7 Essentials to Keep in Your Car for a Healthier Commute

Sure, it gets you from point A to point Z and all the points in between, but your car is probably far more than just a vehicle of necessity and function. For some, it might serve as a portable office, a place to take hands-free phone calls or catch up on paperwork while parked in between meetings. For others, it provides an escape pod of sorts, where they can listen to their favorite music while rolling down the windows and enjoying some fresh air. And for parents and grandparents ferrying children around, the car is often a safe haven where tiny passengers can nap, snack and recharge while in transit.

If you drive regularly, it’s probably a safe assumption that your car is a big part of your daily life and routines. According to a survey from AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, American drivers spend an average of 293 hours driving each year, which breaks down to nearly six hours a week. For those with long commutes or traveling salespeople, that number can be significantly higher. For many, time spent in the car can easily surpass time spent spent exercising, connecting with friends, reading or intentionally relaxing.

While you may not be able to cut down on the amount of time spent behind the wheel, you can take steps to make the experience more enjoyable and even beneficial. Think of your vehicle as an extension of your living space—just as you equip your home and office with smart, sustainable choices, there are things you can bring along to make your drives more conducive to your physical and mental health.

1. Healthy snacks: Your car isn’t the only thing that needs refueling during long drives. For those times when hunger strikes while you’re stuck in traffic or on an extended trip, keep a stockpile of healthy snacks on hand. Some vehicle-friendly options include whole-wheat crackers, protein bars, nuts, air-popped popcorn, and dry-roasted edamame or chickpeas. If you’re the driver, pull over while eating to avoid distracted driving.

2. Water bottle: Hydration is always important, but particularly when you’re on the go. Keep a reusable bottle in your cup holder and fill it before each leg of your drive. Sipping on water during your commute will help boost your energy level and mental clarity, which could in turn make you a more focused and responsive driver.

3. First-aid kit: Hopefully, the vast majority of commutes will be uneventful, but in the event that you or a passenger sustains a minor injury, comes down with a headache or suffers from motion sickness, it’s helpful to have a basic first aid kit at the ready. On its website, the American Red Cross lists which items should be included in an emergency car kit.

4. Headset: Using your commutes to catch up with Mom or tie up loose ends with co-workers? Invest in a headset for hands-free chit-chat to reduce accident risk. If you have a Bluetooth-compatible vehicle, you may be able to hook up your smartphone directly to the car speakers. Of course, it's important to always use caution when driving with potential distractions, and take care to ensure that watching the road is always your first priority.

5. Podcast playlist: Instead of listening to music, look for some podcasts that interest, educate or inspire you. From embracing a healthier lifestyle to nurturing your passions or improving personal relationships, there are virtually countless topics available for on-demand streaming. You can even find meditation podcasts to help you breathe, relax and de-stress after a long day at work (with eyes wide open, of course).

6. Antibacterial cleaning wipes: Dirt, germs and bacteria build up on your vehicle’s surfaces over time. In fact, a study found that the interior of most cars is more than 2,000 percent filthier than smartphones. Maintain a cleaner, healthier car by periodically wiping down the steering wheel, gearshift, seats and controls with antibacterial wipes.

7. Wastebasket: Clutter has been shown to raise stress levels, and that extends to your vehicle. Mount a compact trash receptacle in your car to keep waste neatly contained for a clutter-free commute.

While it may be impossible to avoid the car, you can take steps to make it a healthier space that better supports your wellness and productivity.