1. Prepack your car. Unless you’re just throwing an overnight bag in the backseat and hitting the road for a short two-day trip, you’ll save your back some ache if you pack the night before you leave. Fluids pool in your spinal disks while you sleep, and that makes your lower back tight and sensitive to irritation when you first wake up.
2. Prepack your food. Packing a picnic lunch will help you pinch pennies and calories alike. Plus, you’ll be more likely to eat foods that fight fatigue, increase your attention span, and keep you alert. Sandwiches on whole wheat bread will prevent you from feeling draggy, and peppermints are healthier stimulants than caffeine, which can lead to energy crashes. If you’re forced to grab some fast food, stay away from fried, fatty menu items and stick with salads (dressing on the side) and yogurt parfaits—add blueberries to that yogurt and you have an attention-, energy-, and memory-boosting breakfast.
3. Plan your pitstops. It’s important to get out of the vehicle and move your body around every two to three hours. Although it’s most common in air travelers, car drivers and passengers can suffer from deep-vein thrombosis, a blood clot in the legs, if circulation isn’t encouraged with some standing and walking. (Flexing your ankles every so often helps.) Plan your stops around mealtimes and you’ll be less likely to mindlessly munch on snacks while you’re driving. Even if you stop for 15 minutes or less to eat a handful of nuts, you’ll send a signal to your brain that you’ve eaten so you won’t be hungry 30 minutes later.
4. Adjust your position. Drivers can avoid slouching by tilting the rearview mirror up a little bit. This will help you sit up straighter to see out the back window, and prevent low-back pain at the same time.
5. Plan some vacation exercising. Exercising on vacation doesn’t sound like much fun, but you shouldn’t allow a break in your daily routine to totally override healthy behaviors. If you’re going somewhere touristy where you know sightseeing will be in order, you can let your walking time count as exercise. But people who are headed to the beach can also enjoy an early-morning walk (walking on sand is a great calorie burner) or swim in the ocean—trying to move against the current can expend a ton of energy. Or you can park the car and venture into town on a rented bike, or your own two feet. Walking is the best way to learn about a new city or get to know a seaside town you’ve never visited before.
6. Hit the trails. Can’t afford a trip to Argentina? Hike the Appalachian Trail or any number of other nature trails across the country for a day or two. (You have to really do it, though. Just telling your staff you’re doing it, leaving your car there, and catching a plane south of the border doesn’t count.) Or research the trails near your destination, and include some day hiking in your itinerary.
7. Try the rails. If you live near an Amtrak station, pick a city a few hours, or even a day, away, and discover somewhere new. Or, visit www.railstotrails.org and combine your camping trip with a bike ride (or hike) along an old rail line that’s been converted to a nature trail.