Can I Go on Safari if I Have Back Pain?

A question I often get from people interested in going on a safari is, “Can I go on safari if I have back problems or other recurrent pain issues? Will going on safari make these problems worse?”

While that decision is best made between you and your doctor, there are plenty of things that individuals can do to make themselves more comfortable on safari. Being aware of potential problems and preparing for them is the first step.

Anyone with back problems or other recurrent pain should be aware that most safaris involve a lot of time in vehicles, and that East African roads can be extremely bumpy. East African nations simply don’t have the tax revenues to maintain roads that we have in the United States. Many roads are made of dirt or gravel and get large potholes during the rainy seasons. Also, drivers may sometimes need to maneuver vehicles off-road to get from point A to point B. Driving can be rough, especially in bush.

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A warthog darts across a fairly smooth rural dirt-and-gravel road.
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Some roads are just two wheel tracks through the savannah.

Ujuzi can help with these issues in a few ways. If you are working with Ujuzi to build an itinerary from scratch, let us know about your concern so we can make plans accordingly. Depending on the area to which you are traveling, possible solutions may include:

  • planning routes that include more paved highway driving and less off-road driving
  • planning shorter drives with breaks so you can stretch and walk around
  • scheduling a walking safari
  • using a charter plane instead of a road vehicle on some or all legs of your trip
  • selecting a smooth-riding van rather than a 4×4 Landcruiser for your safari vehicle (available in Kenya only)
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The rainy season can lead to rougher roads. This safari van was delayed by a pothole for a few minutes. The passengers took the opportunity to stand up and take pictures.

If you have signed up for or are considering a trip where the itinerary has already been planned:

  • Feel free to contact us with questions you may have about the lengths of drives or the quality of roads.
  • Talk to your group leader about seating arrangements during the trip. The smoothest ride in a safari vehicle is in the passenger seat next to the driver.

IMGP2759It feels good to stretch your legs in a safari vehicle. Photo credit: Mark & David Solberg.

Here are additional tips for making your safari trip more comfortable, whether you’re in charge of the itinerary or not:

  • Talk to your health care provider about ways to stay comfortable on your trip. They may suggest exercises, medicine, pillows or supports.
  • If you take medicine for your condition, pack it in its original container. Prescriptions should have your name, the date of the prescription and the name of the prescribing physician on the label. Some prescription pain medicines are considered controlled substances. Carry a letter from your physician that lists all of your prescriptions in case airport security has any questions.
  • If you have any special supports or pillows you use when sitting at work, in the car, or at home, consider bringing them (or travel versions) on the trip. Catalogs like Magellans, TravelSmith, LifeWithEase and RelaxTheBack offer inflatable and/or packable versions of many common supports.*
  • In most cases, you will have the same safari vehicle for the majority of your trip. Ask your driver if you can leave cushions or other supports in the vehicle so that you don’t have to carry them back and forth at lodgings.
  • If your doctor advises it, make sure to get up and move around at every opportunity. This may include time spent in the vehicle (most have raisable roofs that allow travelers to stand when safe for a better view of wildlife) as well as outside the vehicle.
  • Many lodges offer a la carte spa services, including massage. They do not usually need to be scheduled far in advance, but if you have any concerns about availability, contact me prior to your departure so I can make arrangements.

With a little planning, you can have a safari trip that is memorable for all the right reasons.

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Antelope roam across a rural road.

* Business names are used for illustrative purposes and do not imply endorsement by Ujuzi African Travel.

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