Six Tips to Stay Awake on Road Trips

Driving when tired is no fun at all. In fact, some studies have shown that a drowsy driver can be as dangerous as a drunk driver. Here are six tips to keep you awake and feeling fresh on your next road trip. Remember, though — if you’re feeling tired, there’s no shame in pulling over and napping. This is the single most important thing you can do when driving for long periods of time. Stay safe out there!

Ingesting highly-caffeinated substances is the obvious, most well-worn method used to keep millions of dreary drivers awake. My personal favorite is dark, black coffee of the been-on-the-burner-for-12-hours, gas station variety. It tastes like roasted trash, but it’s strong like an ox and does the job. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll reach for a Starbucks DoubleShot (it even has its own Web site!). They’re extremely expensive for what little you get, but the caffeine content is high, and they’re mighty tasty. There’s also the caffeine pill option: No-Doze, Vivarin, and a billion other brightly-labeled brands found on the checkout counters at gas stations. If you go this route, use them sparingly and drink a lot of water.

If you’re traveling with someone, make them talk to you. This might seem obvious, but it’s the easiest and cheapest way to keep awake when driving. If you’re on the road for long periods of time, and switching off between drivers, this can be a problem — especially if there are only two people in the car. One person drives, the other sleeps, rotate every few hours; you can see how this could be problematic. How can someone sleep and talk to you at the same time? Good question. When I’m on a road trip, I typically stay awake anytime the car is moving — whether I’m driving or not. This is good for two reasons: 1) Both people are awake at all times, and 2) there are two people gauging tiredness. If the passenger is feeling ultra-tired, chances are the driver is too. Time to pull over and rest!

Use an electronic device to alert you of your tiredness. In recent years, many companies have come out with these little battery-operated devices that attach to your ear — similar to one of those ultra-dorky Bluetooth headsets — and let out a screech when you nod off. These are great in theory, but if you’re at the point of nodding off while driving, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Even so, the extra precaution wouldn’t hurt. Here’s an idea: those Bluetooth headsets everyone is wearing nowadays should have this built into them.

Make frequent, short stops to rest and/or stretch. Make it a ritual — every 100 miles or so, find a gas station, truck stop, or rest area and pull over. Stretch your legs, take a quick nap, get some fresh air, shoot a deer; do whatever it takes to revive you for the next 100 miles. Most Wal-Marts will allow you to park in their lot for a quick nap (they sell rifles too!), so take advantage of this when applicable. For reference, here’s an updated-daily list of Wal-Marts that DO NOT allow over-night parking. It’s amazing what even a 15-minute nap can do for your stamina, so don’t hesitate to take a regularly scheduled break.

Stock up on audio media to keep you entertained, interested, and alive. The only time I’ve ever listened to an audiobook was on a solo road trip. Bill Bryson taught me a little bit of everything I need to know about our universe in the audio version of A Short History of Nearly Everything, and it kept me alert the entire time. Make sure you switch it up, though. Too much of one thing can hypnotize you into a dreary sleep, so I always switch between music and “talking” media every few hours. Podcasts are a good, free (most times) alternative to audiobooks, and you don’t necessarily have to have an iPod or other MP3 player. Most podcasts give you the option of downloading the raw .MP3 file (instead of streaming it) which can easily be converted to .WAV and burned to a CD using any major burning utility.

Bring along road-friendly snacks to munch on. My favorite is sunflower seeds. Not only are they tasty, but they give me something to do while breaking the monotony of the open road. I have a routine when it comes to prying those little suckers out of their shells, and it goes a little something like this (to the tune of that one Daft Punk song): suck it, bite it, split it, remove it, separate it, chew it, spit it, repeat! Or you can kill two birds with one stone by munching on SumSeeds: Caffeinated Sunflower Seeds! Other snacks that have worked for me are sour, hard confectioneries that take some time to finish. Remember Warheads, those super-sour candies that contort your face into a perpetual, invisible-straw-sucking mask? Those things are S-O-U-R! There’s absolutely no way you’d fall asleep with one in your mouth. If you’re a health nut, apples also work well.

sources (1, 2, 3)