6 Tricks for Staying Comfortable on Long Drives

Do you have a long-distance trip on the itinerary for this year?

There's nothing like traveling with the windows down and the open road stretched out before you! Unless, of course, you consider the impact that sitting for a long period of time can have on your joints. 

If you're one of the nearly 65 million Americans who have suffered a recent episode of back pain, a meandering car ride can quickly turn from blissful to painful. Today, we're sharing six tricks that can help maximize your travel comfort so you can enjoy the journey, one mile at a time. 

1. Start Off on the Right Foot

Sure, sitting cross-legged in the back seat might feel great at first. Yet, chances are, you'll begin to feel the strain less than an hour later. 

Before you take off on your epic road trip adventure, take the time to get comfortably situated, first.

Even an issue as small as your pillow placement can wreak havoc on your joints down the road. While you might think it's best to pack everything you might need onto your body, try to empty your pockets while the car is still in park. Yes, that means taking the cell phone out of your back pocket!

As you check your mirrors and make sure your tank is full, don't forget to give your posture a second glance, too. It's all too easy to get comfortable in the seat and slouch as you drive. When you do so, you put unnecessary pressure on your neck, spine and lower back, and it won't be long before you begin to feel the effects.

Sit a comfortable distance away from the steering wheel, and try to position your knees a little higher than your hips. Use your vehicle's automatic seat controls to get your angles just right. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends putting at least 10 inches of space between your breastbone and the steering wheel for optimal airbag safety.

Sitting closer than that could put you at risk of injury if your airbags deploy. Yet, sitting farther away could cause you to lean too far forward, placing extra stress on your lumbar spine, as well as your neck and shoulders. 

2. Take Stretch Breaks Often

Even if you're only going an hour or so away, remember to pencil plenty of stretch breaks into your schedule. Sitting in any position for too long of a time can leave you cramped and miserable when you arrive at your destination.

Aim to pull over into a safe spot for at least 15 minutes per two hours of driving. If you suffer from chronic back pain, you might need to make more frequent stops.

When you get out of the car, try to move around and engage in some easy, light moves that will get your blood pumping and deliver nutrients to your lower back! This list of five road-trip-friendly exercises is a great place to start!

Start with a full-body stretch, lifting your arms to your side and then up toward the sky as you inhale. With your feet rooted firmly in the ground, slowly bring your hands together and to your heart center as you exhale. Repeat this practice three to five times.

Other helpful stretching exercises to perform in between bathroom breaks include:

  • Quad stretches
  • Side squats
  • Gentle forward folds

These short breaks are ideal for keeping your muscles loose and relaxed. If, for some reason, you are unable to pull off and stop every few hours, try to move around periodically as much as you safely can in your seat to keep your joints from becoming too stiff.

It helps to plan your route beforehand, so you can map out where the rest areas, restaurants, and public parks are along the way! You can also use this planning time to identify any roads that might be extra-bumpy, such as curvy mountain drives or forested trails.

If you know ahead of time that the terrain will be a little treacherous, make sure the vehicle's shock absorbers are up to par. You can also bring along a Coccyx Seat Cushion to provide extra padding between your body and the road!

3. Use Support Pillows

Is there a gap between your spine and your seat? Sitting like this for a long period of time can make your spine work harder than it has to in order to keep your posture straight. For instant relief, add a cushion behind you to fill in the space and add extra support. 

Our Back Cushion Lumbar Support Pillow is a great example. 

Made with premium-quality memory foam, this pillow contours perfectly to your body, delivering hours of comfort where you need it the most. The material responds to body heat and helps alleviate strain and pressure from your spine. 

Use the dual, adjustable straps to secure the pillow snugly in place. Then, sit back and relax, keeping your back fully supported while you turn, twist, and shuffle around in the car. Then, once you get where you're going, you can easily slip the machine-washable cover off and clean it for your journey home!

For full-back support, you can also consider our Memory Foam Seat Cushion and Back Cushion Set. This duo offers a two-in-one solution for nagging back pain while on the road.

smiling bus driver in suit

If you don't have cushions like these, you can use a rolled-up towel to do the same trick, though it might not be as comfortable for long trips. Another option is our Gel-Infused Memory Foam Travel Pillow. If you're a passenger on a long car ride, this travel pillow is ideal.

Not only is it a great way to support your head and neck on the road, but it also makes an ideal flying companion on long flights! Also made with our gel-infused, ventilated memory foam, the travel pillow delivers an innovative cooling effect that can help you stay fresh, even when riding in a stuffy back seat. 

Thanks to the raised lobe contouring, you can easily turn your head from side to side or recline in your seat while using this pillow!

4. Apply Ice or Heat

While packing for your trip, it can help to bring along an ice pack or a heat pack, depending on your preferred form of treatment.

Some people prefer cold therapy, which is designed to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling in your joints. If this is you, then slip a reusable ice pack into your cooler before taking off. Then, bring it out as required and apply it to any place you feel an extra strain. 

While you can buy ice packs from the store, it's also easy (and more economical) to make your own. And no, you don't have to use a bag of frozen vegetables as a makeshift solution!

How to Make a DIY Ice Pack

Start by filling a plastic freezer bag with one cup of rubbing alcohol, combined with two cups of water. Try to remove as much air from the bag as you can, and then seal it closed.

Then, slip a second freezer bag on top of the sealed first bag. This way, if any leakage occurs, it will not escape. Finally, leave the bags in the freezer for at least an hour, and you're ready to go!

Remember to wrap the ice pack in a soft towel before using to avoid burning your skin.

How to Make a DIY Hot Pack

Prefer hot to cold? You can also make a moist hot pack to take with you on the road. Heat therapy helps to stimulate your circulation and can be an incredible pain reliever. Specifically, moist heat is more hydrating to your skin than dry heat, and also absorbs better and provides a quicker soothing sensation. 

To make one, fill a cloth container (such as a small pillowcase or clean sock) with four to six cups of filling. Raw oatmeal, buckwheat, and uncooked rice work well!

Once you've filled the container, you can tie or sew it shut to keep it sealed. Then, warm it in the microwave for up to three minutes.  As expected, this is one support mechanism you'll need to prepare before you hop in the car!

5. Focus on Your Feet

Take a look at your feet as you ride in the car. Are they cramped and squished? If so, that position isn't doing your back any favors.

For optimum comfort, make sure your feet are firmly planted on a sturdy surface. If possible, it's also best to keep your knees at the right height, and bent at a 90-degree angle. Doing so can help keep stress away from your lower back. 

If your seat is positioned too high, you can always prop your feet on a comfortable footrest to reach your preferred position, such as our Memory Foam Foot Rest Pillow. This handy accessory is designed to be used in many different environments, from your home office to your airplane seat, as well as your car!

a man with a woman riding in a car

Using a footrest can take the pressure off of your feet, legs, and joints. This way, you're not in pain the second you arrive. 

The best part? It also doubles as a convenient support tool for under your spine or behind your knees while you're lying down! Made with 100% memory foam, it's designed to last for years and hold up against normal wear and tear.

Looking for another way to soothe your tired feet? If you're the one behind the steering wheel, consider switching to cruise control where road conditions deem appropriate. Doing so will allow you to place both feet firmly on the ground and help relieve any pent-up tension you've been carrying on the drive. 

6. Shift Around and Keep Engaged

This last tip is actually two tips in one!

First, make sure to shift your position periodically to keep from getting too stiff. While you can't exactly get up and move around until your designated stretch break, give yourself enough room and mobility to stretch your legs, rotate your hips, and arch your back slightly when necessary.

Before you get in the vehicle, try to choose a seat that will allow you this flexibility. For instance, if the second row is looking a little cramped, it might be best to opt for the third back row. Even though there might not be as much legroom, you should still have enough space to twist gently from side to side or engage your hip flexors for a light stretch.

In between movements, try to keep your mind engaged and diverted away from any stress or tension you might be feeling. A long car ride is a great time to dig into an audiobook, listen to a podcast, or unwind with your favorite music channel. If you're the driver, all of these are activities that you can safely participate in while keeping your eyes and mind focused on the road.

If you're a passenger, you have even more options! If you begin to feel uncomfortable, try meditating or listening to some peaceful music on your headphones. Check out this list of 30 songs that were hand-selected to help drivers maintain a sense of calm, even as they navigate a busy highway at rush hour!

Maximize Your Travel Comfort With Us

Whether chronic or temporary, back pain doesn't have to keep you from going on a fantastic road trip this year. All it takes to have the time of your life is a little pre-planning and strategic packing.

The above tips can help you ensure your travel comfort from the moment you pull out of the drive. By focusing on your spine, knees, and neck, you can help make any ride as comfortable as possible. 

We offer a wide selection of travel-related in our online shop, all designed to help you feel your best as you travel to work, home, and play. Feel free to browse our items and reach out to our team with any questions.

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