No matter how much you loved seeing your family across the country for the holidays, travel can be exhausting. It was particularly stressful in recent days for Southwest passengers stranded by thousands of canceled flights.
When we travel, “there are two stresses on the body: one’s physical, one’s psychological,” said Tim Roberts, vice president of science and innovation for Therabody. We battle uncomfortable seats, juggle flight schedules and sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic - often ending up with aching backs and spent nerves.
Our bodies don’t take kindly to being stationary for hours - or at least mine didn’t after six and a half hours on I-95 during Christmas travel from D.C. to New York.
Usually what makes me feel better is a scalding shower, a hot meal and a jog if I’m feeling ambitious. We asked travel and wellness experts for their best advice to ease the burden of a long travel day.
Before you travel
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Travel, especially on a plane, can be dehydrating. “Standard planes are about as dry as the Atacama Desert, and with the oxygen of an 8,000-foot mountain,” said Jonathan Alder, owner of the luxury travel company Jonathan’s Travels.
To combat this, start hydrating even before your trip, then during your travel day and after.
If you’re flying, drink at least 12 ounces of water every hour, Jordan Crofton, a nurse practitioner and director of patient health at the Well, recommends. She also adds electrolytes to her water.
What you don’t drink also counts. Neha Deol, nutritional practitioner at I Am Health, says travelers should avoid soda, alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee. Alcohol is not only dehydrating, but it can wreck your sleep schedule, says Kelly Starrett, a physical therapist and co-founder of the Ready State.
If you need an energy boost, Deol says green tea will do the trick; it’s less dehydrating.
In the same vein, physician and author Fred Pescatore says to stay away from salty and sugary foods.
While you’re traveling
If you’re not napping, stay engaged
Boredom is a culprit in travel exhaustion, says mindfulness instructor Linda Price of Minding Your Mind, a mental health education nonprofit. Lack of movement and mental stimulation, like in long periods of waiting while traveling, is draining.
Price recommends listening to music, audiobooks and podcasts if you’re driving or reading, doing crossword puzzles, word searches or Sudoku if you’re on a plane.
Keep your blood flowing
With their 17-hour flights to the United States, Air New Zealand staff are well versed in long travel days. In addition to hydrating, airline spokesperson Leanne Geraghty says in-flight exercises are crucial to your travel wellness.
For road trippers, take regular breaks to stretch your legs, Deol says. One of her favorite stretches is to balance on one leg while pulling her other knee into her chest, then switching sides. (Bonus points if you can rise up to the ball of your foot of your standing leg.) Repeat three to four times, focusing on deep breathing to slow down your heart rate and improve your circulation.
Once you’ve arrived
Start moving again ASAP
After hours of sedentary slog, moving your body can give you a second wind. Starrett tells clients to treat their first day on the ground as an active recovery day. Keep your exercise light with activities like stretching and walking.
Intrepid Travel CEO James Thornton, gets similar results with a run. “It’s the best way to get programmed to the new time zone and release energy from being on the plane,” he said.
I’m love a jog, but I’m also a fan of trying local gyms and workouts. Sweating in a Bangkok Muay Thai class or trying gyms in Marrakesh was a way to get to know a new place and feel like a new person.
While you’re out moving, try grounding (being barefoot outside). Deol says walking your bare feet on sand or grass can help reduce inflammation and help you feel energized.
Simply being outside is ideal for clearing your head after being trapped on a plane, says Sebastien Maingourd, regional manager of Le Barthélemy Hotel and Spa in the French West Indies. He tells guests to take a walk or quick swim to feel rejuvenated.
Refuel with something satisfying or healthy
Particularly if he’s traveling with his family, Thornton prioritizes finding a good local meal as soon as he lands. “When we arrived in Rome this summer, the first thing we did was drop off our stuff and look for some great pasta and gelato,” he said.
But don’t forget your fruits and vegetables. Janice Johnston, chief medical officer of Redirect Health, encourages travelers to prioritize eating vitamin-rich foods throughout their trip to boost energy levels.
After a serious time-zone change, “I love to take a nap,” said Kristal Hicks of Top Tier Travel Group. Even if you’re someone who can sleep on planes, a proper nap in a bed feels more restful because you get to extend your body, Hicks said. Experts also suggest seeking out the right light at the right time and extending your circadian rhythm to combat jet lag.
For the best nap (and sleep later), Custom Jet Charters chief operation officer Benoit Ugeux says to pack your own pillow from home.
Take a shower or steam
Sometimes all I need is a shower to feel whole again after a long travel day. Roberts feels the same. “Even if you don’t have a lot of time between travel and what you’ve got planned for the rest of your day, hop in the shower,” he said.
Braver souls can take Crofton’s tip and try boosting their mood with cold therapy - either plunging in cold water or taking a 30-second cold shower.
Not in a rush? Give yourself a steam bath to hydrate your skin and open up your airways, recommends Switzerland’s Kempinski Palace Engelberg resort general manager Andreas Magnus. Prepare a bowl of hot water, then lean your face over the bowl and cover your head with a towel. (If you have it, add some Himalayan salt and eucalyptus oil.)
Work out your knots
Your body has been mangled in an uncomfortable seat for hours. Have a professional work out your knots, aches and pains with a massage.
Vincent Parinaud, general manager of the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa in France, says his first choice would be a Balinese-style massage that combines deep tissue techniques and gentle stretching, or recommends a general back and shoulder massage to focus on back pain and circulation. I don’t have the budget for a luxury spa treatment, so I’ll look for more affordable reflexology massage businesses.
Or you can massage yourself. Starrett has his athlete clients travel with a Hyperice Hypersphere or Hypervolt Go 2 to work on their tissue, and of course, Roberts’s choice is Therabody massagers.
Take a buffer day
The most elite tier recovery move: Don’t rush back into your normal routine. Even though we want to get the most out of our trips, you’ll thank yourself for sacrificing a vacation day to catch up before real life starts again.
“Even on relaxing vacations, being out of your comfort zone for a few days and around so many people can be draining - at least for me,” Rachel Orr wrote vouching for buffer days. “Think of it as a mini staycation at the end of your vacation.”