My knees were jammed into the tray table in front of me. My seat wouldn’t recline. I tried unsuccessfully for six hours to sleep. When the plane finally landed, I felt and looked like Frankenstein’s monster. My stiff body awkwardly stood up, and pain flared in my lower back and neck. I let out a groan, and I’m pretty sure someone yelled, “It’s alive!”
A long flight or bus ride in a small seat can lead to sore and tight muscles. As a result, you may increase your risk for straining and injury. It happens all the time: you bend over to pick up your bag after a 12-hour flight and you hurt your lower back. Or your shins and the arch of your foot are so sore following a walking city tour that you spend the next day stuck in your hostel bed.
Thankfully, there’s stretching.
Stretching will loosen tight muscles, prevent and alleviate aches and pains, and improve mobility. Here is a travel stretching routine that I use before and after every flight, each big day of sightseeing, and any adventurous hike:
My Travel Stretching Routine
Hold each stretch for thirty seconds. Be sure to perform the stretch on both sides of the body. For example, if you start the stretch with your left leg or arm, be sure to do the same stretch with the right leg or arm. Complete all of the stretches on the list for a full stretching routine.
Standing Quadricep Stretch
Hold on to a tree, wall, or support structure with your right hand for balance. Stand tall with your chest up. Bring your left leg up behind you and take hold of your left foot with the left hand. Keep your left knee pointed toward the ground and pull the left heel in toward your butt. You will feel the top of the thigh engage and stretch.
Standing Single-Leg Hamstring Stretch
Bring your feet together while standing up straight and engaging the core. Slide your left foot in front of you until the left knee straightens – about one or two feet. Keep the right foot in place, but turn it out slightly to the right side. The right leg and right knee will remain straight. Bend from your hips, not from your stomach, and place your hands on the ground near the heel of your left foot.
Lateral Leg Stretch
Begin by standing tall. Slowly slide your left foot to the left side while keeping your right foot in place. Continue sliding your left foot out as your right knee bends. Lower your butt to the point where it’s just above your right foot, but not sitting on top of it. You can keep the left foot flat on the ground or turn it up so the weight is on your heel. Put your hands in front for balance and feel the stretch across the left leg. Retract your left leg and stand up before switching sides.
Seated Cross-Legged Glute Stretch
Sit on a chair or park bench. Make sure your left leg is bent at 90 degrees; do not extend your left leg in front of you. Lift your right foot up and across to your left side so your right ankle is resting on top of the left thigh. Sit up tall then lean forward slightly. You’ll feel the stretch across your butt, hip, and upper leg.
Point your left toes up, with the heel on the ground, and place the ball of your left foot against some form of support such as a tree or wall. Keep your right foot directly underneath you. Stand tall with your chest up and shoulders back. Lean forward and feel the stretch in the left calf. Push forward slightly with the right leg to engage the left calf even more.
Clasped Hands Behind the Back
Stand up straight with your shoulders back. Bring your hands behind you and clasp them together at the lower back. Your palms will be facing each other in a closed fist. Keep a neutral and relaxed gaze as you push your hands down towards the floor. You’ll feel the stretch across your chest and front shoulders.
To make this one easier to visualize, imagine you are standing in the center of a clock. At 12 o’clock, there is a wall, tree, or secure form of support. Begin by facing 12 o’clock. Raise your left arm until it’s at shoulder height. Place your left hand against the edge of the wall or tree. Now begin to turn to the right while keeping the left hand at 12 o’clock. Continue turning to the right until you are looking at 6 o’clock, facing opposite the wall. You’ll feel the stretch across your chest.
Across-the-Body Shoulder Stretch
Raise your left arm in front of you to shoulder level. Keeping it at this level, move it across your body to the right side. Using your right hand, grab near the left elbow and gently pull on the left arm to extenuate the stretch in your lateral shoulder muscle.
Standing Side Bend
Stand up straight with your chest up and shoulders back. With your feet together, raise your left hand towards the ceiling. Slowly, extend it over your head and towards the right side. Continue extending your left hand to the right side until you feel a stretch across the torso from your left arm put down to your left hip.
Standing Neck Stretch
With a tight core, chest up, and shoulders back, stand up tall. Place your right hand behind your back. Grab the right wrist with the left hand. Pull the right arm to the left side. Your left arm will form a triangle with the left elbow pointing towards the left side. Lower your head to your left shoulder. You’ll feel a stretch across the right side of the neck. To extenuate the stretch, you can look up slightly while your head is lowered towards the shoulder.
Side to Side Twist
Stand tall, keeping your feet and hips straight. Raise your arms to the sides at shoulder height. Keeping the arms raised, bend your elbows to slightly bring your hands toward the center. Slowly twist from side to side using your core as the base of movement. Do not twist at the chest or knees. Continue twisting from side to side, trying to see farther behind you every time you twist. You will feel this stretch across your abdomen, especially the lower back.
Do You Have Your Own Travel Stretching Routine?
Which stretches do you use to get loose and limber or to alleviate and ward off aches and pains? Have questions about the stretches listed above? Let me know in the comments below.