Life Hacks for the Posturally & Nutritionally-Conscious Traveler

Alright so, traveling sucks, big time. I never knew just how much it sucked until I spent a quarter of my week off traveling. Some reasons why it sucks includes: weather, people that don’t walk fast enough, people that stand too close to you in line when you’ve just missed your connecting flight and are trying to get on the next flight out, weather again, waiting to find out if weather sucks enough to actually cancel your flight or just to make you sit around and wait for hours until they decide if they wanna fly, etc. But, for a health-conscious individual, traveling sucks for a whole number of other reasons. I’m gonna tell you what I’ve learned in my 48 hours of traveling this week.

Let’s start at the beginning.

1. Luggage

If you’re trying to save some cash like me, you’ll fit everything you need to go away for a week into a carry on and one “personal item” so you don’t have to check baggage for extra fees. I packed clothes, my computer, my Nook, and some snacks. The guy next to me on one flight packed a lawn gnome he was giving to his mom for Christmas. Priorities, priorities. Anyways, I did everything I tell my patients not to do–my “personal item” is a huge tote that I carried on one shoulder. It’s easily 20 lbs. My neck hurts. My shoulder hurts. My low back hurts. And when I carried it on the same arm that I pulled my carry-on suitcase with, I impinged my brachial plexus (nerves in your inner/under arm) and got zinging into my finger. Don’t do that.

Left = wrong. Right = right!

INSTEAD: use a backpack as your “personal item” and sling it over both shoulders. Hold it high enough on your back so that you don’t put a large curve into your lower back, but low enough so you don’t feel like you’ll fall backwards and then lean forward to compensate. Get yourself a rolling suitcase, obviously, but one whose wheels pivot in all directions are helpful for navigating queue lines and airplane aisles so you don’t have to turn into a contortionist in order to get on your plane.

2. Food

Pack healthy snacks. My Charlotte–>New York travel day included cut up pineapple and kiwi, sugar snap peas, sliced green pepper, cauliflower, and beef jerky. You’ve got your whole foods, and a good source of protein so you don’t have energetic ups and downs throughout the day. I stuck to eating just that, until I got myself a glass of wine and some olives while waiting for my next flight. The airport is full of wafting aromas of processed wheat products and sugary beverages. If that’s your fuel for your travel day, you’ll crash. Not your plane, just your energy, and you’ll get grumpy, and nobody likes a grumpy traveler.

Dinner and breakfast…. yum…… not.

I got stuck in Philadelphia for the night on my way back. What to eat, what to eat when you’re stuck at a Days Inn. Pizza Hut has free delivery, sure, but how well are you going to sleep with that lump of grease sitting in your gut? I ordered Chinese food, but ordered everything steamed instead of fried. Ask for sauce on the side, so you can choose how much peanut oil and MSG you want to slather on your veggies and questionable meat. If they have the option to choose brown rice, do it. White rice is brown rice with the germ (outer covering) removed. That outer covering is where all the nutrients are–you want to eat that.

My big food recommendation is watch your starch and sugar intake. If you are stuck traversing the airport all day with 50lbs of luggage, you’re going to need energy. Highly refined wheat products spike your blood sugar, among a dozen other adverse actions. Careful with coffee too, you may want to opt for decaf or half caffeinated on your travel day, for a similar reason: caffeine stimulates adrenaline release, which boosts blood sugar. You’re going to come back down from that and get jittery and shaky when your blood sugar crashes, and you won’t be able to move all that luggage with ease.

3. Airplane Seats

I should lump “movie theater seats” into this as well. They are the most poorly designed seats in the world. That’s a big assertion I realize, but here’s why.

They almost look comfortable, don’t they? Soft, velvety… take a look at the front row, you can really get an idea of the shape of the seat. It’s a C-shape. Who designs furniture anyways? If you need a degree to do this stuff, you should be taking a few classes in human anatomy and ergonomics, and maybe social diversity and anthropology. The only human that these would suit is a 6’5″ man with huge trapezius, posterior deltoid, and rhomboid muscles with no pre-existing spinal condition.

When I sit in these seats, being a small female, I am put into a C-shape, which is uncomfortable for hours at a time, but also very bad for your spine. My head falls right where the neck cushion should be, forcing my head into anterior carriage. Not only does this decrease the natural curve in my neck, but it also increases the perceived weight of my skull on top of my spine. My trapezius and levator scapulae muscles have to support the weight of my head in an over-stretched position, predisposing them to injury.

I’m a little smaller than your average human being, but let’s say you’re tall enough that that neck support does in fact support your neck. Great. But it is still quite large and will still push your head forward. The C-shape of the rest of the seat also increases your thoracic curve and decreases your lumbar curve. It’s like this seat is out to undo everything I try to teach you about posture.

The solution? Take off your coat, or any over-clothing you have on and bunch it up behind your back so as to fill in the curve of the seat. Your seat back should be flat. You maintain your own curves with your own muscles. If you need external lumbar support perhaps because you’ve got a bulging disc or strained muscle, mold your clothes into extra support there. Your spine is not the same as someone else’s, and this seat was made for some unrealistic human being to sit in. Not to mention they’re tiny and there’s no leg room. And that crying kid in the back of the plane seems to make these seats even more uncomfortable.

If your flight is long, try to stand at least once an hour and stretch. Think of yourself as “unfurling,” like a rose does when it blooms–reverse the C-shape, spread your arms to the side, splay your fingers, squeeze your shoulder blades, arch your back, look up to the ceiling. If you have more room, or after getting off the plane, do some nice deep lunges to stretch those hip flexors in the front of your legs. Yes people are going to look at you, no their spines will not be in as good of shape as yours is for the duration of the journey.

So there you have it!

Have anymore life hacks for traveling? Please post them below! I’d love to hear them!

  • finished

    Good advice.

    Automobile seats seem to push the head too far forward also, at least for my height.

  • Dawn Suiter

    Thank you. Hydration is also key. Ask for bottled water from flight attendant when boarding. They will thank you for not having to make multiple trips back to serve you. Or purchase large water in terminal before boarding. I also travel with a small light, liquid moisturizer (< 3 oz, of course) for instant hydration on my skin anytime. I also travel with 3oz single serve super antioxidant fruit juice that don't require refrigeration and it also provides good nutrition and energy.

  • MM

    -1/2 liter of water per hour of flight time
    – disinfect the tray table and arm rests upon seating
    – fake tears combat dry air on planes
    – never eat on a plane, only before or after
    – massage back throughout flight w a tennis ball
    – MBG had a great post on chair pilates

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