Fact: Spending a lot of time in a vehicle isn’t good for physical fitness. One of van living’s big challenges is that driving equals sitting — and sitting is the new smoking.
Even if you travel slowly and don’t drive long distances daily, van life is essentially one long, seated road trip. We’ve been struggling with staying fit since we set out. It was especially challenging in the south and southeast, where lean meat on menus is scarce and challenging hiking trails were tough to find. Once we got back to the west, our hiking and biking levels increased.
Chris and I have some long-distance hikes planned, so we’ve gotten serious about boosting our activity levels. We are going to hike the approx. 450-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail starting in mid-July with my dad, followed by the 190-mile Coast to Coast Walk in September with Chris’ parents. We learned a lot figuring out what works for us. From us to you, here are some van life fitness tips.
From last year’s day hike along the PCT in Oregon
1. Look for high-impact, drama-free workout options.
What you want is a short period of high exertion. A leisurely stroll on the quarter-mile nature trail near your campsite is pretty, but it won’t get your heart rate up. Running is a good option, but neither of us like running much. Did you know that 10 minutes of jumping rope burns more than 100 calories? You can buy an actual jump rope or just pick up some rope from a hardware store — either is easy to store in your van. Or, you can follow or customize these simple traveler’s exercises. You can do these or jump rope pretty much anywhere, which is perfect for van-dwellers.
2. Follow a video.
Chris and I have found that we’re not very good at self-directed exercise. We need a routine (and each other) to stick with it. We’re about 75 days into doing P90, the 90-day challenge that alternates between strength training and cardio each day. It works well for us because the only equipment we need are resistance bands which are super easy to keep in the van. We’ve done it in campgrounds and public parks without any problems, except for a few smiles from fellow campers.
If you’re into yoga and prefer to follow an instructor, there’s Do Yoga With Me. You can stream videos for free, or download them for a small fee which I did in case we’re someplace without cell service. Yoga mats fit easily in your van, rolled up or lying flat under your bedding.
We attach our resistance bands to Red Delicious‘ roof rack
3. Stretch or do exercises in the car.
When you’re in the passenger seat, you have a world of options! There are plenty of exercises that work your muscles. The previous link even includes a way to do a wall sit while in the car. Who knew? You can also try modified versions of yoga poses. My favorite one to do is the modified pigeon pose because I have tight hip flexors.
4. Camp near trail heads.
If you have to drive to a trail, it’s less likely you’ll take that hike in the morning. Camp close by so you can roll out of bed, have breakfast and hit the trail. If it’s a long hike that requires some prep, like filling water bladders or packing snacks, do it the night before.
When all else fails, take a long walk on the beach after dinner
5. Try drop-in classes and day passes.
When the weather is bad, all of van life is tough — especially getting physical activity. Chris and I spent a couple days driving through California and Nevada only to hit thunderstorm after thunderstorm. While they were beautiful to watch, they left us antsy. So we hit up a small, local gym and purchased a day pass for $6/each. We hit the treadmill, the exercise bike, the weight machines — it was glooooorious after so much sitting. And the friendly woman at the desk gave us tips on local sights!
Many fitness studios also offer a drop-in rate for things like yoga, Pilates, Zumba, cycling, or whatever floats your boat. If you’ll be in the area for a week or two, consider purchasing a bundle of classes to save money or look into services like ClassPass. You can also check local calendars for free or cheap community fitness events, like one-mile fun runs or Zumba in the park.
6. Make space in the van for equipment.
Van living means being ruthless about possessions. But if there’s a sport you genuinely play often, it’s worth making the space. Some friends of ours have an inflatable stand-up paddle board they travel with. A basketball takes up very little space and free courts are everywhere. Hardcore surfers travel with their board on the roof. We bring:
- Two tennis racquets with us since most cities have at least one free, public court
- Chris is a golfer, so he has a small golf bag that he carries when he walks a course
- A couple discs for disc golf under the front seat, which we’ve come across several times in our travels
- A bike pump for our bikes, since our experiment to see if we could borrow pumps from bike shops was too inconvenient and made us ride our bikes less
A disc golf course we stumbled upon in Oregon
7. Watch what you eat.
While all of the tips above are important for the calories-out side of the equation, you’re going to feel like crap if you don’t watch the calories-in side. And that can be really hard when van-dwelling, where the allure of cheap, unhealthy food on the road is ever-present. (We ate more brisket than we’ll ever need in a lifetime while vanning through Texas.) But food is also an excellent way to experience a new place, so what is the right balance?
Chris and I have found a routine that works fairly well: eat simple, nutritious meals for breakfast and dinner at camp, and splurge by eating out at lunch. One day we’ll put together a full cookbook… We also try to find healthy snacks at the grocery store to keep in the van, like raw almonds, fresh/dried fruit, carrot sticks, etc. (We’ve given up on hummus, sadly, because no matter what we do it ends up waterlogged in our cooler.) You can even make your own snacks, like these no-bake protein truffles, and keep them in your cooler.
If you have other ideas for staying healthy and active while van-dwelling, please share in the comments below!