Travel is stressful. Sometimes, travel even hurts – now more than ever.
You don't need to go anywhere to know that but it helps. My reminder came a few weeks ago when I checked into the Holiday Inn near the Phoenix airport. I was fighting a war on two fronts: Mind-bending back pain and the stress of a pandemic that was waning but still dangerous.
I learned that for post-pandemic trips, you have to learn to live with a little of both. The stress is normal, even necessary. And the pain – well, there are lots of ways of dealing with that.
Travelers should expect more stress and pain this summer
Alice Fong, a doctor based in Sacramento, California, who specializes in treating anxiety and stress, says travelers should expect a lot more of both this summer. Anticipation is half the battle.
"You have to train your body and nervous system to relax before the big day," says Fong.
That's a difficult concept for anyone who is on vacation. (After all, shouldn't a vacation be relaxing?) But when you start to break down a trip into its components – packing, departure, and your stay – it is filled with stressful events. And painful ones.
But it turns out there are ways of coping with the stress and pain during this upcoming travel season. They include old favorites like needlework to distract you from the anxiety. And when it comes to managing pain, there's everything from medications to meditation.
How to deal with the stress of travel
But let's be honest: Travel should be stressful, particularly at a time like this. To be perfectly relaxed about travel might even expose you to additional danger because you'd be unafraid of getting sick. The pandemic isn't over yet.
People like Dianne Zeitler try to avoid thinking about the problem too much. She's stressed out by takeoffs and landings, and her solution is to distract herself.
"I bring an exciting thriller – something that really captures my attention," says Zeitler, a retired healthcare consultant who lives in Ellicott City, Maryland. "And for those long transatlantic flights, I do needlework. I've knitted sweaters for lots of kids and made needlepoint pillows for friends and family."
Kathy Lopez, a retired city administrator from Prescott, Arizona, says having all the right paperwork reduces her stress levels. This summer, that will most likely include a negative COVID-19 test. (Pro tip: Make arrangements to be tested before you leave, as well as a post-travel COVID test.)
But Lopez is taking it a step further.
"I laminated my vaccination record card after getting my second shot," she says. "Then I attached pictures of me getting the shot and a printout of a text message requesting me to complete a survey of my vaccination experience. There will be a lot of fake documents circulating this summer. I don't want mine questioned."
Vaccine passports: How to prove you've gotten your COVID-19 shots for travel and avoid scams
Don't forget to pack your patience, because you'll need it this summer. Delays are inevitable during the busy travel season. But this year, experts say it could be even worse, as travelers clog the highways and airport terminals.
Tips for handling the aches and pains of a vacation
"The only guarantee is that you are going to experience some delays as the travel industry gets back on its feet," says Jay Hartenbach, CEO of Medterra, a company in Irvine, California, that sells that sells CBD products. "Patience is going to save you some unnecessary stress."
Speaking of CBD, I tried to fix my back in several ways. I popped Advils like bonbons. I applied liberal amounts of Aspercreme, which contains lidocaine, a numbing agent. I also discovered two CBD-based products – hydroCANNA Ultra CBD Balm, which I found on sale at my local drugstore, and Pachamama CBD Broad Spectrum Pain Cream. The treatments temporarily dulled the excruciating back pain. (Fine print time: You normally have to be 21 or older to buy CBD product. Also, be sure to check the rules about taking CBD through TSA checkpoints and whether it's permitted at your destination.)
product's FDA approval status and THC content before bringing it to the airport so you don't run into trouble at the TSA security checkpoint.
"The seats on an airplane are notoriously uncomfortable if you aren’t able to fly business or first class," she says.
Her advice: Choose an aisle seat if possible.
"This allows you to get up and walk up and down the aisle from time to time to avoid stiffness, poor posture, and leg cramps, and gets the blood circulating better," she says. "While seated, don’t forget the benefits of closing your eyes and taking some nice, slow, long deep breaths."
Thanks. I feel better already.
Try these tips for reducing the pain and stress of travel
Take a deep breath. That's the advice of Julia Grässer, a yoga instructor from Copenhagen, Denmark. "It's a great way to relieve stress while you're traveling," she says. If you're stressed out, she advises breathing in slowly through your nose and out even slower through the nose, focusing on bringing the breath into the lower abdomen.
Meditate. Kylie O'Driscoll, a mental health clinician at Berman Psychotherapy, says meditation doesn't have to be complicated. "Just practicing mindfulness in three- to five-minute increments," she says. Her favorite meditation technique: Imagine your thoughts as leaves floating away on a river as a reminder that all thoughts, including anxious and stressful ones, come and go.
Drink – and stretch – a lot. "Making sure you are well hydrated during your long travel days," says Dr. Jordan Talley, chief medical advisor of Spero CBD. "Getting up and stretching during long flights can contribute greatly to reducing chronic pain."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Summer travel: How to cope with the added pain and stress this year