I travel quite a lot for work, both domestically and internationally. In the past six months, for example, I have been to Atlanta, Kansas City, New York City (four times), China, Grenada, and Mexico. Over the next few months, I will again return to New York City, Grenada, and Mexico for business, staying in each place for a week or more. I will also be spending four days in Miami, although for a much needed mini-vacation rather than work.
It can be particularly challenging to stick to a workout schedule or to maintain healthy eating habits when on the road. Between the jet lag, the unfamiliar locations, the uncertain quality of most hotel fitness rooms, and the limited food choices in airports and room service menus, I sometime have to deviate from my normal routine.
Since five extra pounds and an overly tight waistband are not the kind of souvenirs that I like to take home, I’ve developed a number of tips and tricks to help me stay health and fit even when away from home for weeks at a time.
1. I choose my hotels based on their gym and other fitness facilities.
I usually make my own travel arrangements, usually using online booking services like Travelocity, Hotels.com, and Kayak. I use those sites, combined with information gleaned from the hotel website or review sites like TripAdvisor, to choose a hotel that has a decent fitness room. Specifically, I look for fitness facilities that have a combination of weight machines and free weights like dumbbells, a decent array of cardio equipment, and space for stretching and mobility exercises.
Alternatively, I research what gyms and other recreational facilities are nearby. Most places will allow you to purchase a day pass (or multi-day pass), while others may have relationships with local hotels to allow guests to use the gym at a discount (or sometimes for free). Your home gym might also have reciprocity arrangements with other fitness centers around the country. The larger chains like Planet Fitness or the YMCA have packages that allow you to use any similarly branded facility, while smaller companies might belong to consortia like MyIClub that give you access to gyms in other cities.
Finally, you can always choose a hotel that is on or near the beach or a bike path and at least get a couple of sprint or cardio workouts in.
2. I bring the gym with me.
I hate checking my bag at the airport, so always travel as light as possible. Thanks to years of practice, I can now travel for two weeks or more with a roll aboard suitcase and a messenger bag. Despite this, I always find the room to pack a set of resistance bands or some lightweight suspension straps. These allow me to turn my hotel room into an impromptu gym. While I won’t be able to do any really heavy lifting or strength training, I can still work up a good sweat through a combination of calisthenics, body weight exercises, resistance work, and yoga.
3. I walk a lot.
Walking is always a good low-intensity exercise and can give you a great workout regardless of your fitness level. In the mornings, during lunch or breaks, or after I am done working for the day I try to get out and about. It also offers me a chance to really get to see the cities and towns I am visiting, to meet the local people, and to experience the daily life and special events of those around me. I have made some great friends, found some outstanding local restaurants, and discovered amazing off-the-beaten-track gems on these daily walks. Just make sure to ask your hotel’s concierge for a map and recommendations (of things to see but also of unsafe places to avoid) before setting out.
4. I eat like a local.
Best-selling author Scott Westerfield once wrote that, “the best way to know a city isto eat it.” Food is universal, but our cultural cuisines are as diverse and as varied as the 7 billion people that populate this world. Being adventurous and trying the local delicacies is not only an important (and fun) part of traveling but can also be a good way to eat healthy when away from home.
While there is the off-chance that you might get sick (easily avoided if you avoid sketchy looking restaurants, stay away from ice, and avoid salads or fruits that you cannot peel), eating like a local allows you to eat food that are fresh and locally grown. Try to choose foods that are heavy in seasonal vegetables, and you’ll not only experience unique tastes and flavors that you can’t find at home, but you’ll also naturally avoid foods that are overly processed, have lots of empty calories, or are full of preservatives and chemicals.
5. I bring healthy snacks.
You never know when you’ll miss a flight and get stuck in the airport for a while. The resulting boredom and lack of restaurant choices make it harder to avoid scarfing down a slice of Sbarro pizza or a triple-mocha latte from Starbucks. That’s why I always make sure to pack several healthy snacks in my carryon bag, like dried fruits, nuts, jerky, or protein bars. These can also double as my meal on a long-haul flight, rather than be at the mercy of whatever carb-laden entrée the flight attendants serve up.
6. I stay hydrated and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Drinking plenty of water is particularly important while traveling, as the dry and rarefied air on planes can dehydrate you rather quickly. As I often travel to places a lot warmer than upstate New York (such as the American South, Mexico and the Caribbean), I make sure to drink extra water throughout to help my body adjust to the change in climate and to stave off jet lag. I do this by packing a steel water bottle for my trip, filling it at an airport drinking fountain after passing through security (this is also a good trick for saving money, as water from the drinking fountain is free while airport stores may charge $3 or more for a single bottle). I also set a timer on my phone to remind me to drink regularly throughout the day, both while traveling and while visiting my destination. Finally, I avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages while traveling as these contribute to dehydration, fatigue, and jet lag (not to mention are often full of empty calories.
7. I fast.
Popular in the primal and ketogenic communities, intermittent fasting involves limiting caloric intake for sixteen hours or more as a way of stimulating fat metabolism. Many people who practice intermittent fasting skip breakfast, for example, or limit themselves to a single cup of Bulletproof coffee (i.e. coffee with a dose of butter, ghee, or MCT oil) until late in the day. They then restrict their actual meals to a short window of time in the late afternoon or early evening, albeit still sticking to a pattern of healthy eating with dishes that are rich in fresh vegetables, high-quality protein, and good fats. I tend to use intermittent fasting routinely as a way of improving my body composition or my athletic performance (there will be a biohacking post on this soon), so I am comfortable doing so. I can easily go without food for 24 hours or more without feeling hungry, making intermittent fasting a way to avoid unhealthy food while in airports or trapped on planes. That said, not everyone is able to fast. Moreover, you shouldn’t try to fast while unless you’ve got your diet ‘locked in’ and have engaged in intermittent fasting before. Intermittent fasting isn’t about skipping meals willy-nilly but about doing so in a metabolically-adapted and structured way. If you don’t employ a carefully thought out and strategic way to skip meals, you risk having a blood sugar crash.