Confession: Over the last four years, I haven’t spent more than four consecutive weeks in the same place. In the last six months, my husband and I have slept in more than four dozen beds in seven different countries, with most of our travels spent zig-zagging across North America (twice in three months). This equates to a whole lot of time in transit from one spot to the next. But, because we’re both avid runners and cyclists, we’re heavily invested in making our trips as healthy and activity-packed as possible, even when we’re crossing from one coast to the other.
Whether your road trip is with family or for business, lasting a few hours or a few days, here are some expert tips I’ve personally tested on short and long drives. I can guarantee implementing a few of these stay-healthy hacks will make your destination feel a whole lot better.
You might feel a little silly doing yoga while you pump gas, but your back and neck will thank you. Try a modified downward dog against any wall, says Colin Matthews from Kula Yoga Studio in Toronto. “This posture makes it easy to melt tension in the upper back and shoulders without touching the ground,” he explains.
Stand about two feet away from a wall, and place your hands on it anywhere from shoulder height to hip height (higher for tighter shoulders, lower for looser). Your hands should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider, with fingers pointing upward and spread apart. With a slight forward tilt in your pelvis, move your hips away from the wall while pressing into your hands to keep your shoulder blades flat on your back. If you start to feel tension along your spine as you move your torso toward parallel with the floor, stop and breathe into the tension. This pose is about melting, and melting takes time and breath.
WASH YOUR HANDS
This might sound obvious, but wash your hands every chance you get, even if you’re not hitting a restroom to use the toilet. You’re touching a lot of unknown stuff on the road that other people’s hands have touched, especially pumping gas or wandering around a convenience store, so scrub as often as possible. Hand sanitizer is equally useful, so you could also keep some in your car for quick access. Trust me: It stinks to get to your destination feeling sick.
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PICK SMART AT GAS STATIONS
Gas stations have gotten a lot more health-conscious in recent years; it’s not all candy bars and chips anymore. Clara Norfleet, RD, recommends any type of fresh fruit.
“I also like to pick up a bag of unsalted nuts as well. The fat is satiating and filling, and it’s a good balance to the sweetness of the fruit,” she says. “If they have some type of raw veggie pack, I’d pick that up as well, and a lot of gas stations are starting to carry greek yogurt. And water! I always have water!”
Hydration is exceptionally important on road trips — and not just coffee and Red Bull. Make sure you’re sipping plenty of plain water, even if that means more pit stops. Your digestive tract will thank you.
Norfleet also adds that the occasional caloric splurge isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your road trip should feel fun, not like an endless struggle to stay uber-healthy. That roadside ice cream stand with homemade waffle cones might just be worth pulling over — and totally memorable.
PACK YOUR SNACKS
There’s no end to pre-packaged healthy snack options for the road, but you can go budget-friendly by buying your snacks ahead of time so you’re not paying a premium for healthier options at rest areas. Health Warrior bars, for example, use pumpkin seeds and a host of antioxidant-packed ingredients to make a much healthier, but still tasty, granola bar. “They’re easy to pack in a purse, bag or side pocket; they are nutrient-dense and with minimal added sugars,” says Norfleet. “Above all, they truly taste great!”
Whatever meals you do end up eating — and let’s be honest, even the healthiest among us have to go for fast food sometimes — do yourself a favor and make sure there’s at least one vegetable present. Even if that means getting a side salad with your burger and fries, that’s better than nothing.
DON’T FORGET THE PROTEIN
Finding healthy meat and protein options can be a pain, so pack an emergency protein powder supply to quickly get your protein fix. Unflavored collagen protein from Vital Proteins can be dissolved in coffee or tea for a protein boost that doesn’t add any taste.
“Protein has that extra staying power that will help us feel both full and satisfied,” adds Norfleet. “Oftentimes, carb- and fat-rich options may leave us feeling full, but hardly satisfied, and an hour or so later we find ourselves grabbing for another snack!”
KEEP TRACK OF SNACKING
When you’re on the road, it can be hard to stick to a reasonable calorie count. A donut here, a cookie there, a candy bar at 3 a.m. to stay awake … we know how it goes. Those calories, plus fast food stops and fancy coffees, can easily put you well above your daily calorie allowances.
If you find that you spend most of the drive mindlessly snacking, make it mindful by using the MyFitnessPal app to log your intake. You might be able to catch yourself reaching for the milkshake and swap it for a water instead, especially if you know you’re already at your target calorie count for the day. You’ll also be able to make sure you’re hitting your macronutrients, especially protein, and monitor things like your water and vegetable intake.
MAP IT OUT
Make your trip a little more fun by stopping in national or local parks along the way to stretch your legs and sneak in a couple miles of running or walking. Some sun exposure during a picnic lunch can also do wonders for your mood.
Luckily, it’s never been easier to find the closest park along your route. Thanks to the in-route search on the Google Maps app, it’s easy to look up nearby parks. Just put in your destination, pull up the route and then hit the search button. After that, type in ‘national parks’ and all of those along the route will pop up.
STRETCH EVERY CHANCE YOU GET
Jacques DeVore, cycling coach and the author of “Maximum Overload for Cyclists,” is a huge fan of the walking lunge for opening hips and building strength. Whenever you have a minute outside of the car, instead of walking to the restroom, lunge your way there. You’ll look goofy but your hip flexors will be psyched.
“Movement Matters” author Katy Bowman echoes this sentiment and urges people to move as often as possible, in as many ways as possible. So even if you’re not a yoga expert or a serious runner, doing basically any kind of stretch or movement can help shake everything out and decompress after all that sitting.
PICK HOTELS WITH POOLS, PLAYGROUNDS AND GYMS
If you can’t find details about hotels online, call the front desk to check what kind of facilities they offer. Bringing the kids along? Look for hotels with pools or playgrounds attached so the kids can burn off some of that pent-up energy. The last thing you want to do is drive 12 hours, then be stuck in a hotel room with two kids jumping on the bed trying to blow off steam.
A fitness center is another great thing to look for since you may not be in the hotel during daylight hours, and a super-quick late-night or early morning workout before hitting the road is better than nothing.
PACK A QUICK-GRAB WORKOUT BAG
As you’re packing, put your workout gear in a separate bag and keep it handy. Having easy access to your workout clothes, running shoes, deodorant, a towel and some wipes makes a morning sweat session much simpler — and more likely to happen. Pulling suitcases out of the van and digging for your sneakers can quickly wreck any motivation to move, but it’s easily avoidable.
Written by Molly Hurford, a writer who spends most of her time living out of suitcases and chasing the best races, rides, runs, swims and whatever other outdoor adventures she can find. Follow her travels and adventures on Twitter and Instagram.