Have you ever come back from a vacation feeling physically blah? Maybe you were on a cruise and those all-day buffets did you dirty. Maybe you spent the week lounging on a beach chair and barely moving. Perhaps you were visiting a country where the food is delicious, but sorely lacking in the fruit and vegetable department. (I’m looking at you, Czech Republic.) Regardless of the reason, your current physical state might have you wondering how to stay healthy while traveling.
It can be difficult enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the midst of one’s day-to-day life, let alone when traveling. Not only do our bodies have to adjust to time differences and disrupted routines, but many of us tend to see vacation as a chance to splurge a bit and not focus so hard on diet and exercise.
Generally speaking, I am totally on board with this. When M and I travel, I don’t feel bad about skipping a workout because we’re often putting in between 10,000 – 20,000 steps a day checking out all the sights of a new place. I also don’t agonize over what I’m eating; one of the best parts of travel is experiencing different cuisines! If I deny myself the opportunity to choose whatever I want from a menu, I could miss out on delightful regional specialties or culturally important foods.
There’s also the fact that we all need a little treat or break from the stresses of everyday life every once in a while as well.
That said, however, splurges do have a tendency to add up. If you’re taking long vacations or traveling a lot on business, you might notice some changes in your body, energy levels, mood, or overall health.
Where I personally get in trouble is when I’m traveling for work. Aside from the set up and tear down of an event, which can be pretty physical, my freelance job involves a lot of sitting and my meals are usually dictated by whatever catering was ordered for all of the attendees. I also work long hours, often starting before 7:00 AM and not getting released to grab dinner until well after 8:00 or 9:00 at night, which makes fitting in a workout difficult. Throw in jet lag, a lack of sleep, and lots of staring at a computer screen and you’ve got a recipe for a health disaster.
Thankfully, there are many in my network who are also on the road a lot and have figured out how to stay healthy while traveling. They were kind enough to provide me with some great tips to share with you, including some things I hadn’t thought about or implemented before! Today, I’m excited to pass this wealth of knowledge on to you.
The Article at a Glance
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Meet the Travelers:
Based in Central America, always on the road and travels primarily for business
Travels roughly 3-6 weeks per year, usually for pleasure
Head of operations
Travels about 10 weeks per year between business and pleasure
Senior account manager
Travels for business 150-200 days per year
Marketing manager for a software company
Travels 8-10 weeks per year for business
Primary school teacher
Travels for pleasure a minimum of 11 weeks per year
Supervisor of secondary education
Travels 7-10 weeks per year for business and pleasure
Travels for business and is only home 6-10 days per month
Strategist, consultant, and speaker
Travels for business 3-5 days per month
Business development manager
Travels for business about 10 weeks per year
Currently on a 13-month around-the-world assignment
Travels for business four days per week
How do you maintain a healthy diet while traveling?
Cutting down on snacking! I have long travel days in vans (10+ hours every 3 days), and it’s easy to eat chips and gas station goodies. I replace these with fruits, yogurt, and nuts, and say no to soda! My tours are 18-22 days long, and I choose one location per tour to have dessert and limit where I am drinking more than one drink to two locations per tour. Lastly, say no to fried foods! Luckily, I work in Central America and most food is rice, beans, and veggies, but on days off I always go for sushi as my go-to takeaway rather than something like fast food or pizza. In general, I’m just conscious about what I eat: no fizzy drinks, more water, less fried, more fresh!
I’m mindful of vegetable choices throughout the day. Can I buy fruit from a street vendor? Do I need to have a meat-based meal right now? Are there unfried options on the menu? What do locals eat (since that usually involves minimal processing in the countries that we visit)?
For starters, I follow a vegan/plant-based lifestyle. I research my destination and plan ahead by finding the local Wegmans, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc. Then, instead of eating breakfast at a restaurant everyday, I buy breakfast groceries and coffee for the week. You can also eat from the hot or salad bar at a grocery store if there are no good veggie restaurants around. You can usually mix and match menu items at restaurants to keep things vegan, and steakhouses are surprisingly easy, since you can do a salad, plain baked potato, and veggie sides. Veggie pizza with no cheese from a pizza place is always a winner!
I choose healthy options when dining out and try not to consume alcoholic beverages.
I’ve found meal bars that are very healthy, filling, satisfying, and tasty. I bring a handful of those and that’s usually my breakfast. For longer trips, I make use of the fact that most Airbnb’s come with access to a kitchen, so I cook a lot of my own meals. I’ll find a grocery store or small market near where I’m staying and stock up on yogurt, fruits, and usually some eggs and veggies. When eating out, most of the time I stay away from burgers and sandwiches and look for meals with a good side of vegetables. I always take the time to find the nearest sushi place!
The most important thing for me is to stay away from refined sugars. When flying, I order a diabetic meal if available, and if not I avoid the cakes and desserts that are served. Before the trip, I usually research restaurants in my destination by looking at menus to see which fit my eating style, though I will stop into places spontaneously as well. Once I’ve arrived, I like going to grocery stores and farmers markets to explore fresh local produce, and I always read product labels to avoid foods that have a lot of added sugar. All this is easy to do if the alphabet is Latin-based, if not, I just go with the flow and try to make the best choices I can. Above all this, I always enjoy the local cuisine.
Another important thing is keeping hydrated: I carry a bottle of water with me all the time.
I weigh myself before I leave for a trip so that I know where I’m starting. When I’m home or traveling, I log my foods/calories in an app. If I start to notice that I’m either cheating by not truthfully logging or that I’m eating more ridiculously then I would at home, I make a concentrated effort to rededicate myself. For me, it’s really about self-awareness and being attuned with my body.
I bring my own food while I travel and visit the hotel gym whenever my layover allows. I love to run around cities during layovers when I have time. When I don’t, I try to use the jump rope I keep in my suitcase to hit my cardio in my hotel room.
Yelp and Foursquare are my best friends. Since I’m typically eating out, I do a lot of research about the places where I can keep my diet on track. It’s super easy to cut loose while traveling, especially with new restaurants to try.
Breakfast and lunch I try to stick to healthy options, such as eggs for breakfast and salad for lunch. I drink lots of water throughout the day and avoid sodas and juices. I also try to limit snacks to an occasional banana or granola bar. All of this allows me to relax a little more when eating dinner with coworkers or business partners, where I feel okay to have a nice meal with a main course and wine.
I started traveling with collapsible food storage containers because I’m a big fan of overnight oats. They’re super easy and a great way to start your day. I try to cook as much as possible as well, unless I’m in a country where it’s actually cheaper to eat out like in Asia. I also think it’s important to pay attention to the menu if you’re eating out; words like “crispy” and “creamy” usually indicate dishes to avoid if you’re trying to eat healthy. I also try to not eat about 4 hours prior to bedtime.
I like to say that I am “vegetarian inclined,” since I can’t get enough veggies! You don’t need to count calories if you’re eating the right things to fuel your body. Try to go with at least half vegetables, a quarter protein, and the remaining quarter good fats and complex carbs. I make extra dinners on Sunday night before I leave and take them on the plane with me. If you freeze your meal the night before, it will stay cold and won’t spoil while traveling. I also pack individual servings of protein powder and a shaker cup, which are super easy to grab and go for any meal of the day. I suggest looking for a vegan protein powder, which so much better for you than whey or soy!
How do you care for your body while traveling?
I try to work out almost every day, either by utilizing the hotel gym or googling nearby CrossFit gyms and signing up for the week.
I make a point of walking everywhere when I’m traveling instead of driving or using Uber or a bus. I also try to work in yoga whenever I can! When I stay in a hotel, I’ll bring a bathing suit if there’s a pool, otherwise I’ll listen to podcasts while using some cardio machines.
I walk a lot and also do 15-20 minutes (or more after a long journey) of yoga.
I always pack gym clothes and headphones. To me, it’s worth bringing a separate gym bag that I can see on the floor of my hotel room. The visual reminder motivates me, as opposed to having workout clothes buried in my suitcase or the hotel dresser.
Gym hotels vary greatly in the type of equipment they offer, but I can always find a treadmill. I like to lift more than I like cardio, but I’ll run multiple days in a row versus doing nothing if that’s my only choice. Sometimes, I incorporate body weight exercises with my run. My favorite hotel gym workout is: run a half mile, do 15 squats, 15 push-ups, and 15 sit-ups. Repeat six times. During the body weight exercises, I’ll vary what I’m doing but still concentrate on those muscle groups. For example, I might do sumo squats or lunges instead of squats for a couple rounds.
I definitely make sleep a priority. I always try to hit the hotel gym, run in the city, or workout in my hotel room depending on the length of my layover and the location of my hotel.
If the hotel has a gym, I’ll go through my normal workout routine. If not, I honestly just skip it since I only workout three times a week anyway. I can catch up when I get home.
Because I don’t always have the time (or energy) to hit the gym in the hotel, I started doing 15-minute workout videos that I can get for free online. One example is the Betty Rocker 15 Minute Challenge, a daily workout that you can do in your hotel room with furniture or other equipment found right there! This makes it easier to get a little workout in before or after your busy day!
I join a gym every month when I reach a new place. If you’re out of town for less time, most gyms offer weekly passes or daily rates. If not, it never hurts to ask for a deal if they only offer daily drop-in rates. I also tend to walk a lot more when traveling as well. I don’t have access to a car, so it’s common to walk several miles a day just between my home, the gym, the workspace, grocery store, etc.
I have an exercise app on my phone that makes it easy to do a workout in my hotel room, and I love to find cardio barre classes in whatever city I visit! It’s also important to think about what we use on our bodies as well! I use all vegan, toxin-free, healthy, botanically-based products for my skin and body care, hair, and makeup, since it’s important to think about what we use on our bodies as well. Also, people normally don’t think about sleep, but it’s super important!
I love running and the Blogilates YouTube channel. My tour leader friends and I have a motto: “sweat every day.” It can be any physical activity, but get out and do it! When I have sufficient WiFi in my room, I do pilates; when I don’t, I run. Running can be done anywhere, and it’s also a great stress reliever! I also do yoga for flexibility whenever it is offered as an optional activity for my passengers. My goal is to never go more than three days without exercise.
Walk instead of taking transport. This often results in more than 10kms of walking per day. Stretch, particularly leg muscles, since walking takes a hefty toll on the calves and feet. You can also cycle, when it is available and safe to do so.
Thankfully, I do a lot of standing on the job and my work is always hosting company-wide health challenges, so it’s easier to stay motivated. I also try to work out and walk to restaurants whenever possible.
What resources or equipment do you use?
I follow all kinds of people on Instagram for inspiration. My favorites are Holly Perkins, Ms. Jeanette Jenkins, and, of course, Jillian Michaels. I also use Pinterest; PopSugar offers a ton of full-body exercise circuits.
I use Evernote to keep my workout plans. I also have a list of what I can and can’t eat, but by now I’m pretty familiar with it so I don’t have to reference it too much.
Yes, online videos. No workout equipment needed.
I use the workout app SWORKIT and get all my healthy vegan nutrition and personal care products from Arbonne.
I use the Blogilates YouTube channel. I used to use resistance bands since they are lightweight and easy to travel with, but I’ve gotten a bit bored with them lately.
I wear a FitBit and bring clothing and supportive footwear that allows me to move freely and often without causing discomfort.
I bring my exercise shoes, weight belt, gloves, jump rope, etc. It helps me hold myself accountable when I have all the things I need.
I use the Asana Rebel fitness app.
Do you have any other pieces of advice for someone who wants to do a better job staying healthy while traveling?
Avoid the urge to overeat at a restaurant just because the meal is covered by your company. It’s hard, but you don’t want pain or an upset stomach while away from home and especially when you need to be rested for a full day’s work the next day. Pick healthy options during the day and do a “cheat” meal once where you splurge on something you like.
Stick to your routine. If you’re someone who normally works out five times a week at home, you’ll feel off if you suddenly stop working out. I put gym time on my calendar so it’s a visual reminder of my commitment and so others can’t schedule meetings during that time. Also, do some research ahead of time. It’s easy to get caught up in work or activities once you get to your destination, but if you’ve done the leg work and already found a gym you want to attend while you’re away, it’s much easier to pop in once you get to that city. Also, make sure to sleep! It’s super important when traveling.
Fit it in! It’s easy to feel like your life or schedule is too crazy to manage a workout, but there’s usually some time during the day to squeeze it in. (Maybe do a quick circuit instead of scrolling through Facebook or Instagram?) Also running is a life saver! There’s zero equipment needed, and it’s a fabulous way to see a new city or village! You don’t have to be fast or train for a marathon, but those 30-45 minutes of cardio does help improve your mood and keep you fit. Lastly, even here in Central America almost every town has a gym! It can be easy to think that developing countries won’t have gyms, but many do and they’re usually very cheap for day passes!
Don’t undervalue the importance of sleep. Ear plugs can make a huge difference in the quality of your sleep. A well-rested person is more likely to get out of bed earlier, make the decision to walk/cycle instead of taking a taxi, and make sound decisions regarding food options instead of impulsive or lazy choices influenced by general fatigue.
Plan ahead and do your research. Have a game plan in place and stick to it.
I’d say try to enjoy the process. If you’re not having fun, there’s no point in keeping active because it will just become another task to complete during the day.
Investigate the area(s) you’re going beforehand as much as you can. If you know exactly how to get from your room to the nearest organic salad bar, you won’t be as easily tempted by the Burger King right around the corner.
Be prepared. Always take a healthy snack with you if you’re going for a hike, a guided tour, or a walk around the city.
Just like when you’re at home, it’s okay to miss a day or take a break. If your habits are completely different when you’re away that when you’re at home, then start small. Pack the gym bag. Plan the workouts. Create a new playlist to help motivate you.
Bring your own food! It’s easy to work out in your hotel but it’s hard to eat well. Even the salads at most hotel restaurants have tons of calories from cheese and dressing. Bring your own food so you know what you’re consuming. Try dehydrated meals, oatmeal, frozen fruit, “just add water” foods, etc. Just don’t forget to check customs regulations for what you can bring when you travel to other countries.
Planning is everything. If you just show up and go with the flow, I can see mac and cheese and room service in your future.
So, in summary, the following seem to be the most common themes for how to stay healthy while traveling:
- Plan ahead. Check out local restaurants, find nearby gyms, and have a game plan for how you’re going to eat and exercise.
- Take or buy your own food so you won’t be tempted by unhealthy or easy options. This can include everything from making your own in-flight meals to just ensuring that you have healthy snacks on hand throughout the day.
- Walking and running are great ways to see a new place and stay fit at the same time.
- Limit alcohol and make healthy food choices that align with your chosen diet.
- Make sure to sleep well!
- And finally, don’t be afraid to splurge a bit. Having a cheat day or meal can actually help keep you motivated to stay on track, and you don’t want to miss out on some great experiences by being too strict with yourself.
I hope these tips are as helpful for you as they have been for me. Best of luck as you hit the road!
**Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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How do you protect your health while away from home?
Which of the tips above are you most excited to implement on your next trip?
This guide to how to stay healthy while traveling was first published on May 21, 2019 and last updated on May 23, 2020.
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