Travelling with kids can be a pain – in the back

Family holidays can be a pain - literally.

By Nadeshka Withanage

The summer months often involve travelling with little ones to see relatives or experience something new, with the hope of returning home more energised and robust.

But travelling with kids is only sometimes predictable, particularly for those with young children, and parents can return home feeling overwhelmed and with more body aches and pains than when they left.

Back pain and related problems are the leading cause of burden for people aged 35 to 54 in Australia, affecting one in six people.

Regardless of its cause, back pain can result in poorer quality of life, psychological distress, and disability.

Below is a holistic and practical guide for families on managing back pain when travelling

together over the holidays.


No matter how you incorporate movement and exercise into your life, the lead-up to the

holidays is not the time to stop exercising.

Ensuring you stay active – whether that be taking the stairs at work, or running on the treadmill – keep up your usual fitness and health-related practices to improve back pain, reduce stiffness, and ward off low moods.

If you have a flare-up of back pain, now is the time to book in with your general practitioner

or physiotherapist for an evaluation and to reduce inflammation safely.

Packing an emergency kit for yourself (not just for the kids) is a good practice if you travel somewhere remote or on a long-haul flight.

These items might include appropriate pain relief, heat packs, hip/pelvic support bands, and orthotic insoles.

If you are packing a suitcase, use bags with 360-degree wheels for easy gliding through airports and better weight transfer. Remember to switch hands occasionally and get active toddlers to help pull along additional small carryons.

At the airport, plan to check in as many suitcases and luggage as possible and stay moving during airport transfers or airport delays – you can bet on your toddler to help you with this!

During travel

It’s travel day, and emotions will be a mixture of excitement and overwhelm.

Once the kids are strapped safely in the car, take a moment to double-check your surroundings and consider how your body feels.

Address any concerns so you’re leaving feeling comfortable and ready.

Travel strollers that are easy to fold and lightweight are excellent travel day accessories.

You might also pack a baby carrier, but a stroller will offer your body a much-needed break when babies are asleep or toddlers get tired.

If you are packing your car boot and passenger seat for a road trip, load all essentials within arm’s reach – think cut-up snacks, wipes, and water bottles, although toddlers and bigger kids can keep their bottles handy to avoid extra twisting of your body.

Emergency clothes, nappies, and wipes are best kept in the front of the boot to prevent taking luggage out on the side of a freeway. If you are flying, use elevated bathroom change tables to avoid bending over unnecessarily.

When in mid-air, active toddlers will most likely keep you moving along the isles, but share this task with partners or accompanying family members, including holding and comforting

babies who are not yet mobile.

Flights also offer additional pillows and blankets, which can support the lower back when folded.

On arrival

You’ve made it! It’s a thrill for everyone, but the first few hours or days can often feel like a

whirlwind as you settle into holiday mode with the continual demands of children.

While day-to-day activities and events will vary, returning to your usual exercise routine is still encouraged to combat back pain while away.

Exercise could undoubtedly look different, but it’s a beautiful time to embrace the elements – water, sand, soil, and varying terrain – as you develop ways to stay active with the kids in your new surroundings.

You might enjoy a nature walk instead of belting out a run on the treadmill, or take a stroll along the sand on a family beach day.

In general, stick to the same exercise frequency as you do at home – so if you exercise three times a week, try and maintain this, with some additional stretching, while you’re away.

Pacing yourself in a new yoga class offered at a resort is a good idea to avoid stiffness and worsening pain.

Along with maintaining movement, growing research links positive psychology, particularly

mindfulness, with lower rates of reported back pain.

Just as back pain affects your thoughts and feelings, mindfulness can affect pain perception. Mindfulness is the art of using meditation to provide a mind-body treatment that encourages greater awareness of feelings, sensations, and thoughts in the moment.

Holidays present a fantastic opportunity to lean into new senses, situations, and experiences around you.

While food and drink are often plentiful during the festive summer break, weight gain can

cause additional load to your joints and back

If you are away for an extended period, consider a few healthier options throughout the day or fruit-infused water over alcohol to stop sudden weight gain.

Massages or swims in the ocean or the hotel pool can be fun and therapeutic. If another

adult supervises children, lean further into the moment through mindfulness.

Consider modes of transport while you are away. Plan, note the distances between

locations, and change driving a car to sharing a local shuttle bus, catching a ferry, or riding a

bicycle with the kids.

Before departure

Planning a smooth return home can sometimes be deprioritised, but it is still a travel day and the same rules apply as day one.

Replacing any used pain relief, heat packs, nappies, and emergency clothes for the kids and ensuring they are in easy reach is essential for a smooth journey home.

Confirm details of transfers or pick-up shuttles a day in advance to avoid unnecessary physical overload and stress, and get assistance from the concierge, family, or hotel buggies to load heavy luggage.

Pre-ordering online groceries to arrive on the day you get home (or the following day) helps avoid that last-minute grocery store dash the moment you walk back into the house.

– Nadeshka is an accredited physiotherapist, freelance writer, and mum of two active toddlers.