How to live out of your car and thrive while you're doing it!
I travel a lot. My performing jobs take me all over the place for a few months at a time, and during that time, I love to explore the surrounding areas. On top of that, I love taking trips just to see new places, and between contracts is the perfect time to do that! Just this year, I will visit over 25 states, and that's without adding any more trips, which is inevitably going to happen. Needless to say, I've figured out quite a few inexpensive tricks to keep me healthy, happy, and fit while traveling.
One of my most recent trips was around the southeast/southwest states to see new places and people that I love! This fell during my half-marathon training time, so I knew I would have an added challenge of incorporating my training runs into my trip. I was fortunate to have family, friends, and friends of friends to crash with for the majority of the trip, but there were a few nights I was on my own. I read the travel blogs, asked some of my adventurous friends, gathered the information there is to know for living out of your car, and then I hit the road.
Where do you sleep?
So there are a few options for sleeping in your car while traveling, my favorite being Wal-Mart parking lots. Find a 24-hour Wal-Mart location, park about halfway back in a well-lit area, use their bathrooms, and get whatever you need from inside- it’s secure, and with the exception of some noisy parking lot sounds, it’s pretty peaceful. It’s always best to make sure there are no signs saying “No Overnight Cars,” as some Wal-Marts may be an exception, particularly in touristy areas. I didn’t come across this on my trip, but I know that it’s a thing. There were signs, however that said, “No Overnight Trucks.” Other options for places to sleep are truck stops and the emergency wings of large hospitals. If you use a truck stop, it’s advised to just stay out of the way of the truckers and be as inconspicuous as possible- no need to advertise that you’re there. As for the hospitals, people sleep in their cars overnight there all of the time- it doesn’t seem like it would be an issue.
Anyway, all of this goes to say that I chose Wal-Mart parking lots during my trip. My first night was rough- I tried to get cozy in the back with a couple of quilts and a pillow, and that was pretty uncomfortable. Honda Fits just aren’t that roomy! Not to mention, it was chilly at the beginning of March, even in Mississippi. The next night, I shifted up to my reclined passenger seat and the weather was a bit warmer. The third night, I slept like a rock after I bought a sleeping bag, set myself up in the passenger seat, and passed out. I’ve read other blogs that suggest different set-ups with sleeping mats and lots of pillows, but for my purposes, this works out really well.
Oh, and privacy. My Fit is great on gas, but it's not exactly the most private vehicle. So I got crafty and cut up a black sheet, sewed it into window-sized shapes, and created some makeshift curtains. People sleep in their cars without curtains fairly often, but as a woman traveling alone, I preferred to have a little more privacy.
I found a lot of creative options here! So the first time I ended up using a free guest pass at a Planet Fitness in Baton Rouge, LA – this worked out great, because I was due for a long training run and they have showers with endless hot water. I actually will likely get a black card membership with PF for my next road trip, which allows me access to any of their location, their hydro-massage beds, and other perks. It’s great to toss in a workout on the road or just take a hot shower and get ready for the day! I also went to a state park in Lockhart, TX, where they had campground showers, and with the $3 admission fee to the park, they were willing to let me use their facilities as well. I won’t say it was “luxurious,” but it definitely got the job done. It’s funny how much you savor a hot shower when you’re on the road.
Other blogs suggest finding local community or recreation centers and purchasing a day-pass. Those normally are $3-7 depending on where you are, and they often have swimming pools, open gymnasiums, studio rooms, and a good assortment of workout equipment. Or just a shower ;) I believe you can pay to use the showers at truck stops, but my understanding is that it runs around $15-20 each time. It’s much more cost efficient to use a fitness center.
Eating (well) on a budget:
Y’all. Grocery stores are your BEST FRIEND. Skip the fast food joints and head to the produce section or hot food bar at a Kroger/Ingles/Food Lion/whatever you are near. Some of my favorite combinations for different meals are:
- Breakfast: Banana and yogurt, boiled eggs, apples, Larabars, rxBars, or other combinations of fruit and protein
- Lunch/Dinner: Hit that grocery store salad bar (Whole Foods is an even better treat if you’re near a big city!), pick up some grocery store sushi, a good-quality freezer meal like Evol, Luvo, Amy’s, or Annie’s, or a hot food bar combination
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t occasionally enjoy a sit-down meal at a local restaurant, but if you’re traveling on a budget and taking a long trip, grocery stores are the way to go.
If you do decide to go the fast food route, avoid the highly processed, greasy options as much as possible. That's not a good combination with long periods of sitting in a vehicle. Most restaurants will allow you to modify what you’re ordering, so take advantage of that. For example, at Taco Bell, you can order your meal “Fresco-style,” which replaces mayo-based sauces, cheeses, reduced-fat sour cream, and guacamole with fresh pico de gallo. You’d be surprised how little you notice the difference flavor-wise, but you’re saving your body a lot of unhealthy food-processing by making these small changes.
Fitness on the Go:
I touched on it above just a little bit, but there are a lot of cheap or free ways to get in a workout while you’re traveling. Sitting for extended periods of time can really take a toll on your body. Have you ever driven all day and felt exhausted that night? Even though we aren’t using our physical bodies to do work, we are constantly engaged mentally with our driving. Some easy ways to shake it off and work it out are to:
- Take advantage of rest areas. Often rest stops will have a small walking path or grassy area for travelers to enjoy. Jog a few laps around the walking path, stretch it out, or even do a small body-weight workout while you take a break from the road. It’s important to keep moving to avoid fatigue, heart issues, and overall discomfort.
- Find a local park! Even if you’re just passing through a town, pull over and look up the closest walking park. These will often have circuit workouts (you know, those weird modern art statues that they put out that oddly look like gym equipment? Use those). You also may find that these parks have historical monuments within them, so you can connect more to the place you are passing through. Win-win!
- Find a yoga studio where you are. Drop-in classes are often available, and if you’re parked for a few days, they sometimes have a new guest special, which might be a week of unlimited classes at a low rate. I did this in Fayetteville when I was on a Children’s Theatre tour in the area for a little over a week- it’s the perfect way to care for your body and mind while on the road.
- Get creative! Run around a new city (look up safe running paths, sight-seeing routes, etc), bring a dumbbell with you, find a staircase and do some body-weight exercises and steps.
These are only a few ways you can incorporate fitness into your road trip. I get it, it’s really easy to convince yourself that getting sweaty isn’t worth it, because then you have to find a shower, and you’re already tired from driving, etc, etc. I promise you, I’ve never regretted a workout, and I doubt you will either. If you want to value your fitness, make it a priority!
You’ll also find that you’re at the gas pump pretty often if you’re traveling a good distance. Make a ritual that you complete while you’re filling up the tank. Instead of going for the soda fountain, do some squats and lunges, or even some gentle stretching. Then if you still want something, grab a seltzer or some fresh fruit.
It’s all about developing good habits to move out the bad. If you can focus on creating a new, positive lifestyle, then you don’t have to face the monster of eliminating those bad habits. By focusing on the positive, they will overshadow the negative, and eventually your lifestyle will start to look much healthier without that sacrificial mindset. More on that later ;)
Are you a road tripper? What have you found to be your most challenging obstacle? What tricks have you developed to make road life even more enjoyable? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!
With love to you wild hearts,