When travelling and living in a van, it’s important to maintain a high level of health and a strong immune system. Here is our guide on how to stay healthy whilst travelling van life.
Its often a question “how do you stay healthy whilst living van life?” You are living in a confined space with little space to store food, storing rubbish and food waste, you most likely have a toilet right next to you, and its just more challenging to keep clean and hygienic.
As a qualified nutritionist, personal trainer and full-time van lifer, I have written this article on the best ways you can maintain a healthy lifestyle whilst living in your van.
This is a really important factor in maintaining a healthy quality of air within your van. When using night heaters your van can build up condensation or even mould within areas of your van and this can even be quite fatal to your health. Breathing in the microparticles of mould can easily get inside your lungs and cause respiratory diseases possibly leading to fatality!
The best way to keep healthy air circulating in a van is to keep a window open in the front of the van and one in the back, this will keep a steady flow of fresh air. During cold conditions and you are using your night heater it is a good idea to leave the front windows open an inch or so. This is especially important when using propane heaters as when propane burns it leaves moisture in the air.
Eating healthy whilst travelling and working from you van can be a challenge at first. If you are new to van life and just starting out you will notice very quickly how different your usual routines and comforts become.
It suddenly becomes a lot more important to plan your meals, ensuring you have enough water and even making the effort to get up at a reasonable time.
Whilst it may be easy for you to store freeze-dried pasta, instant noodles and tinned food, this won’t be giving you a very healthy balance of nutrition whilst living the van life. Bad food choices will lead to low immunity from illnesses and general tiredness. Even worse you may be living off of fast-food restaurants and be seriously harming your health and cholesterol.
Eating healthy whilst travelling, and doing long periods of time in a driving or passenger seat is imperative! You are going to want to keep your energy levels high in order to enjoy your travels and maintain a healthy mind.
It is worth investing in a quality fridge so that you are able to store fruit, vegetables and meat for longer-lasting perishable food and ensure you have adequate cooking facilities.
One of my favourite cooking facilities is my slow cooker. It drains the battery very quickly so it is not something I can ever use whilst stationary, but I usually do around 2 to 3 hours of driving a day, and the slow cooker works perfectly when I am driving without risk to the battery. This gives me a delicious and nutritious meal to look forward to most evenings.
Keeping your food choices as nutritious as possible is going to be your key to keeping focus, keeping your energy levels up and also helping with your
quality of sleep.
It’s so easy to stop at a fast-food joint on route, maybe you haven’t prepared anything to have or don’t have the energy to cook a meal etc…. well it’s a long slippery slope to losing focus and failing hard on your healthy lifestyle upkeep, and before you know it you are tired in the day, too lethargic to go for a hike etc. Poor diet has a lot of evidence of causing depression, and being alone with your thoughts in a van is a dangerous place!
Keep an eye on your balance of nutrients and vitamins. Be sure to keep those leafy greens in your diet! Vitamins such as Iron, B6 and Magnesium will play a huge role on your quality of sleep. Consider taking supplements if need be.
Here are some tips on what’s a good nutritious snack to eat no less than 1 hour before sleep
- Bananas – Although associated with energy, Bananas do contain high amounts of Magnesium which will help you relax. They also contain serotonin and melatonin which will help you switch off with the light switch.
- Kale – Rich in Iron, calcium and B6.
- Fish – Tuna or Salmon are good choices which are high in Magnesium and Vitamin B6
- Walnuts – Walnuts contain high amounts of tryptophan, this is an amino acid that enhances sleep and helps with the bodies production of melatonin, which is the hormone that relaxes you and helps with sleep cycles.
- Fortified Wholegrain – Rich in Iron
- Cherries or cherry juice are a great way to boost Melatonin levels naturally
Be careful you don’t overdo it with your vitamins, especially B6 as you may feel nauseous. ie.. Don’t take supplements if you are already getting a good nutritious meal in.
Another great tip is to prepare your meals in advance. Cook up an extra days’ worth in the pan and store it in your fridge. That can act as a healthy lunch or dinner the following day!
As you can tell from the article so far, keeping your nutrition up is important. It will give you the strength and the energy boosts you will need to make the most of your adventures. Try avoiding high carb, high protein, high fat or any fancy diets right now, stick with a good balanced high nutrient and energy-boosting balanced diet.
Vegetarian & Vegan Diets
If you do not eat much meat or you choose a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is important to make sure that your diet is varied so that he or she gets all the nutrients for growth and general health.
Energy – Particularly on a vegan diet, foods that are nutrient-dense may be needed to give them enough energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. You could try avocados, tofu, bananas and nut and seed butters (such as tahini and cashew or peanut butter). For extra energy, you could add vegetable oils or vegan fat spreads to foods.
Protein – Good choices of protein include lentils, beans, soya and soya products, milk, cheese, nuts and eggs and they’ll need 2 to 3 portions of these a day.
Iron – Meat is a good provider of easily absorbable iron so you will need to try alternative sources to ensure you are getting enough. Foods that provide iron include wholegrain cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, bread, fortified breakfast cereals, dried apricots and figs. Remember
vitamin C helps our body to absorb iron from non-meat sources so try to include fruit and vegetables at every mealtime.
Calcium – Whilst travelling you may be more active than usual and its always a good idea to get enough calcium to support your bones. Milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, some dark green leafy vegetables such as kale all provide calcium. Fortified soya drinks, as well as other dairy alternatives, often have added calcium but remember to check the label.
Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 is typically found in products from animal sources. Milk and eggs are important sources of vitamin B12 for vegetarians. For vegans, who eliminate animal products, useful dietary sources include fortified foods such as some fortified breakfast cereals and yeast extracts.
Don’t forget to enjoy the delicious foods available in different regions of where you are travelling!
There are so many reasons to drink water including losing weight, improving skin condition and looking and feeling younger. You should make water your number 1 choice of drink when you are feeling thirsty.
The human body is made up of 60% water and almost every single cell in our bodies require water to function correctly. When you’re dehydrated, you can’t function at your best and may be sluggish or have trouble concentrating, imagine what that’s doing to your organs, your skin, and your brain! Also, your body can’t flush out toxins or regulate itself as easily. By not flushing out these toxins you will be more susceptible to sickness, disease, weight gain and premature ageing.
Here are just some key reasons to drink plenty of water:
- Water helps boost metabolism and increases your fat-burning rate
- Drinking water with a meal helps reduce overeating and reduces bloating
- Water increases your physical activity performance
- Water improved your brain power
- Water reduces stress and improves mood
- Water can make your skin look good
Needless to say, if you want to be healthier and feel more energetic, drinking water is one of the easiest things you can do.
It is recommended to drink more than 8 glasses of water per day and for those that are particularly active and or live in a hotter climate, you should drink considerably more.
If you find it hard to remember you could try and make it a habit to drink a glass every morning upon waking and then with every meal throughout the day. You should even keep to hand a bottle of water to drink at all day long.
Washing and Showering
Personal hygiene is always important and washing in a van is certainly more challenging than usual. Some van conversions have a built in shower and as great as that is it comes with a lot of added hassle of filling up water tanks ever so often.
If you are travelling along coastal beaches you can often find a shower on the beach. This is also handy for filling up water!
Depending on what the weather is like and how secluded you parked, you could use an outdoor shower and even a solar heated pack to get a warm shower. This is obviously not something you can do by the road side or in a public car park.
Most campsites have showering and washing facilities so sometimes its worth parking up at one of these every few days. Its so refreshing when you get the chance to fill up your water, have a good shower and even use the laundry services!
A very popular option amongst van lifers is to join a gym. In the UK I use PureGym who have over 260 gyms across the country. Chances are you are never far from one. The US alternative is Planet Fitness who have nearly 2000 gyms across the US!
Dare I say it but wet wipes are an essential van life necessity! I use these for everything including a full body wipe down every single day if not twice!
Whether you like it or not, keeping active is important for our health and being in a van all day, driving, working or just chilling isn’t going to do you any health favours.
My advice would be to make sure you include 1 active activity daily, that is all you need for a basic level of maintenance to your fitness. I enjoy fitness and I spend 2 hours a day with my routine but then I am not only looking for health benefits but also for muscle and strength gains. Not for everyone!
Here are some suggestions on a daily activity to maintain a healthy active lifestyle with Van Life.
- Go for a walk
This can either be a brisk short walk or a long slow walk. Walking is great for your cardiovascular system and will help boost your metabolism and great for clearing your mind. Get out and explore!
- Go for a run
As above, running is a great way of burning calories, raising your heart beat, building up your immune system and strengthening your bones and joints.
- Perform a 30 Minute workout
Exercising and building or toning your muscles can help your body burn calories – and can increase its metabolic rate. Muscle tissue requires up to 9 times more calories to maintain than fat tissue so in just a short 30 minute workout, you can set yourself up to continue burning calories throughout the rest of the day!
Van Life Exercise Equipment
Having some exercise equipment in your van can be a great way of toning up and keeping fit. There’s a lot of portable, store-able and effective exercise equipment you can add to your van. Here is a list of my top 5.
Without question these are one of the most versatile and effective forms of exercise equipment available. They are small and you don’t necessarily need them to be super heavy. Having a couple of 6/8kg kettle bells on board will unlock a huge variety of effective exercises.
The resistance band is another form of equipment that has versatility in the wide range of exercises you can perform with it. Tone-up, build muscle, burn fat, and just about anything is possible with these. Not to mention they weight nearly nothing and can be stored even in a small drawer.
TRX straps are used to build, flexibility, muscle and core strength by completing body weight calisthenic exercises. You may have seen personal trainer vans in local parks with straps attached to the roof?
Skipping Ropes or Jump Ropes are an effective way of toning the muscles in your lower body and core. Specifically targeting your quadriceps and your hamstrings. It’s also an extremely effect cardio workout for fat loss.
Yoga mats are a foam mat that you can lay out on the floor and perform a wide variety of calisthenic body weight exercises. They roll up and can be stored in the tiniest of space.
To summarise my health and fitness rant here, I want to stress the point that you are out travelling and there’s a whole world to see. Keep you body healthy and your mind active and you will enjoy your van life experiences so much more!