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For the last 15 years, when the school year ends, my family goes on vacation to the charming city and beautiful beaches in St. Augustine, Florida. It takes at least three days to drive there from Colorado—longer if we extend our rest stops or visit interesting places along the way. Being on the road with my family—my husband and two now-teen boys —is half the fun. But such trips can also be challenging.
Long hours in the car can be stressful on the body and mind—for both drivers and passengers. Often, by the time we arrive at our destination, we are tired, our muscles are tight, and our joints are stiff. Traveling can also disrupt sleep, throw off digestion, and make us more susceptible to catching a bug.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to plan and organize our trip—incorporating yogic principles, asana practice, and Ayurvedic wisdom—so my family stays healthy and stress free. Try the tips below to help everyone “on board” stay safe, healthy, and sane.
You can expect to feel tired, uncomfortable, hot, hungry, and anxious on a road trip. Being confined to a small space for hours can create tension among travelers, and I’ve learned that when one person starts being grumpy, the rest of the crew gets cranky too.
When this happens, I look for rest stops with some nature around and encourage my family to walk barefoot on the grass for a while to get grounded. We hug trees, take deep breaths of fresh air, or stretch in a shady area. A few standing yoga poses and forward bends help realign the body and lengthen the spine.
If there are miles between us and the next rest stop, we ease tension with Laughter Yoga or take turns telling jokes and funny stories. But if we need a little quiet, we soothe ourselves with soft music, audiobooks, or podcasts.
Keep your body moving
I don’t leave without my travel yoga mat and a blanket I can fold and use in lieu of a bolster for restorative poses or a cushion for my meditation practice. Usually, there’s little time for a full yoga practice while traveling, but a couple of sets of Sun Salutations in the morning is often enough to wake up and energize our car-cramped bodies. In the evening, I invite my family for outdoor walking meditations. We often end the day with legs up the wall in our hotel room.
Drive while alert
Since we’re usually more alert in the early part of the day, we try to hit the road shortly after breakfast and our morning routine (yoga, meditation, cup of tea). When I am behind the wheel, I keep myself fully awake by taking conscious breaths and sipping lemon-ginger water. Ginger is slightly stimulating and energizing, and helps keep me alert and focused. It helps reduce fatigue and keeps the blood circulating. Uplifting lemon, combined with ginger, gives me the clarity and attention I need to be safe on the road and happy inside the car.
A key to staying alert is sitting straight without slouching. I like to have my back supported with a cushion that helps me keep my spine aligned when I drive. Some people use a foam yoga block behind the back for support. But I never ignore signs that my attention is fading. When it does, I look for the nearest rest stop.
Manage the heat
I also sip a pitta-pacifying coriander sun tea (a recommendation from Dr. John Douillard, an Ayurvedic practitioner from Boulder, Colorado): Drop a few coriander seeds into a glass water bottle and let the water infuse while on the road. Coriander, harvested only in the summer, has cooling properties. It’s a thirst-quenching alternative if you crave soda or other unhealthy drinks.
Make time for meditation
Plan to maintain your regular meditation practice if you can. I get up early to sit for a few minutes by the pool or in the back of the car before we hit the road. When a full, seated meditation practice is not possible, I focus on deep diaphragmatic breathing or practice the One-Minute Meditation I learned from Douillard.
Get some sleep
It’s not always easy to relax at night in a strange place. Ideally, I try to plan the trip so we can arrive early enough to have a healthy, leisurely dinner a few hours before bedtime. Then we can take a walk or a dip in the pool, unwind with a good read, take a warm shower, and have a cup of herbal tea or golden milk before bed. If we arrive too late for that evening ritual, I invite everyone to take one or two restorative poses to settle and calm the nervous system, and make a smooth transition from day to night.
According to Dr. Douillard’s book, The 3-Season Diet, we thrive when we eat what’s in season. Fortunately, summer is abundant with fruits and vegetables that are easy to keep fresh in a cooler. He recommends snacking on celery, carrots, apples with nut butter, hummus, and seeds, instead of chips and processed foods. If you’re cooking while you’re on the road, grocery shop and prep meals in advance; prepare food in the morning or the night before. He says “anything green that comes from the ground” combined with eggs, canned salmon, nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and lemon juice is an excellent meal choice.
It’s summer. Dehydration can be a danger—but it’s easy to prevent. I remind my family to start each day with a big glass of room-temperature filtered water—with or without a splash of lemon juice. Some Ayurvedic practitioners believe cold water dampens the agni—the fire that fuels all the body systems; warm or hot water helps ease digestion. During the day, we hydrate by sipping pure water and fresh beverages. Instead of sugary drinks, we enjoy coconut water, homemade iced tea, fruit-flavored water, sparkling water, and fresh lemonade. Many summer fruits and vegetables contain lots of water and electrolytes, so I encourage my family to snack on watermelon, honeydew, cucumbers, tomatoes, and celery.
We bring two coolers—a big, hard cooler to store food and drinks for the whole trip and a smaller one we keep handy, stocked with what we need for one day. To prevent a lot of waste, we have glass bottles or insulated stainless-steel bottles for water and other beverages, and reusable silicone storage bags for food.
With good planning and proper gear, traveling is the best way to experience the world, bond with other people, and discover how we respond to new environments and unpredicted circumstances. Bring yoga skills to your travels is a great opportunity to practice off the mat.