Have a happier, healthier trip

The secret to a truly restorative vacation starts with the journey. Here’s just what you need at every step of the way.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The secret to a truly restorative vacation starts with the journey. Here’s just what you need at every step of the way. 

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A suitcase with four spinner wheels and a straight, uncontoured handle is one of the smartest travel purchases you can make, says Alan Hedge, a professor in Cornell University’s department of design and dnvironmental analysis, who directs the human factors and ergonomics programme. The wheels rotate 360 degrees, so you can push the bag through terminals instead of pulling it, preventing shoulder and back strain. And with uncontoured handles, you can use a lighter grip to manoeuvre the suitcase, so you don’t end up with wrist and arm pain, Alan says. In addition, look for one that also comes equipped with convenient USB ports to charge your phone and a scale built into the carry handle for easy weighing. 


Long lines, flight delays, crowds – frustrations lurk everywhere in an airport. The worst thing to do is to try to ignore your exasperation in the hopes of maintaining peace, says Dr Alex Lickerman, author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self. Instead, acknowledge that you’re angry  and that being angry on vacation is making you even more angry. Own it, let it out for a few minutes, and then drop it, so your thoughts won’t fester, and you can move into vacation mode. 


That neck pillow you fly with? It’s a hot spot for bacteria. While you snooze, it’s picking up all kinds of germs and dust mites left on the headrest by previous passengers, says Philip Tierno, a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at the New York University School of Medicine. Every time you use it, you expose yourself to bugs and allergens from past flights. Lesson: decontaminate. Throw the pillow cover into the wash after each trip without fail. If it doesn’t have a cover, vacuum the cushion or spritz it with a germicide that contains alcohol. 


As soon as you get off the plane, do this: grab your left thigh with both hands, and gently twist it inwards, as if you’re trying to move the muscle around your thigh bone. Hold for two to three seconds, then release, twist outwards, and hold again. Repeat three or four times, then do the entire sequence on your right thigh. 

“When you sit for prolonged periods, the connective tissue in the back of your thighs becomes compressed and dehydrated,” says Sue Hitzmann, a New York- based exercise physiologist and the creator of the MELT Method, a pain-reduction programme. The constriction can make your lower back ache and decrease blood flow to your core, causing whole-body stiffness and fatigue,” she explains. “The twisting stretch quickly decompresses the tissue and restores blood flow to ease the aches and pain, and boost your energy.”

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When you finally reach your destination, it can take a full 24 hours to relax enough to enjoy yourself. Since every minute of your trip is precious, use this speedy meditation trick from Beverly Fox-Crismond, spa director at One Ocean Resort & Spa in Florida, to immediately find your zen.

Look. Find a peaceful spot and settle in for a few seconds. Then gaze out into the distance, taking in the sights around you, but don’t zero in on any one thing. This will begin to quiet the part of your brain that’s still hung up on the tension from the day.

Breathe. Take a few deep, slow breaths. As you exhale, feel the lingering anxiety drain from your body. 

Listen. Focus on nearby sounds. If you’re on the beach, tune in to the crashing waves; in the woods, listen to the chirping birds. This will bring you fully into the present moment, and make you feel calm and happy. 


The first night of a vacation, we tend to sleep 20 to 25 per cent less than usual, according to Rhode Island’s Brown University researchers, who call this phenomenon “first-night effect”. “Part of your brain refuses to drift off, acting as a night watchman to protect you from harm,” explains Yuka Sasaki, an associate professor at Brown. To trick your mind into letting down its defences, bring pillowcases from home and put on your usual night cream before bedtime. The familiar textures and smells may reduce the feeling of unfamiliarity, so you might snooze easier. 


Exercising the morning after your arrival can help you adjust to the new time zone faster, says Karyn Esser, a professor of physiology and functional genomics at the University of Florida. That’s because your muscles have their own internal clocks, and they respond to movement rather than light, she says. Working out tells them it’s daytime, which lets you sync physiologically to your new time zone. Karyn suggests doing cardio for at least 30 minutes. 

When you finally reach your destination, it can take a full 24 hours to relax enough to enjoy yourself. 


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