many poles you can hold onto.
#7 Do Not Sit In A Chair Until You Have Absolutely No Choice About It
It seriously blows my mind every time I am in an airport lounge watching all the people SIT IN CHAIRS. This is kind of like watching people who are about to enter a donut-eating contest chow down on Krispy Kremes. People! You are about to spend several hours stuck in a chair. The easiest way to minimize your sitting time during air travel is simply to not volunteer for extra sitting!
#8 Instead Of Sitting, Get Moving!
There are so many great ways to move while you’re waiting for your flight to board. Since you have at least an hour, plan to take advantage of it by moving as much as you can.
Go For A Walk
Maybe the easiest is walking! Simple and fun. You can walk around the airport admiring the art and wondering which restaurants are good.
While you walk, you can carry your carry-on in all sorts of different ways. On one shoulder. Then the other shoulder. Then in your arms. On your head. Dangling from one hand. Then the other hand. Whatever – just make sure you add lots of variety.
Stand And Stretch
Want to grab a drink or a bite to eat? Find a counter where you can stand, ignore the bar stools, and enjoy your snack while standing on your own two feet. For bonus points, you can stand on one leg, stretch your calves with your handy half dome, mobilize your feet with your Yoga Tune Up balls, or try some gentle bending, twisting and arm stretching.
Do A Full On Stretching Session
If you’d rather stay near your gate, find yourself a quiet corner and give yourself a serious stretching session. I like to do lots of twisting, shoulder work, hip stretches, and back of the leg work such as this combination of a single legged squat with a hip opener.
Try An Audiobook or Podcast
I’ll be honest, I sometimes get a bit bored with doing exercises. When I feel myself losing motivation, I like to listen to an audiobook while I practice. If boredom is an issue for you, then I highly recommend that you try listening to something interesting while you move!
#9 On The Plane
Although you’re a lot more limited once you’re actually on the plane, there’s still a lot of movement you can do during air travel. Here are some ideas you can try.
You can do a lot of toe mobilization on a long flight! Try ‘shaking hands with your feet’. When you get tired of that, slip on your toe spreaders and enjoy the extra circulation they will bring to your feet.
Calves & Hamstrings
The reason you have an aisle seat is so you can stand up regularly. Obviously you need to pick your times with care, but I recommend taking a short movement break around every half hour. Stretch your calves, your hamstrings and the tops of your feet, and try a gentle side-bend or two. This will help maintain better lower leg circulation during air travel too!
Shoulders & Hands
You’re stuck in a chair but no-one’s stopping you lifting your arms up in the air. Just reach up, out and around with your arms (as long as you don’t bash anyone in the nose). Try rotating from your shoulders and then just rotating your forearms to help mobilize these super sticky areas.
If you’re not ok with waving your arms around, hand stretches can be an excellent option. Try this great hand stretch, or just interweave your fingers, turn your hands palms out, and reach through the bases of your knuckles, trying to bend all your fingers back in a nice smooth curve.
Roll It Out
Airplane seats make a great surface to roll on. Pull out your Yoga Tune Up balls and try them out behind your neck, back and shoulders. Just explore and try to find spots that could use a little mini-massage.
Drink Lots Of Water
It’s always good to drink lots of water when you’re flying, just to stay more hydrated. But also, the more you drink, the more you’ll probably have to hit the washrooms. Instant movement break! Just remember to put your shoes back on before you go.
When possible, I also throw in a few stretches when I’m waiting in line for the washroom.
#10 On Vacation!
Don’t forget to move now that you’ve actually arrived! Sometimes it’s harder than you’d expect to move a lot during a vacation but if you try you’ll find some good opportunities. I find that impromptu mini-hikes are great, especially scrambling around on rocks (of course, be cautious, and take lots of water and sun protection if you’re in the tropics). There’s always lots of walking to do on city trips, and generally exploring and playing are a great way to get moving and vacationing in at the same time.
In the picture below, I’m balancing on this amazing giant bamboo log we found on a beach in Nicaragua…It was an awesomely slippery and exciting balancing challenge, until the fishermen who owned it came back to shore and found I had (accidentally!) stolen their log. So, get out there and move but if you find a really good log on a beach without any other logs, ask questions first!
So, What Are Your Best Pain Free Air Travel Tips?
What are YOUR favourite ways to move when you’re stuck on a plane? How do YOU make air travel feel better for your body? and which of these tips do you think you’re going to try out on your next trip?
Petra is a movement educator and personal trainer with a passion for helping people find greater ease, joy and health in their bodies. She believes that better movement can help every body - and she's always happy to chat about it. When she's not teaching, you'll probably find her hanging out on a set of monkey bars.