How to Feel (and Smell) Fresh During a Long-Haul Road Trip
Sweat is guaranteed, but showers? Not so much. Here's what you'll need to keep your hygiene on point and your spirits high while driving for days on end.
Like it or not, road trips are back with a vengeance this summer. With lots of “normal” travel plans thwarted and a collective desire to disrupt a routine of staying put and… doing nothing, Americans are flocking to the highways, backroads, and scenic routes across the country as a means to escape for some semblance of vacation this year.
Of course, as much as we embrace spontaneity when it comes to traveling, the cornerstone of a successful road trip does involve at least a little planning (especially right now, as travel restrictions can make things exceptionally complicated). One easy thing you can do is set up you and your car crew with everything you’ll need to stay feeling fresh (and smelling acceptably fresh) after many, many, many hours cooped up together with little or no regular hygiene routine. To help you out, we tapped a number of longtime road trippers (and a few people who’ve even lived on the road full-time) for their recommendations, so you can set off with everything you’ll need to stay fresh and clean during the long-haul. Just don't forget your mask and plenty of hand sanitizer!
The Hygiene Must-Haves
Being able to take a true shower on a long-haul road trip isn’t always guaranteed, but sweating in the summertime in close quarters en route to your next must-see roadside attraction is. Here’s what you’ll need to power through unfazed.
Good deodorant that isn't overpowering
This may seem like a no-brainer, but a reliable travel-size stick of deodorant is a great way to trick yourself into feeling like you’re clean and keep the rest of the car from holding their nose after a few showerless days. We’re partial to Kobari’s excellent Coconut Deodorant (it’s made from coconut water/oil and sage oill, doesn’t leave you feeling sticky, and has a subtle scent so as not to seem like you’re just masking the funk). If you’re looking for other options, we’re also big fans of the lineup from the all-natural brand Native (the cucumber and mint stick is heavenly).
Wet Wipes, shower sheets, and no-rinse body wash
“Wet wipes are invaluable when running water isn't a given. On extended camping trips or road trips off the beaten track, I always carry wet wipes,” said Paisley Wildman, veteran road-tripper and social media manager for the outdoor brand Cotopaxi. “Without access to showers for days on end, it's quite nice to be able to "wash" off the day's grime and feel a bit more put together.”
And while nothing beats a true rinse-off, a proper shower sheet or wipe can freshen you up well enough to face the next day of driving head-on. Yuni makes some excellent super-soft, oversized body wipes naturally infused with things like Neem leaf extract, aloe, green tea, and peppermint leaf and citrus essential oil that combine to sooth, deodorize and cleanse your skin gently.
Yuni also makes a great no-rinse body wash that goes on as a mousse and dries instantly (it’s packed with many of the same ingredients in the shower sheets, with some added antibacterial action). It won’t leave any greasy or sticky residue, either. Frankly, this is probably good to keep at the ready when you’re home, too, for those days when getting out the door with an actual shower just isn’t possible .
The breath savers
If you’ve never brushed your teeth at a truck stop, you haven’t lived (just kidding, it’s not great). Still, if you’re not able to properly brush even with some bottled water, Colgate Wisps are legitimately hugely helpful. They activate with your saliva and let you freshen up well enough so as not to scare off anyone in your immediate breath vicinity. Of course, in a pinch (or after a particularly flavorful pit-stop meal), pocket-sized Listerine Mists will serve you well as a quick dose of freshness.
While the only dress code for road tripping is “comfort,” sweating in the same pair of shorts and a t-shirt after a few days can get a bit, shall we say, funky. Not if you’re wearing the right comfortable clothes, though. Icebreaker Apparel has an extensive line of tees, tanks, shirts, shorts, and more designed with sophisticated merino blends that not only help with thermal regulation (to keep you cool in warm temps, and warmer in cool temps), but are quick-drying and moisture-wicking to control and prevent odor. In other words, Icebreaker’s stuff can be worn (and stay comfortable) for days on end without posing an olfactory risk to the rest of your road trip crew.
The Energy Boosters
Though you may do well on adrenaline and gas station coffee, there are other ways to stay alert and in good spirits, whether you’re being the wheel or managing the playlist.
An eye mask
For Geneva Long, an avid adventurer and CEO of luxury trailer company Bowlus, eye masks make all the difference.
“Oftentimes on lengthy road trips I like to catch a few Zs to recharge when it’s not my turn driving and an eye mask helps me get to sleep quickly (even though it may be broad daylight),” she said. “Sleep masks can also come in handy pending on where you end up staying at night since road trip lodging can at times be unpredictable. Bonus: they take up almost no extra room or weight. It's an all-around win.”
We’re big fans of this simple contoured version from Nidra, which sits just above your eyelids so as not to feel constricting, and effectively blocks out light (even in daylight).
The right snacks
Listen, we wholeheartedly endorse building your road trip route around local eateries (or even regional fast food spots) that you have heard are great. That said, there are only so many gas station snacks that will tide you over from meal to meal without making you feel like crap. For Zander Buteaux, a growth lead at VacationRenter who’s been road tripping in both RVs and SUVs for the better part of a decade, it’s all about hitting the right grocery store and stocking up ahead of time.
“Perfect Bars, Pro Bars, fruits, nuts, trail mix, hummus, pita chips, PB&J, a loaf of bread, kombuchas and other beverages, and dark chocolates are on my “never forget” list,” he said. “A list that has been fine-tuned from years of RVing and over-buying or under-buying.”
Yes, gum can be a quick fix to freshen up after a pit-stop at White Castle, but it’s also good for keeping you focused, according to Fabio Rosato, avid road-tripper and founder of automotive site Roadologist. “[It] increases circulation and alertness. It helps you focus on the task at hand for longer periods of time and thus increases your safety while driving,” he said. “Just be sure to chew with your mouth shut. Your fellow road trippers will be a lot happier.
The Pit-Stop Diversions
As much as hygiene, diet, and energy will help you feeling fresh and strong, well-timed breaks and diversions en route can make a huge difference in keeping your fellow road warriors excited and recharged.
A collapsible kayak
For Cindy Baker, a travel advisor with Inteletravel and longtime camper and RVer, a portable kayak is the perfect accessory to keep on hand for those unexpected pit stops or overnights where you have access to a body of water.
“One of my must have RV accessories is my Intex Explorer K2 2-Person Inflatable Kayak Set,” she said. “So easy to take anywhere and easy to stow away in smaller places.You never know when you will be camped right next to the most amazing body of water that you just have to paddle on! And since it is inflatable there is really no reason to not have one available on your adventure.”
An instant camera
In the age of Instagram, it’s easy to forget the allure of a tactile photo and its unique ability to capture memories. For Geneva Long, that means always packing an instant film camera.
“I like to mix my photo style up from the typical cell phone pic and this is the perfect way to do that without having to be a skilled photographer," she said. "Plus, having an actual camera around reminds me to take photos, which I’m always grateful to have once the trip is done.”
We’re big fans of the Polaroid OneStep2. It may look vintage, but it works great (and is super fun).
A well-timed hike
Peppering in some hikes during your journey is not only a great way to get a better taste for the areas you’re driving through, but it’s a good for circulation and health after hours cramped in a vehicle. So says, Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller MD, avid road-tripper and medical advisor for the excellent hiking site and app AllTrails.
“For every 4-5 hours spent sitting in the car on a long road trip, I recommend stopping for at least 30 minutes to get out, walk around and stretch your legs,” she said. Why not make it a hike where you can explore a new destination? I love using the AllTrails app to plan my stops and the new trails I can explore along the way.”