How to Feel (and Smell) Fresh During a Long-Haul Road Trip
Sweat is guaranteed, but showers? Not so much.
Travelers are back on the road. Blame it on a few years holed up inside, a gravitation towards less plane-centric travel, or a growing appetite for nomadic adventure, Americans are flocking to the highways, backroads, and scenic routes across the country as a means to escape.
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. 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 road trip essentials, so you can set off with everything you’ll need to stay fresh and clean during the long-haul.
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,” says Paisley Wildman, veteran road-tripper and former 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 proper rinse-off, a 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 oils 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.
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 Kopari’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).
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 in broad daylight,” she says. “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).
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.
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.
The right snacks
Listen, we wholeheartedly endorse building your road trip route around local eateries (or even regional fast food spots) that you 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, head of lead growth 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 dark chocolates are on my 'never forget' list,” he says. “A list that has been fine-tuned from years of RVing and over-buying or under-buying.”
A temperature regulating mug
There’s nothing worse than grabbing for your gas station coffee on hour four of a six-hour drive only to find it’s gone stomach-churning cold. Stay alert and keep your hot beverages intact by picking up one of the many temperature regulating mugs that have recently hit the market. Sporting a sleek cup holder-friendly 12-ounce design, leak-proof pop-top lid, and USB charging capability, the self-heating Muggo is ideal for road warriors whether you’re powering through your last leg with help from a 120-degree oat milk latte or winding down after a long shift behind the wheel with a steamy hot toddy. The best part? A single charge lasts for three whole hours, guaranteeing you’ll get your money’s worth of that roadside swill.
Yes, gum can be a quick fix to freshen up after some oniony street cart falafel, but it’s also good for keeping you focused, according to Fabio Rosato, pro road-tripper and founder of automotive site Roadologist. “[It] increases circulation and alertness, helps you focus on the task at hand for longer periods of time, and thus increases your safety while driving,” he says. “Just be sure to chew with your mouth shut. Your fellow road trippers will be a lot happier."
A collapsible kayak
For Cindy Baker-Bempah, an Inteletravel travel advisor and longtime camper and RVer, a portable kayak is the perfect accessory to keep on hand for those unexpected opportunities to get out on the water. “One of my must-have RV accessories is my Intex Explorer K2 2-Person Inflatable Kayak Set,” she says. “It's so easy to take anywhere and easy to stow away in smaller places. You never know when you'll be camped right next to the most amazing body of water that you just have to paddle on! And since it is inflatable, there's 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 Bowlus's 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 explains. "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 to operate).
A well-timed hike
Peppering in some hikes throughout your journey is not only a great way to get a better taste for the areas you’re driving through, but it’s also a good for circulation and health after hours cramped in a vehicle. So says, Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, seasoned road-tripper and chief medical advisor for beloved outdoors site AllTrails. “For every four to five 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 says. "Why not explore a new destination? I love using the AllTrails app to plan my stops and new trails along the way.”