We drove 32,000 miles last year which, I realize, is much less than what an average professional driver does each year. Still, this made us realize how sitting in a vehicle for a long period of time affects us.
Early on in the trip, I started to get backaches, and Evelin noticed the effects of not going to her daily gym classes anymore.
Therefore, we made a conscious decision and came up with a list of ideas that you can also do to stay healthier if you’re an overlander, or in fact any driver who sits hours behind a steering wheel every day.
13 things we’ve done to stay fit and healthy when we drove the distance from Northwest Africa to Singapore
1. Exercised regularly
Evelin was more thorough in making sure she kept her exercise routine, but I also made a lot of effort to exercise.
You don’t need to do anything complicated and you don’t need a lot of gear either. An elastic band you can exercise with and a mat (or just a towel) that you can put on the floor is plenty to do some varied exercises.
Rather than exercising, I sometimes replaced this activity with something similarly physically demanding but, I thought, more fun, like collecting firewood. Even checking the tires can be a regular exercise with lots of squats.
Overlanding is an outdoor activity, so we’ve done a lot of hiking and walking where we could. None of them was too long or extremely difficult, but we always felt much better after the walk.
3. Stopped Regularly
Even if we didn’t actually feel like we needed a break, we still stopped regularly to stretch our legs. A couple of squats helped to “wake up our legs” at each stop.
We also used these breaks to swap driving and fill up our water bottles.
4. Stepped out of the vehicle when possible
If we had to stop to wait for a ferry or anything similar, or had to wait just in general, we stepped out of the truck and just waited while standing – provided it was safe to do so.
Again, this just reduced the number of hours we spent sitting in the vehicle.
5. Used lumbar support
Early on in the trip, I realized I had a mild backache, so I bought lumbar support you can get in any hardware store to make sure my lower back was supported properly.
It’s done the trick and my backache was gone within a short time, however, over the long run, you should purchase a proper lumbar support if you’re driving long distances.
We both always made sure to sit almost completely straight and to set our driving position properly.
6. Tried to eat healthy as much as possible
We took quite a lot of food with us for the trip that we selected carefully to make sure it was healthy.
When you drive through remote villages, locals usually sell fresh fruit & veg by the road.
We also took ready meals that you just need to heat up – if you select the right ones, they can be quite light and healthy.
7. Drank lots of water and avoided sugary soda
It’s important to drink plenty of water no matter where you are or what you’re doing. However, when you’re sitting in a car all day, it’s easy to forget about this.
We always had two water bottles between our seats and made sure to drink at least 2 liters each day.
8. Washed our hands as often as possible
Again, this may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget to wash your hands when you travel, especially when you’re in your own vehicle (your home) all day.
We had a small water container with a tap just for this, and used it to wash our hands as often as possible.
9. Received the recommended jabs
As we traveled to very remote areas we received the usual, recommended vaccines before we left.
Some countries won’t even let you in unless you can show your vaccine certificate, especially with respect to yellow fever.
We had malaria tablets with us, but only ever used these in Africa.
10. Got plenty of sleep
This may not be true for every night (especially when we were in Africa), but since it was a great long holiday, we weren’t in a rush to wake up and so didn’t need to set an alarm for the morning.
Having lots of sleep while we had to concentrate on driving was definitely beneficial.
11. Had lots of sun
As harmful as it can be if you’re exposed to direct sunlight (especially in tropical climates), a sunny day always made us happier, and therefore healthier.
We were basically chasing the sun, so we had plenty of sunshine all year long.
When necessary, we always used sunscreen.
12. Were always careful
In general, to stay safe and healthy, we always tried to be careful when it came to driving, choosing our campsite and just doing anything.
Part of this is that we were prepared as much as possible. We attended a first aid course before we set off, and Evelin also put together the best first aid kit possible, including a trauma kit and most common medicines.
13. Tried not to worry
We often found ourselves in some difficult, you could say, stressful situations. We always tried to remain calm and not to lose our clear thinking. At the end of the day, every stressful moment, every excitement was all part of the adventure.
We had car troubles, complicated border crossings, food poisoning, kids were throwing rocks at our rig, we got stuck in horse manure just before it was getting dark. Eventually, it always worked out somehow!
I also have to admit that there were a few things that probably didn’t help our health, but at the same time, I don’t think they did us much harm.
None of them in excessive amounts though. One of these few things were alcohol.
But! Part of our daily routine was to make coffee in the morning, and while you might think it’s not healthy, numerous studies show that it actually is. I did not include it as a separate item in our article, but the main point is, there are several advantages of drinking coffee regularly.
In addition to it being healthy, it’s just a fantastic feeling to sit on your own in front of the dunes of the Gobi Desert with a cup of coffee.
Alcohol, on the other hand, can be more dangerous.
One or two beers in the evening when you set up a camp can be a great way to end the day, especially if you can share them with other overlanders you meet on the road.
We just tried to make sure we had breaks between any camp parties.
Do you have any similar health tips? We’d love to read them in the comments below!