On the Road with Wellness

I love a good road trip, don’t you? There’s something about the freedom of driving oneself around in the comfort of your own vehicle, going where you want to go, and doing it all at your own pace that just makes road trips special. And one of the nice things about a road trip is that you are in control of most aspects of the journey. That means that you can work in opportunities for wellness that you might not otherwise be able to if you were traveling by air. Not sure what I’m taking about? Here are a few of my favorite tips for taking your wellness routine on the road.

Oat and Dried Fruit Bars

Oat & Dried Fruit Bars

Two Guiding Stars iconTwo Guiding Stars indicate better nutritional value. Homemade snack bars are a great way to choose more whole grains and lower sugar for your handy road trip snacking.

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Plan regular stretch-and-walk stops.

The importance of taking breaks is often lost on people who are in a hurry to get somewhere—that’s just natural. Having had a family member who suffered a pulmonary embolism after a long plane flight and hours sitting on the jetway, I no longer press to “just get there” if I’m the one controlling the pace, such as with a car trip. According to the Centers for Disease Control, stopping every 2-3 hours and moving around is important for the prevention of blood clots that can be life threatening (and if you have a history of such clots, it’s also important to wear compression socks on long drives, too).

Wondering what to do on your driving breaks? Shake your legs out when you get out of the car, then take a few minutes to stretch. Most rest stops have grassy areas and sidewalks with curbs so you can stretch your calves by hanging your heels off of a curb, stand flat on the ground and raise your heels (feels good to do this while reaching toward the sky), toss in a set of jumping jacks to get the blood moving around quickly. Then just do a quick walk around if the setting lends itself to that. Kids benefit from having some active time every few hours as well. I used to have my kids run to touch a bench in the distance and run back a few times, or we’d play a quick game of Simon Says and toe touches and arm swings into that game. You can also work some of these techniques in each time you stop for a bathroom break.

And, of course, you may want to just stop somewhere along the way to actually do something fun. When planning your route, look out for interesting places you can get out, walk around, and see something new to you. It doesn’t have to be a giant ball of twine or the  “world’s largest” statue of a cow. A lighthouse along the way or a public park or garden to explore work just as well.

Bring healthy snacks.

Vacation food is in a class by itself, I realize. We all like to loosen up a little and perhaps have more treats than we normally do. Trying new foods in a new locale is all part of the fun, certainly. However, planning ahead by bringing some healthy snacks and beverages is always a good idea when traveling—and if you’re driving, it’s super easy to bring a cooler or bag of snacks that can tide you over between actual meals. Sometimes the snacks you bring can serve as your breakfast, too (think piece of fruit or fruit cup, granola bar, PB&J sandwich, yogurt, etc). You won’t be compelled to pull over for snacks and drinks at random places like gas stations, plus you’ll likely eat more nutritiously overall. Save your food budget for real meals that you’ll completely enjoy and bring your own snack foods. Here are some ideas for what to bring along, and if you do need to make a meal out of what you find at a gas station or convenience store, I’ve got tips for that, too.

Get enough sleep.

Granted, you can sleep on an airplane or train, while you cannot sleep if you’re the one driving on a road trip! However, I wanted to put in a plug for getting enough sleep because being tired contributes to car accidents. Last year the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety found that nearly 10% of all crashes involve drowsy drivers). And the National Institutes of Health names sleep deficiency as the cause of 100,000 car accidents per year.

The importance of sleep to overall wellbeing is also a subject of increasing scientific study. Sleep contributes to health in a variety of ways, including contributing to cognitive functioning and emotional wellbeing, as well as many aspects of physical health such as keeping hormones balance, improving immunity and repairing the body’s cells, tissues and organs. When you’re on a trip, there’s a chance that your sleep quality won’t be as great as it is at home since you aren’t in your own bed.

At least make sure you get plenty of the sleep the night before you start your road trip. Your mind will be clearer, you’ll be able to focus better and your reaction times will be quicker—all important for safety. And of course, if you’re tired while driving, take a break and rest a bit, have a caffeinated beverage or get some fresh air—and switch drivers if you have can. AAA recommends avoiding driving late at night or through the night if at all possible—try to drive when you’re most alert.