How to Travel When You Have a Bad Back

Hi, my name is Sebrin and I’m a grandma. Thanks to my old lady aches in my lower back, traveling can be a real pain in the ass (literally). But after many planes, trains and automobiles, I’ve learned several tricks to travel when you have a bad back. If you have a bad back and traveling causes you discomfort or pain, try these tips and tricks so that you can have excellent spinal health without sacrificing your travel plans.

Seriously though, I’m not lying when I say I have an old lady back. People with my particular diagnosis usually get this in their 50’s and up. I’m just the lucky duck who got it at the ripe old age of 24!

Lumbar spinal stenosis is when there is a narrowing of space between vertabrae causing the spinal nerve roots in the lower back to become compressed and cause inflammation, sciatica symptoms and a lot of pain. Pair that with my mild scoliosis (“Scolio-Joe” as my family calls me) and you’ve got a seriously fucked up back. Whoopee!


And unless I pop crazy pills, get corrective bracing or back surgery, I’m pretty much stuck this way.

Naturally, this can cause issues on the road. Sitting for long periods of time in uncomfortable seats or stiff, hostel mattresses does a number on my sad excuse for a spine.

(I was reminded just how much of an old lady I am during my road trip around Arizona. We totaled 22 hours of driving and towards the end of our journey, my back was killing me!)

However, after traveling with a bad back for some time now, I’ve found a lot of remedies and utilized these tips so that I could travel comfortably.

Thanks to a combination of exercise, physical therapy and meds (not the pill-poppin’ kind), I can now travel relatively pain-free! Now, you can too!

1. Stretch Every Day 

Stretching is a miracle cure. It’s free, it’s easy and if done consistently, goes a very long way! This is especially true if you’re experiencing sciatica pain as a result of your bad back. Here are some amazing stretches you can do before your flight, during your flight or throughout your vacation. (Although if you have lumbar spinal stenosis like me, you might want to skip #3!)

Travel When You Have a Bad Back; girl stretching and yoga outside

2. Travel with a Foam Roller

When it comes to back pain, the foam roller might just be the greatest invention of all time! Foam rollers help to untie the knots in your muscles by breaking down adhesions and helping to heal the tissue. Since your nerve endings are sending pain signals to your brain, the muscles around that nerve tighten up and become stiff and painful, making your back worse. The only issue is how bulky these things can be. However if you can find the room to travel with this wonderful invention, I highly suggest it!

2. Bring a Golf Ball

Much like a foam roller, using a golf ball can break up the tiny knots in and around those hard to reach areas. While the foam roller is much more effective for evenly distributing the pressure, golfballs work wonders too! You just need to focus on smaller areas, one step at a time. The great thing about a golfball is that they’re easy to travel with and can be stowed in your luggage, carry-on or purse.

3. Exercise Every Day

Contrary to your inner voice telling you to avoid that work out while in pain, exercise can actually help your back. Movement is life’s ultimate cure. Movement and strength can help cure many physical problems as well as mental problems, so it’s no surprise that working out can help ease the inflammation and stress on your body. Getting to the gym while you’re preparing for your vacation is one thing. Trying to fit in a work out on the road is another endeavor entirely. Try utilizing hotel gyms or 10-minute YouTube workout videos. If that’s a no-go, walk everywhere, tour on bikes, take the stairs and try some exercises in the park!

Travel When You Have a Bad Back; tourist girl stretch on bike in Paris France

4. Invest in Icy Hot Patches

Icy Hot can be a godsend if you’re feeling immediate, sharp pain in your back or neck. The temperature helps to reduce inflammation and release tension in your muscles while the medicine helps ease your poor nerves. Plus, the patch takes the guesswork out of wondering if you should be heating or icing your back (spoiler: it does both!). And while I do love this patch, I try to wait until I’m really sore to use these chemicals. Use if you’re about to get on a long flight or if you’re sitting on a long bus/train ride.

5. Avoid Inflammatory Foods

Food is a very powerful component to your back’s health. Certain foods cause inflammation in the body. If your body is constantly inflammed then certain areas receive less oxygen and blood flow. This causes your nerve endings to feel a lot of pressure. Sugar is the biggest culprit, but there are other foods that cause inflammation, too. This can include dairy, grains, grain-fed meat and vegetable oils. So that sugary piña colada or that triple-decker burger SOUNDS super delicious, but maybe stick to something that will keep your joints and muscles from becoming inflamed.

6. Practice Good Posture

To be fair, this should be done ALWAYS (especially if you want to make your long journey on your flight comfortable). As a blogger, I’ll often find myself hunched over my computer for hours until I realize my back is hurting. Try to remember to hold you shoulders back and sit up straight with your feet apart. Try using habit-forming techniques (like cell phone apps or rewarding yourself) to get the job done. Cause you don’t want to end up like “Ol’ Lady Sebrin!”

Travel When You Have a Bad Back; girl facing mountains and blue lake blake hat travel wanderlust


This is my last tip and should only be used if absolutely necessary. If done every, single day, the tips above should reduce a lot of back pain. But if you have a more serious condition or have just come out of surgery, sometimes meds are necessary. NSAIDS, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, is a type of medication that reduces pain and inflammation. Make sure to take these when your back pain just ain’t quitting and you need a little help to stand up!

How Do You Travel When You Have a Bad Back? Share Some Tips With Us!

**Please note that I am not a doctor or medical professional in any way and that these tips are personal anecdotes that have provided me with intermediate success. Consult with your doctor for the best treatment for back pain before travelling.

8 comments on “How to Travel When You Have a Bad Back”

  1. I found your post very informative and very useful. I have a missing vertebrae in my lower back, and I love to travel. Some of what you recommend I use but much of it was new information for me. Thanks.

  2. Brilliant post! I also suffer from a bad back (thanks do a disc injury) that I have to manage and sitting for long periods, different beds, etc. is also a culprit for me, yet I LOVE travelling. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    1. Thanks for reading Dan! I don’t know exercises that heal a lower back (I know mine can’t ever be healed, but can decrease pain.) However when it comes to fitness, I love reverse crunches! They’re good on the back and help strengthen your core, which ultimately makes the muscles around the lower back stronger 🙂

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