Travel By Car Driving Obesity Epidemic, Say Researchers

travel by carHoliday travel by car might be less expensive than flying, a train trip or a Christmas cruise to festive destinations, but new research urges caution while driving – not for safety’s sake, but because of a direct relationship suggested between body mass index (BMI), calories consumed and automobile travel.

A new study by University of Illinois researchers suggests that both daily automobile travel and calories consumed are related to body weight. Reducing either one, even a little bit, correlates with a reduction in body mass index (BMI), the study found.

“We’re saying that making small changes in travel or diet choices may lead to comparable obesity reduction, which implies that travel-based interventions may be as effective as dietary interventions,” says graduate student Banafsheh Behzad in a Business Standard report.

Using publicly available data on national average BMI, caloric intake and driving habits, the study found that driving just one mile a day less can make a difference.

“One mile is really not much,” Behzad says. “If they would just consider even taking the bus, walking the distance to the bus stop could have an impact like eating 100 calories less per day. The main thing is paying attention to caloric intake and moving more, together, can help reduce BMI.”

Great idea. But if I walked to the bus stop I would have to swing by the gas station on the way to buy donuts, “for the trip,” throwing the national BMI way off track.

On the other hand, childhood obesity is declining, probably because little kids don’t drive. This video tells the story:

Child Obesity Drops

[Photo Credit- Flickr user mor10am]

Motor Club Membership Has Pets Wagging More, Paying Less

motor club

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is a not-for-profit motor club that has been helping travelers since 1902. Formed mainly in response to a lack of roads and highways suitable for automobiles, AAA membership has evolved to serve the changing needs of more than 50 million members. Tackling everything from emergency roadside assistance to road maps, travel guides and travel services along the way, AAA is relevant today too. Advice and discounts cover everything from saving money buying a car to caring for and traveling with pets.

“Owning a pet, whether it’s a dog, a cat, a hamster or a bird, can be pricey,” says AAA in its monthly newsletter. “In this sluggish economy, everyone is on the lookout for ways to shed unnecessary expenses, and spoiling our pets may not make the budget.”

AAA directs members looking to save on spay/neuter services, discount pet food and medication to partners such as Pets Warehouse, PetFoodDirect and large retailers like Costco, PETCO and PetSmart.

On the road, AAA’s hotel search engine will help travelers locate a AAA Diamond-Rated hotel fit for them and their pet. A copy of AAA’s “Traveling With Your Pet” ($9.99 digital edition available at the iTunes Store, and, details pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, attractions and more.The AAA website has free information on traveling with pets too, including:

AAA also offers discounts on vacation packages, cruise vacations and more. A lot has changed at AAA since 1902, including up-to-date mobile apps and a YouTube channel that can be a great help to the travelers of today.

AAA online guidebooks, launched last year, let members download free digital guides for their Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony Reader or smartphones equipped with an e-reader application. Site visitors to can view the available eTourBook titles, but only AAA members can initiate a download. To complete the process, members login to download titles to their personal computer and then sync the files to their portable device.

This video about safe summer travel is typical of what AAA has for motorists.

[Flickr photo by TheGiantVermin]

5 tips for sleeping in your car

Although I’d say I was always a traveler, the meaning of travel didn’t fully kick in for me until my early twenties. I found myself touring with my old band during this time of my life. And while it’s difficult to accommodate a single poor person every night of a 30-80 stint on the road, it’s even more difficult to accommodate four poor people every night for that long. Because of this, my band mates and I took the easiest way out and routinely slept in the car.

Our respective cars were (in order): a Honda Odyssey, a Suburban, a Ford 12 passenger van, and a Ford E150 van. We filled these cars tightly in a Tetris-like fashion with drums, guitars, amps, merchandise, and the personal belongings needed for several weeks on the road. I could see the mound of gear every time I checked my rear-view mirror. The sleeping area was abbreviated at best and the coping skills I developed along the way became monumental lessons learned in how to sleep in cars.

Last fall I moved from New York City to Austin and I drove south for four days with my boyfriend and a backseat/trunk area clogged with instruments and clothing. The car (which is still running) is a 1996 Honda Accord with 272,000 miles on it. Sleeping in this car wasn’t easy when we pulled over at a rest station in Charleston, West Virginia, but it’s wasn’t impossible, either.

Skip to a recent embarkment on a 10 day road trip across Northern California. We upgraded our economy car rental for $5 more a day at the last minute and we did so for a good reason: the seats in the slightly more expensive car fold down into a debatable version of a bed.

It’s not that we can’t afford hotels or Air B&B rooms. It’s just that we can spend our money on other things if we sometimes bypass the budgeting for accommodations. We can have a few extra nice meals out and a few extra drinks at those meals. We can attend a few more shows and afford a few more guitar pedals for our studio in Austin. We can do these things with just one less hotel room per trip in some cases. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re interested, here are some tips from my own experience for skipping lodging expenses, staying the night in a car, and actually getting some sleep.

1. Visualize your bed
Since every car is built differently, your sleeping options will vary from car to car. The worst case scenario here is often times the Honda Accord scenario I outlined above: a small car with a trunk and a backseat filled to the brim. The best case scenario is a van or a truck with a covered bed. But no matter what kind of car you’re traveling in, take a close look at where you’ll be sleeping. Know whether you’ll need to sleep in a seat upright, on seats that fold down into a somewhat flat surface, or on a bench seat, for instance. Tip: If you’re renting a car, consider your potential sleeping space when choosing your vehicle.

2. Acquire bedding
Whether you’re packing from home and planning well in advance to sleep in the car during an upcoming trip or deciding on a whim to give it a go, you will, I promise you, sleep better with some bedding. Pillows and blankets will make you a happier car-camper than you would be without them, but sleeping bags will make the world of difference you need on a chilly night. Something thick enough to cover any jolting uneven surfaces will save your tired soul–and your neck. Foam bedding is good for this because it can later be rolled up and stowed. Tip: If you’re in a jam, piles of clothing as bedding is better than nothing at all.

3. Prioritize privacy
Ok, I’ll admit, you sacrifice a certain level of privacy when you sleep in public, even if it’s in your own car. But some measures you can take will at least make sure your sleeping quarters are a little more private. If you have a choice in cars, go for one with tinted windows or no windows at all in the back. Some people suggest covering your entire sleeping area with a tarp. I haven’t tried this yet myself, but I’m sure it works. At the end of the day (when you’re likely to be car-crashing), you’ll sleep better the more you feel like you’re in a bed and not a car. Block the outside world as best as you can and you’ll start thinking of your car as your bedroom before you know it. Tip: While touring, we often rigged up a sheet or blanket against the back windows–this works fine.

4. Park wisely
You can’t sleep in your car just anywhere. Well, ok, scratch that. You can, but you run the risk of being rudely awakened by someone asking you to move. It’s no fun waking up to the bouncing beams of an intrusive flashlight at 4am, so try to avoid this. Don’t park in lots for businesses that aren’t open 24 hours. Avoid standing out as the only car in an area. Instead, shoot for rest stops, 24 hour parking lots, and, my favorite, residential streets. As long as you’re respectful and private in your car-sleeping affairs, it probably won’t even be obvious to nearby strangers that you’re sleeping in your car. The better job you do at forging some semblance or an ordinary unoccupied parked car, the better you’ll sleep. Tip: Stay away from street lights.

5. Bring your morning routine with you
Your best car sleeping experiences will be had when paired with proper morning planning. A quick trip into a public bathroom with these items in hand will get you ready for the day ahead: toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, hair bush, and razor. Also be sure to have any medication you need on hand, something for an easy breakfast (granola bars do the trick), and clean underwear. Tip: If your hair gets greasy easily, have some baby powder with you. A sprinkle of it brushed into your hair will absorb the grease.

I have a soft spot for sleeping in the car, uncomfortable as it sometimes is. If you find yourself wanting to save money and avoid planning while traveling, take my advice and try it out. In the meantime, let us know in the comments of your personal car-sleeping tricks, tips, and tales.

Rest stop closings: Lack of funds not the only reason

Like Virginia, Georgia is also closing rest stops. The number of closings is not as dramatic as Virginia’s almost half. In Georgia only two are to be closed so far, but they do point to another problem besides budget woes–safety.

Two rest stops on I-85 in Georgia are being closed because of the increased activity in vandalism and drug use at them, particularly at night and on weekends. According to this article in independent, it’s too hard to maintain these two rest stops to make them safe for motorists.

Considering that rest stops were made to make travel safe for motorists, an unsafe rest stop does not make a lot of sense.

The article also points out what I surmised earlier in the post about the closings in Virginia. The need for rest stops is diminishing because of the number of commercial establishments for people to find a toilet and food elsewhere. The rest stop closings are just another indication of how travel is changing.

Why you shouldn’t drive into a puddle

Certainly there isn’t any better proof about why driving into a puddle isn’t the best idea–unless you are pretty sure what kind of puddle it is–than this.

I came across this gem while doing research for the sink hole travel post. This mishap did not happen in the United States which would be just one more example of a stupid American story.

If you’re wondering just what happens to your car if you drive through a big puddle and don’t have to swim, read the answer to the question: “If you drive a car through a big puddle, can it ruin your engine?” at