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How To Stay Healthy And Happy On Your Vacation Road Trip

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No matter the time of year, a road trip is an opportunity to throw off the shackles of your normal life and set out for the horizon, where adventure awaits. That adventure could be at a camping at a National Park or exploring museums in the city or spending time at the beach.

That’s the beauty of road trip travel. It can take you anywhere! And the great thing about a family road trip with the grandkids is that it gives you extra time to spend with your loved ones.

Whatever the destination or intent a road trip means that getting there can be half the fun–and in these unsettled and stressful times we could all use some fun–and the chance to recharge after a year filled to the brim with challenges.

However, over the years the humble road trip has gained a reputation for being one of the less pleasant ways for a group of people to reach their desired destination, but it needn’t be that way. With sufficient planning and that all-important sense of adventure, even in this time of the Coronavirus, a road trip can be one of the most rewarding experiences anyone could wish for.

So how do we ensure that we not only survive that road trip–but actually enjoy every moment of being with those we hold near and dear (even in the confines of a car)? How do you make sure we stay healthy and happy on your vacation road trip?

10 Tips For A Healthy And Happy Vacation Road Trip

1. Take It All In Your Stride.

The first rule of the road is to stay calm, be chilled, roll with the punches, embrace the unexpected, and celebrate it as part of what makes road trips so special. 

You are going to be offered the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with the countryside in a way that a plane trip cannot replicate. You’ll be exposed to smells and sounds that are absent in the confined space of an airplane cabin. You just don’t get this with air travel.

You’ll be able to interact with locals and stop off at your leisure. That’s what makes road trips so special, so don’t let the continued ‘are we there yet’ or requests for restroom stops or even the ‘unique’ playlist of a good friend put you off your stride. 

Watch the world go by, shout ‘cow’ now and then (surely that’s in the Highway Code somewhere?), and watch the ribbon of road unwind in front of your eyes. Stop off for some fresh fruit at a roadside stall or take a detour to wonder at the ‘World’s Largest Ball of String’. Do things that make you go ‘hmm’ and enjoy the company!

2. There is Going to be Vomit.

Sadly, not everyone is going to stay healthy and happy on your vacation road trip. If you haven’t traveled with younger children for a while and are taking the grandkids on a trip, remember that someone, at some point, is going to be ill. The roadside snacks–or even that healthy alternative that you have packed with the best intentions in the world are going to reappear in the semi-digested format. However, those dry snacks can make the result less unpleasant.

A great rule is not to rely on electronic diversions. Aside from the fact that motion sickness is a contributing factor, the entertainment value of a tablet or smartphone inevitably wears off quickly when faced with the excitement of the new. Make sure that you pack low tech backups. 

Handheld travel games are great for the grandkids, and the old standby of colored crayons (or an ‘artist grade’) drawing tablet and colored pencils for the preteens and teens) is a reliable favorite. They’re also great at scenic stops. Encourage the budding young artist to celebrate the world around them—at the very least, the result makes for an impressive addition to the family scrapbook or album (or a fabulous addition to a social media post). 

3. Keep it Clean.

Everyone is going to be happier in a car that is not filled to the brim with empty fast-food containers and chip packets. That sort of clutter grows at an alarming rate until it takes up all available space. Dispose of all waste whenever you stop at a station. Pack some plastic bags to act as trash bags and also have some hygienic wipes at hand for surfaces. Even if there are no grandkids in the car, spills and assorted non-specific messes are simply a fact of road trip life–be prepared to deal with them. 

4. Make The Most of Opportunities to Simply Stop.

Anyone who has ever taken a seat in a car for an extended journey with companions will tell you that the old saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is in fact close to the truth. Even the firmest of friends or lovers will have the bonds of their relationship severely stretched after 8 hours on the road non-stop. Those who have experienced a road trip with children will tell you they now understand why some animals eat their young!

Stop every two to three hours (even when it’s not a requested and urgent restroom stop). Allow passengers (and drivers) to stretch their legs and have a little ‘me’ time, allow the grandkids to work off some of that excess energy (Nerf Balls and Bubbles can be lifesavers). This simple precaution will reduce the possibility of someone maliciously lashing out with a rest stop Burrito or a young passenger getting creative on a sleeping sibling’s face with a permanent marker.

5. Water–It’s Possible to Have too Much.

If ever there was a list of essential pieces of life advice for the 21st century ‘stay hydrated’ would be up there with the best. It’s important to stay hydrated (after all, your immune cells produce IgA, a germ-killing antibody when you’re well-hydrated). Make sure you always have enough bottled water to last you until your next stop.

Remember the mantra ‘unscheduled sips lead to bathroom slips’ and the only way to avoid a liquid catastrophe (especially from smaller occupants of the back seat) is to fall into the habit of random bathroom breaks.

This can play havoc with any schedule and lead to frayed nerves. Turn instead to grapes, which provide a distraction and an H2O alternative. Watch the younger members of the party with an eagle eye – grapes can lead to choking, especially in a moving car and so will need to be cut in half. That said, limit splurging on liquids to around 45 minutes before a scheduled pit stop. 

If you travel with dogs, don’t forget to pack your pet first-aid kit and water for them to drink too as it can get very hot for pets in cars.

6. The Snack Situation.

Cleaning your car upholstery is an unpleasant and time-consuming business and paying for professionals to do it is painful to the bank balance. One way to cut down on an upholstery disaster is to limit syrupy, sticky, and dusted snacks (we’re looking at oh so delicious and moreish Cheetos). Remember–sugar-laced snacks will keep the grandkids quiet for about a minute and then the energy burst kicks in.

There are some classics that can avoid sugar Armageddon. Fresh veggie strips (try hummus and bell pepper strips, but watch that hummus container like a hawk if you want to avoid cleaning it off the ceiling of the car), hard-boiled eggs, apple slices, string cheese (or cheese sticks) with crackers, jerky or trail mix (you can make your own with dried fruit, nuts and assorted seeds) are all great choices. 

7. Go High Tech.

Explore some of the most beautiful drives in the United States by using sites and apps (roadtrippers.com is one, but there are many – just search for one and read the reviews). Try to stay off congested highways. The trip might take a little longer reminding yourself that the getting there is half the fun is truer than you can imagine when you’re on a road trip. Embrace the wanderlust.

8. Join a Roadside Assistance Service.

It may not happen, but if you ever end up stranded on the side of an unknown country road at 11 pm with nervous grandkids, you will thank your lucky stars for the smiling face of a roadside service assistant. The 800 number will serve you well if the unforeseen threatens to derail your trip–and negatively affect everyone in the party. Make sure you have all the relevant documentation you need (which is always a significant rule for documents in general). 

9. Stay Healthy.

The elephant in the room as far as road trips are concerned is Covid-19. Try as we might, we cannot ignore the impact that this virus has on our travel plans and that includes our planned road trip. However, remember that it’s not only the virus that can cause illness, there are plenty of other microscopic health threats on the road. We always need to keep hygiene and safety in mind, for the wellbeing of ourselves and our families. 

So, when you’re behind the wheel with loved ones, keep these health tips in mind.

  • Wipe the pump handles using disinfectant wipes when you’re getting gas. Remember, they are teeming with germs. Research shows they are home to 11,000 times more bacteria than toilet seats.
  •  Bring along paper towels to use in the restroom. They are 10x less likely to provide a dose of a virus than air dryers.
  • Stay out of crowded roadside restaurants as you want to try to avoid large gatherings of people. Doing this makes you 18 times less likely to get sick (according to Canadian research). Have a roadside picnic instead.
  • Desperately need the toilet? ‘Flush and run’ say researchers. The action of flushing a toilet with no lid (and roadside restrooms are prone to this ‘design flaw’) releases a ‘mushroom cloud’ of coronavirus droplets into the air. 
  • Use masks in places that have lots of people around–and obey the rules for social distancing when in restaurants and other indoor spaces. Just be a good person.

10. Go with the Flow.

The unexpected is to be expected. You are simply never going to be able to plan for every eventuality. The car is going to smell, punctures are a fact of life, toddlers are going to vomit, ice-cream is never as good as you remember, and roadside snacks are inevitably a disappointment.

However, no matter what happens, a road trip has the potential to be a trip to remember. There is a sense of accomplishment in completing a road trip and a badge of honor that provides boasting rights around the barbecue or at the next family gathering. Go out there and conquer the road… It’s calling and you know you want to answer.  

Final Thoughts

Just enjoy the road trip and the general travel experience with your family. That’s the great thing about road trips they give you the benefit of time to do what you want. Spending extra time in nature when you can be good for your mental health, especially if you usually work all day in an office.

Remember, stay healthy and happy on your vacation road trip!

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