Travel can be invigorating and restorative, but also grueling and debilitating—sometimes all at the same time. The rigors of hauling yourself and your stuff across oceans and time zones can take a real toll on your body, especially for aging travelers or those with physical challenges. Fortunately, there are numerous strategies and accessories to make traveling easier these days. The following 11 tips will help your body keep up with your ambitions on your next trip.
Get the Right Gear
Investing in the right travel gear can pay major dividends in physical comfort. For example, compression socks can help keep your circulation going, avoid bloated feet, and stave off deep vein thrombosis during long-haul flights. My own favorites are 2XU socks.
While wheels and other design elements once added weight and bulk to many rolling suitcases, more recent models are light and spacious without being oversized, allowing you to transport your stuff (and heave it into the overhead bin) without strain. Bags from IT Luggage are some of the world’s lightest; for other options, see 10 Ultralight Rolling Carry-on Bags Under 5 Lbs.
A pair of spare reading glasses tucked into your day bag can save you from squinting, eye strain, and ordering something you don’t want in a dark restaurant. I have friends who swear by this pair from L.L.Bean due to their compactness and resistance to breaking.
If you’re taking multiple medications and supplements, a pill organizer can help you keep them straight during your trip. Here’s one good option. Keep in mind, though, that some countries have restrictive laws about controlled substances, so you might want to keep your most important prescriptions and other medications in their original labeled containers.
A solid in-flight kit that has everything you will need to get comfortable, relax, and maybe get a little sleep in can do wonders for your body on long flights. One of the cozier options is this cashmere travel set. For more ideas, see 9 Travel Kits That Will Make a Long Flight Bearable.
Are flights painful for you? According to the AARP, an over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray can help you manage problems caused by rapid altitude changes in flight; the spray shrinks sinus tissues, which minimizes pressure and keep ears from plugging. Afrin is one to consider. You can also try Flight Mate earplugs for ear pain.
Get the Best Seat You Can
If you’ve got the miles or money to invest in an upgrade on a long flight, your body will thank you. Even if you can’t afford a lie-flat seat, paying a few extra dollars to escape the middle seat or get some extra legroom is almost always worth it.
I prefer window seats so I can catch a few winks in flight while leaning on the airplane wall; others prefer aisle seats so they can get up and move around. Either way, investing in a bit of comfort in flight can pay dividends when you land somewhat rested.
In particular, be careful about purchasing basic economy fares, as changing or upgrading seats may be prohibitively expensive or even impossible.
Choose Your Flights Carefully
Avoid booking really early flights, red-eyes, tight connections, and other challenging itineraries that cut into your sleep time or might require a sprint through the airport.
Take a Cab or Rideshare
Driving yourself to the airport, finding parking, dragging your bags through the lot, getting on and off a crowded shuttle bus, and only then diving into full-strength airport shenanigans is more than some of us endure in an average week, let alone to start off a vacation. Having a cab or an Uber/Lyft pick you up at your house and drop you directly at your departure terminal is a lot easier on your system—and might not even cost that much more than a week or more of long-term parking if you don’t live prohibitively far from the airport.
Allow Plenty of Time
Leaving your house or hotel a bit early can spare you from sprints through the airport, having your carry-on crammed at your feet when overhead bin space fills up, and the cold sweat that comes from fear of missing your flight.
Similarly, you’ll want to allow yourself plenty of time during your day-to-day vacation activities. Rushing from one museum to the next or trying to cram multiple countries into a 10-day trip can leave you feeling physically and mentally drained. Minimize long travel days from one city to another, and leave yourself some wiggle room between sights for restorative activities such as people watching at a cafe or even a spa day.
Book a Hotel with an Elevator
Hotel elevators are not a given at all lodging establishments, especially at “historic” hotels or in non-traditional lodging like vacation rentals or B&Bs. If you find climbing stairs challenging, make sure your lodging offers elevators to all floors.
Check a Bag
Checking bags is more expensive than it used to be, but there’s no doubt it can make traveling easier: Letting the airline handle the bulk of your stuff means you don’t have to haul anything through the airport or hoist a heavy bag into the overhead bin.
A sudden change in diet can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Though sampling new flavors is part of the fun when visiting a new country, you might want to start out your trip with familiar foods to avoid launching into a long trip with stomach trouble, and then introduce less familiar dishes gradually. In developing countries especially, follow these important rules for food safety while traveling.
Many older or physically challenged travelers find that light exercise helps keep them feel less stiff. This doesn’t mean you have to suffer on a StairMaster in a cramped hotel gym watching CNN on a TV with no sound and no clicker; it can mean spending some time in the hotel pool, getting out for a run, or simply walking through a new neighborhood. Travel can be a great excuse to kick-start a fitness routine; pack a Fitbit or other fitness tracker to help you stay motivated.
Have a Jet Lag Recovery Plan
Jet lag is one of the most physically challenging aspects of travel, causing fatigue, headaches, dry eyes, and insomnia, among other symptoms. Some travelers swear by supplements such as melatonin or No-Jet-Lag; others try to adjust their sleep schedules in advance of their trip or download apps such as Timeshifter (iOS | Android) to help them manage symptoms. For more information, see How to Avoid Jet Lag: Prevention and Remedies.
Ask for Early Check-in or Late Checkout
If your itinerary presents you with several “homeless” hours between your flight and either check-in or checkout, ask ahead of time if the hotel would be willing to accommodate you for a few extra hours. As long as they’re not full, most hotels will happily do so, and you’ll be more comfortable there than sitting in a stiff chair at the airport.
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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a monthly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.