11 travel accessories to help anyone with chronic back pain stay comfortable on long flights

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Thule

Thule

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Thule

  • Flying can be hard on the body, and sitting for long periods of time can cause back pain or sore legs.
  • If you fly frequently or long distances, there are low-cost ways to make your trip more comfortable, from solid lumbar support to compression socks.
  • On red-eye flights, sleep can easily escape me. But with some quality earplugs and a comfortable eye mask, I can catch some much-needed ZZZ’s.

Every year, I resolve to fly less for work, but I still seem to spend half of my summer wondering exactly what kind of monster reclines halfway through meal service and what it is exactly that is making that kid cry so loudly. Well, it should come as no surprise that I have yet to find a product that instills in-flight manners in my fellow passengers, and as much as I love kids, even I can’t make them stop crying on demand.

However, I have discovered that a few choice products easily packed in my carry-on help make flights more comfortable and ensure I arrive at my destination ache-free and ready to enjoy my trip.


Are you sitting comfortably?

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Amazon

For me, the most intolerable thing about flying is lower-back pain. There’s not much I – a 6-foot-3-inch man – can do to alleviate all of that, but I have found that decent lumbar support makes a huge difference in my comfort. Honestly, I’d turn around and go home if I arrived at the airport with my pillow. It may sound silly, but this little pillow is a travel must-have for me as I have broken my back twice in the past and am prone to flare-ups.

Lumbar rolls are easy to come by, but on budget flights they can take up half your carry-on space. Therm-a-Rest’s Lumbar Travel Pillow is different though. It packs down way smaller than the competition and is plenty firm enough to support my back. Once I deflate and roll it up, I wrap an exercise band around it to keep it compact. An added bonus: I can use the band to stretch on arrival or during long delays.

On the other hand, shorter flyers, like my wife, might find discomfort arising from not being able to squarely rest their feet on the floor. You could put them on your bag, but that isn’t always convenient or hygenic. My wife swears by this simple foot hammock, it is supportive, comfy, and very packable.

Therm-a-Rest Lumbar Travel Pillow, $29.95, at Amazon

Angemay Airplane Footrest, $9.99, at Amazon


Surviving red-eyes

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Nemo Equipment

Red-eye flights are a particular struggle for me. I find it hard to sleep on planes unless I have enough space and a place to rest my head. Sadly, we freelance journalists don’t make business-class money, and so I am often confined to the middle seat after making the amateur mistake of not checking in right on time for my flight.

To help with sleep, I rely on a pillow that supports my neck and doesn’t leave me waking up with neck pain. Rather than the traditional U-shaped travel pillows, Nemo’s Travel Pillow wraps around my neck like a scarf and stays there, supporting my head in an upright position that leaves me with a lot less neck pain than a traditional flight pillow. This pillow stows well too.

I rarely travel without an eye mask and earplugs. That way I can block out a lot of light and sound and create my own little comfortable bubble. I find that these eye masks from Sea to Summit work best – they fit comfortably on my face without feeling clammy or tight. I also love Hearos earplugs, which block out more noise than cheaper alternatives. I always have a pair or two on hand in an old prescription pill bottle.

For international travel, I add in some melatonin around an hour before bedtime. (It’s recommended you consult with your doctor before adding any supplements to your flight routine.)

Nemo’s Travel Pillow, $39.95, at Amazon

Sea to Summit Travelling Light Eye Shade, $17.95, at REI

Hearos Earplugs, $5.15, at Amazon

Nature’s Bounty Melatonin, $4.79, at Amazon


For the long haul

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Amazon

If I’ll be in the air for more than two hours or transiting multiple airports, I find that compression socks help prevent my legs from feeling stiff and sore. I often fly to locations where I run or cycle, so this is a big concern for me. My favorite options are these Swiftwick socks, which offer comfort, compression, and odor reduction.

Dressing to reduce body odor and discomfort is important as well. I like to wear Merino wool whenever possible as it’s soft, comfortable, and odor-resistant. Smartwool’s underwear is perfect for flying, as is Black Diamond’s incredibly soft Rhythm tee.

Swiftwick Compression Socks, $24.99, at Amazon

Smartwool Merino 150 Pattern Boxer Briefs, $45, at REI

Black Diamond Rhythm T-Shirt, $74.95, at Backcountry


On arrival

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Amazon

I find a few minutes of stretching and foam rolling, even when I just want to sleep after a long day, help me feel much better when I wake up. Obviously I can’t travel the world with a full-size foam roller, but I find this compact one to be great. It’s robust enough to really work but small enough to fit in a purse or backpack.

Deep Recovery Travel Size Foam Roller, $14.95, at Amazon


Carrying it all

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Thule

Carrying these items, and all my other necessities, means I need a good, sturdy carry-on. And the aforementioned back pain often means I prefer not to carry all that weight on my shoulders. Thule’s Revolve wide-body roll-aboard has been my companion for months. It offers plenty of interior space, a handy zipper-separated section for dirty clothes, reliable wheels, and a handle that is adjustable to even the tallest traveler. Yes, it’s expensive. But paying extra baggage fees because you have to check bags or having a bag break gets expensive and makes travel even more stressful.