In partnership with Merrell
Being on the road can get you to new places, but the act of travel itself can feel rather stationary if you’re not intentionally moving your body along the way.
Whether it’s because you want to cover a lot of miles or because you don’t find rest stops to be incredibly inspiring, it’s easy to spend a dozen or more hours driving in a day, but your body and mind will thank you for taking regular stops. Plus, you get to see and experience more of the landscapes you’re traveling through when you treat yourself to a small adventure en route!
We compiled a list of road-trip friendly activities that are free or low-cost, require little to no gear, and can be accessible in a variety of landscapes. So the next time you need to stretch your legs, you can make a new memory in a place you might not have visited otherwise—instead of stopping at that one rest stop (again).
Hiking is low-cost, can be done for as long or as short of a time as you have, and gets you outside in the places you’re traveling through. Even if you’re driving for several hours in a day, incorporating at least one short hike into your travels is absolutely possible.
You can take on a hiking challenge if you’re up for it, but the truth is that you don’t even have to do an entire hike—getting out there in any capacity counts!
And, while there’s not a lot of gear needed to hike (besides a good pair of shoes and a few essentials), if you’re looking for apps to enhance your experience, we’ve got you covered there, too with a list of free and low-cost favorite outdoor apps.
Doing yoga is a highly accessible activity that requires little to no gear, can accommodate a wide variety of skill levels, and is good for your mind and body. Additionally, thanks to technology, you don’t have to pay to enter a studio if you don’t want to. Yoga can be done nearly anywhere—like a parking lot or a public playfield—thanks to free free apps like Down Dog.
There’s nothing like the motivation of an adventure dog (or cat) in the passenger seat to get you out and moving. Find a pet-friendly rest area, local park, or scenic pull-out and take a longer stretch or walk whenever your furry friend needs a potty break or an energy release. You know you’ll enjoy it too.
On the road full-time, and don’t own (or have regular access to) a dog but still want to get moving with them? You can try dogsitting with apps like Rover. Or if you want to give some love to dogs who are currently waiting to be adopted, you can get involved with programs like Doggy Day Out, which allows you to take dogs out for the day.
Getting wet is a great way to mix up your movement throughout the day, while also giving you that fresh-and-clean feeling (especially when showers are scarce!). Whether it’s jumping in a lake, grabbing floaties and enjoying some flatwater, or taking a meaningful swim, you’ll feel refreshed and ready for the next few hundred miles while you dry out in the driver’s seat.
Pro tips: know the water you’re entering so you’re not caught unexpectedly by current, and consider pairing this activity with a sweatier adventure like trail running or hiking so you have every good reason to cool yourself off by the time you’re ready to take the plunge.
When you get on the road to spend time outdoors, it can feel counterintuitive to pay for a gym membership. But when you consider the level of access to equipment, classes, showers, and other amenities (like water massage tables) that some gyms come with, paying a small fee for gym access (some as low as $25/month) might just be worth it.
We recommend looking for gyms that are a part of a chain you will be traveling near often and that have 24-hour access—that way you might also be able to park overnight in their parking lot unless there are other regulations against it.
If the idea of paying for a gym membership still isn’t that appealing to you, try looking for free outdoor workout equipment along public walking trails. Referred to online as fitness trails, parcourses, calisthenics parks, and exercise trails, you’ll see them as basic stations to work a variety of muscle groups while taking a walk outdoors. It’s not always the easiest to know where they’re located, but a quick internet search should help thanks to crowdsourcing. Not a bad way to spend a little time at a local park!
It’s like hiking, but (probably) faster. The places you’ll see while trail running can be gorgeous and unexpected—and it’s an activity that you can do for short bursts or longer journeys. A decent pair of running shoes are all you really need to make this happen, along with some electrolyte tablets or powder for afterward to replenish and hydrate.
If you like treasure hunts, geocaching might just be your next favorite hobby. A worldwide GPS game where you can find hidden treasures out in the real world, geocaching has a quiet but passionate cult following… so don’t be surprised if you mention it to a friend and they know exactly what you’re talking about!
You can play geocaching through their free app both in the wilderness and in cities, making it not only a great way to move your body, but also a highly fun and effective way to get to know new places. (PS: If you’re taking a road trip through the US, we recommend starting with this list.)
We were hesitant to mention any activities that require sporting goods because when you travel on the road, space is a highly valuable commodity! But tennis is different: Not only are the rackets and balls relatively compact, but travelers can find free tennis courts in many towns and cities, which means that once you own the gear you’re able to go play anytime! You can find the majority of free tennis courts through a simple internet search, or stumble upon them at many local parks.
If you’re looking for the perfect combination of free camping and food, daily activity, and slower travel, you might want to consider volunteering your time on an organic farm in exchange for your daily room and board. Many folks who travel long-term and spend weeks or months on a farm use WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to find and coordinate their stays. Not only do you learn a lot about organic farming, but you will move your body through farming work while also enjoying the benefits of your accommodations and meals covered by the host.
This article was produced with support from our brand partner Merrell, who believe the outdoors is for everybody and every body. The travelers featured in these photographs are wearing various Merrell footwear, as specified in captions.