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OK, so a slight caveat to this post’s title: I’m only 30 and I’m fully aware that I’m not even middle aged, let alone ‘old’. But I’ve had back pain on and off for about five years now, and recently it’s got really bad. It started with a slipped disc circa 2014, which led to sciatica, which in turn is currently presenting itself as pulled muscles and tension headaches – woohoo!
Just sitting at a desk for my day job is hard enough, so any form of lengthy travel can become very unpleasant. To be honest, I haven’t done enough on a daily basis to ward off the issues, but surprise surprise, I’m insistent on keeping strong and healthy when I’m on holiday, because I refuse to waste a trip with days spent immobile and hopped up on painkillers. I have FINALLY learnt my lesson and been to see a chiropractor so that I can be pain-free all the time, but this is what I do to help keep myself in check when I’m not at home.
1) Comfy shoes only
Save the odd pair of snazzy sandals for a nice restaurant in a hot climate, I live in bouncy sole trainers or sturdy, supportive boots. I have made the hideous mistake of wearing flimsy but pretty flat shoes for a full day of walking around a new city and it does two things: destroys my feet and sends the shock of hard pavements right up my leg and into dodgy back territory. When I travelled for four months, I pretty much only wore my Nike Theas (and had to throw them away when I got home because of this!), and at the moment I’m obsessed with my Adidas Duramo Lite trainers* and my Dr Martens Utility Boots. I am officially of the age where comfort wins every single time.
2) Quickly squeeze in the tiniest amount of exercise
I am not a particular active human, as already hinted above, and it’s difficult to get me doing exercise normally so I’m definitely not going to be dedicating huge amounts of time to it on holiday. I try to make the effort of visiting the gym if there is one in my hotel (and not just for the sauna!), however, there are so many pay-as-you-go exercise options in most cities now, and the ones hosted in hotels especially are nearly always in English. If you are travelling within the UK, there are apps to help you find one-off classes too. I use the ESquared* app in London (which is available on iOS and Android) which works on a credits system where I can top it up and try different classes as and when I feel like it.
3) Take your own pillow on flights
This isn’t as extravagant as it sounds because the bog standard travel pillow you can get in an airport WH Smiths is more than enough to fulfil this particular tip, but it makes such a difference. I have a neck pillow with built in hood which, when not being used to block out the hideous strip lighting of a plane, also comes in useful for propping up my back when the flimsy, paper thin airline ones are as useful as a chocolate teapot. To be honest, sometimes my trusty neck pillow is more comfortable than the one in my accommodation anyway!
4) Sit at the back of the plane
Sitting for any longer than two hours is apparently super bad for you, so you can bet that a 24 hour flight to New Zealand in economy is just as hard on your body as it is on your sanity. Without fail I will always book a seat at the very back of the plane and it helps my back for two reasons: 1) it ensures I don’t have anyone kicking me for four hours straight, and 2) I can get to the cabin crew area around the toilets easily which is the only place you can have a proper stretch without pissing off other people and looking like a right weirdo at the same time.
5) Stock up on Boots essentials before you go
I’m like a walking-talking pharmacy when I go away for any length of time. I have been stuck without anything to relieve my back pain in non-English speaking countries and let me tell you, there is nothing more infuriating than being in a Chinese supermarket, seeing packets of pills and not having the faintest clue which might actually work. I don’t need anything super strong most of the time, but never again will I take normal ibuprofen for granted after a day walking the Great Wall, having my back go into spasm and there was absolutely zero that I could do about it. Nope. Done with that.
I’m fortunate that I don’t live with any form of chronic pain, but knowing my triggers and trying to prevent any issues in advance is really the only way I can travel without some relapse into misery. At risk of sounding like your mother, that crick in your neck or the twinge in your back? For goodness sake, pay attention to it and don’t let your passion for travel make it any worse.