Road trip! Two words that can either lift your spirits in anticipation of your upcoming travel plans or give you a sinking feeling of dread. With a few easy strategies in place, though, any road trip can be fun and even healthy — and something you’ll want to do again. Read on to learn how you can manage to eat well, stay comfortable, and arrive at your destination feeling energized and refreshed.
Thoughts of eating “on the road” typically call to mind images of vending machines and fast food. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are better ways to eat while you’re traveling by car or bus:
- Brown-bag it. Packing your own food is a great way to eat well while you travel. “Pack drinks and snacks in the car with you,” says Heidi Reichenberger McIndoo, MS, RD, a nutrition consultant based in Boston, Massachusetts. “Great items to bring on a car trips include plain water, enhanced flavored waters like vitamin water, dried fruit, fresh fruit like apples and bananas, cheese sticks, and nuts.” Be sure to wash any produce thoroughly before you leave, and bring a cooler to keep drinks and perishable items at a chill temperature.
- Stay clear of vending machines. McIndoo warns against rest-stop food and vending machines: “They are notorious for being full of high-fat, high-salt, and high-sugar foods” — not what you need to stay healthy and energized on your road trip!
- Munch regularly. Most people’s bodies are accustomed to eating something (whether a snack or meal) at least every four to five hours, and the same is true when you travel. If you go longer than that because you don’t want to stop driving, you may end up overeating later or snacking on the wrong kinds of foods.
Sitting in a car for hours on end can cause noticeable stiffness and muscular pain so it’s important to pay extra attention to comfort while on your road trip. The following tips can help you avoid body pain when you’re on the road:
- Watch your posture. Make sure that you’re sitting comfortably at the wheel, with your seat set so that you’re not stretching to reach the steering wheel.
- Move your seat. Position the seat at about a 100-degree angle so you’re not slouching, and be sure that the small of your back, the lumbar part, is supported. You can use a small pillow or even a rolled up towel for this purpose.
- Use cruise control. On long drives, resting both feet on the floor is easier on your back and hips. Just be sure to continue paying close attention to the road ahead.
- Take a break. Be sure to stop regularly (experts recommend every 20 to 30 minutes) to get out of your car and stretch before continuing on. This is especially true if you have chronic back pain or other issues that are triggered by sitting in one position for too long. Taking frequent breaks can also help prevent deep vein thrombosis — a blood clot in one of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs, that can form if you don’t move around for a long time.
One safety issue that is often overlooked on road trips is that of the sleepy driver. Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but are less aware that driving drowsy can be just as fatal, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Driving drowsy can produce the same slow reaction time, decreased awareness, and visual changes that driving drunk will, especially if you’re driving at night. To combat drowsy driving:
- Get enough rest. While it may seem obvious, make sure you get plenty of sleep before you leave. This can be tough if you’re running around with last-minute preparations. If you’re driving, however, being rested is important for your reaction time and overall competence. In addition, make sure on a multi-day trip that you give yourself enough time to unwind after a day at the wheel, and get a good night’s sleep before hitting the road again the next day.
- Pay attention if you start to feel sleepy. Listen to your body and pull over if you begin to feel groggy. Take a little rest or change drivers.
Some people enjoy driving, while others find it stressful. To reduce the stress of driving, consider the following:
- Think ahead. Try to arrange your travel time so that you can avoid driving through congested areas during rush hour.
- Use relaxation techniques. If you’re stuck in traffic, relieve the frustration by focusing your attention on breathing deeply and slowly.
- Let the music play. Bring along plenty of relaxing music to help you stay calm while driving.
- Take breaks. Pull over to stretch or walk around when you need to.
- Switch off. Change drivers often if possible.
Road trips can be fun and rewarding if you take the time to prepare for the road ahead. Being willing to go with the flow if traffic hits, weather changes, or you feel as if you need a break can make a big difference, too. So pack, prepare, and don’t forget to wear your seat belt!
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