When we think of travel, the first things that cross our minds are discovery, adventure, and adrenaline. Even though an endless source of excitement, seasoned travelers are fully aware that road trips can be incredibly draining. But why do road trips make you tired if we look so forward to them?
In this article, I’m going to dig into the reasons why road trips can leave us feeling exhausted and also into insights and strategies on how to make the most of your road trips without being overcome by fatigue.
As you embark on your next road trip, remember that there will be plenty of times when you will just be exhausted.
I hope that this simple guide of mine will help you embrace the adventure you are embarking on and fully enjoy your experience. Road trips are a fantastic opportunity to connect with the world and find your better self, and with the right mindset, they can be both enjoyable and energizing.
Why do road trips make you tired? X reasons
Long drives and hours on the road
Driving is a fundamental component of any road trip. Regardless of how comfortable your car seats may be, long stretches of driving can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being. It’s imperative to take regular breaks to stretch your legs, stay hydrated, and ward off the monotony that often leads to fatigue.
Even with the coziest car seats, the physical demands of long hours behind the wheel cannot be underestimated. The continuous focus required for safe driving, combined with the inevitable discomfort of sitting for extended periods, can result in aches and weariness.
The solution here is to plan and take regular breaks. Whether it’s to stretch your legs, grab a snack, or simply admire the scenic vistas, these pit stops not only alleviate physical discomfort but also rejuvenate your mind. Hydration is crucial too; being well-hydrated keeps you alert and helps stave off the lethargy that often accompanies dehydration.
Loneliness vs with friends
One of the distinctive aspects of road trips is the extended periods of time spent in solitude, with perhaps only a select few travel companions. While solitude can be a refreshing change from our daily routines, it can also bring about a sense of loneliness, which can impact our energy levels during the journey.
During a road trip, solitude can be both a boon and a burden. The absence of daily social interactions that we are accustomed to can lead to feelings of loneliness. When you’re away from the familiar faces and routines, it’s common to experience moments when you will feel lonely and isolated.
The remedy to this is to stay connected. Keep in touch through calls, video chats, and social media. Sharing your experiences and staying connected with your loved ones can combat the loneliness that sometimes accompanies road trips.
While spontaneity is one of the defining characteristics of road trips, it also introduces uncertainty into your journey. From unexpected weather changes and road closures to unplanned detours, your travel plans can easily be disrupted. Adapting to these unforeseen circumstances can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.
While the unpredictability of a road trip can also result in excitement, it can also be a source of stress. Sudden weather changes, road closures, detours, and other unexpected challenges can mess up your meticulously planned journey. These unexpected hiccups require quick thinking, and adaptability, and often result in added stress.
The key to managing this is to embrace unpredictability with a positive attitude. Treat these challenges as opportunities for adventure rather than hindrances. A flexible mindset and an openness to new experiences can turn these unexpected situations into memorable and energizing parts of your trip.
Long drives demand sustained and prolonged attention and focus from the driver. Unlike short city commutes, road trips might require hours of continuous driving. This long period of concentration can be mentally exhausting, leading to a decrease in alertness and reaction time to sudden changes on the road.
The time of day at which a long drive occurs can also play a crucial role in the driver’s fatigue and reaction time. For example, driving at night when you should be sleeping disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythms. The body’s internal clock is predisposed to promote sleep during nighttime hours, making it more challenging to stay alert and focused.
When taking a road trip in a foreign country, long drives are often part of complex itineraries that include multiple stops, activities, and sightseeing. While these adventures are an essential and exciting part of road trips, they can also limit the time available for rest and sleep. Drivers may push themselves to explore and experience as much as possible, resulting in insufficient sleep. The cumulative effect of this sleep deprivation can make fatigue more pronounced, impairing a driver’s cognitive and motor skills.
Why do road trips make you tired? Because sleep deprivation is often an outcome.
This is terrible and it arrives whether you are driving or when you are traveling by plane, train, or bus. Even when I’m not traveling and I sleep less than my usual 7/8 hours per night, I almost certainly start having flu symptoms.
When you are on a long road trip, sleep deprivation is a common circumstance that you should definitely avoid in order to be safe and also enjoy your travels.
Constant need for decision-making
Every road trip involves a plethora of decisions, from choosing the most suitable routes and pit stops to deciding where to dine and rest for the night. Decision fatigue is real and it can accumulate over the course of your journey, leaving you mentally exhausted.
One might not immediately think of decision-making as a source of road trip fatigue, but it’s a substantial factor. Every leg of your journey involves a series of decisions, from selecting the optimal routes to determining where to eat and rest.
The remedy for this is to delegate some of the responsibilities. Share the decision-making process with your travel companions, so you’re not the only one responsible for every choice. Additionally, planning your road trip with a rough itinerary in advance can help reduce the number of decisions you need to make on the road. This way, you can focus on enjoying the journey without being overwhelmed by the constant need to make choices and decisions along the way.
Different time zones
Long drives often span multiple time zones, further complicating the driver’s adjustment to the local time and further disrupting the driver’s body adapting to the circadian cycle. We live in Italy, which is a small country with a single time zone. So when we traveled to Brazil, at first it felt very weird that there were so many time zones in the same country.
While at the beginning this felt funny, when we started traveling around, it impacted our energy levels. And we weren’t even driving. In Brazil, in fact, we traveled by bus and more often by plane. Even though the time difference was only a couple of hours, we felt some sort of jet lag. So if you take a long drive, apart from the fatigue of the actual driving, you will also need to face the change in time zones and adapt.
Do road trips make you tired? Try these practical strategies
Understanding what contributes to road trip fatigue is already a good start. To make the most of your road trips while keeping exhaustion at bay, consider these practical and easy-to-apply strategies.
Plan adequate rest stops
Scheduling breaks in your journey to rest, explore, and recharge is vital. Not only does it break up the monotony of driving, but it also gives you opportunities to experience the places you’re passing through.
On top of that, especially if you are taking long drives and going through different time zones, planning proper resting time and sticking to it, apart from being pleasant, also becomes crucial to your well-being and safety.
Connect with friends and family through calls and social media platforms to overcome loneliness. Sharing your experiences and staying connected can significantly improve your mental and emotional well-being.
Share the decision-making process with your travel companions. Assign tasks like navigation, meal planning, and accommodation booking to distribute the load and reduce decision fatigue. If you can, you can also share the driving, so when one is tired, the other is driving and the road becomes shorter for both travelers.
Get lumbar support mesh
Equipping the driver’s seat with ergonomic lumbar support mesh is a good idea to be more comfortable and to feel less tired or numb. This way, you will also drive more safely.
Manage your expectations
Unless you are on a business trip, don’t rush the journey. Take time to appreciate the ride, the scenery, and the people you meet along the way. Embrace the leisurely pace of a road trip and savor every moment. So often, when we are on a road trip, we encounter beautiful views that are totally unexpected, just like the tree-lined boulevard on the way to Civita di Bagnoregio from Rome which you can see in the video below.
Adapt and be flexible
Embrace unpredictability with a positive attitude. Approach unexpected challenges as opportunities for adventure, and you’ll find that they add an exciting dimension to your trip. Flexibility plays a crucial role in every trip. More so when the trip requires challenging tasks such as driving long hours.
Pack healthy snacks
Fuel your body with nutritious snacks to maintain energy levels throughout the journey. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar, which can lead to energy crashes. A coffee from time to time helps, but it shouldn’t become a sleep substitute. When you are tired, it’s still better to stop.
Some examples of healthy snacks include fresh fruits like apples, bananas, apricots, and all the types that are easy to eat on the go, fresh veggies like carrots, cucumbers, and celery cut into sticks, nuts like almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts, or even nutritional bars containing a balanced ratio of proteins, vitamins, and carbs.
Of course, if you own a portable blender, I suggest carrying it with you so you can make smoothies on the go with whatever you have.
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