Even if you might be in fairly good physical condition, some of us have one problem we can’t avoid, which can cause serious limitations at the most inconvenient times; back problems. Whether the problem is a life-long medical condition or only something you get once in a while, it can seriously be damper when traveling with only a backpack. When I backpacked Southeast Asia last summer, my biggest stressor of all was “how am I going to carry this bag for a month straight?”
At only 24 years old, I have had my fair share of medical issues. While not extremely serious, they have deterred me from being the typical active person I like to be. A few years back, I experienced two car accidents which caused massive pain in my back. I couldn’t even lie down without it hurting, and I felt that my future as a traveler and a backpacker was over. I saw countless doctors, tried several medications, and visited a chiropractor. During that time, I discovered that my back problems weren’t curable, but they were manageable. I wasn’t going to let it stop me from living my life.
My back gradually got better over the years, and soon I felt like I was able to conquer everything. That is, until last year, about a month before my backpacking trip, I sprained my back severely. My back shifted in the classic ‘S’ shape, and I was unable to even stand up. Like most things, it healed within a few days, but you can imagine how scared I was to put any strain on my back after that. The problem was, there wasn’t much time for me to strengthen it up before my trip.
The first step for those suffering from back issues is to understand that mind over matter is actually a real thing. Although pain is sometimes inevitable, telling yourself that “it doesn’t hurt”, actually works once in a while. Try to keep a positive attitude and remind yourself that you are stronger than you think. Don’t stress about something maybe happening, and try to let your mind be free from worry. Pain is highly contributed to stress, so be conscious of your body at all times. There is a great book by Dr. John E Sarno called ‘The Mind Body Connection’, where he was able to cure people of their back pain by starting with their minds. It is definitely worth a read.
Secondly, is to choose a backpack that you can carry! If it looks too big for you, it is too big for you. Of course, whatever you put inside will make it heavier, but starting off with a lightweight, supportive backpack will help. My bag is by High Sierra, and although I got it on a clearance rack, their bags are extremely light with a supportive frame and are generally smaller. Great for someone who isn’t as strong and has consistent back problems.
Third, is when you are packing your bag, don’t bring anything you don’t need! When I left for my trip, it was after a year living abroad. Although I had the opportunity to ship things home before, anything leftover that I wanted to bring back to the US with me had to fit in my backpack. As a girl, we want to bring enough outfits, so try to find light clothes that you can mix and match. Think gym shorts, white Hanes tees, cheap tanks, and a couple of t-shirts. Maybe one pair of jeans (or light pants) and a sweater. Bring two shoes-one you wear when you are carrying your backpack (the heavier shoes) and a pair of flip flops or backups. Of course, the sneakers you wear when you are holding your backpack need to be supportive of your back. I like a good pair of Nikes or hiking shoes.
Lastly, is rest. Rest, rest, rest. Rest up a couple of days before your trip so you can be prepared. However, you should also practice holding your backpack with all your stuff in it so you can a. get used to it, and b. see if you need to take some things out to make it lighter. Remember to also leave space in case you want to buy anything during your trip or if you snag some natural souvenirs from the paths you travel on.
Even after following these, I managed to sprain by back once again during my trip. Luckily, it was the last two days, and luckily my partner was there to help my carry my bag. Don’t strain yourself. Rest along the way, know your limits, and pace yourself. See a doctor before you go. And remember, mind over matter! Stay strong in your mind and your body will follow suit. Always bring any medications that may help if a problem arises, and have a backup plan if you really can’t carry your bag.