How to stay fit while traveling – a complete and practical guide

How to stay fit while traveling

Traveling can be pretty exhausting. New experiences, logistics, foreign language and, of course, all the lunch decisions can easily drain the willpower to do something extra. So, making active lifestyle a habit is the best strategy how to stay fit while traveling.

However, staying fit while traveling rarely scores high in our priority list. It’s usually somewhere between remembering to send a postcard to your grandmother telling how you went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and waking up at dawn to listen to birds singing and nature waking up.

We’re just too overwhelmed or tired to do these things sometimes.

Habit is the best motivation

The worst part of it is not that we aren’t motivated or have no time. For burgers sake, we’re on holiday, right? We should have all the time in the world.

I think the issue is that we are out of our regular “home routine”. People, language, food – all is different.

Our brain simply can’t link new environment to our usual habits and puts itself in “explorer’s” mode.

It processes new experience, learns about the culture and all other things linked to travel. At one point of time there’s just too much information and the willpower to do something extra is very low.

I usually spend a lot of energy exploring throughout the day so towards the evening start to run low on willpower. This is where my morning workout habits save the day.

Skiing to stay fit while traveling
Skiing itself is a great way how to stay fit while traveling

The good thing that if you’re going on some active trip (like surf camp), you don’t need to think about how to stay fit while traveling. That’s kind of automated.

However, for all other cases it’s best to have a routine, similar to one at home. It doesn’t even have to be well-planned – just enough to send a signal to the brain that nothing has changed.

Charles Duhigg has written a great book on how powerful habits are and how to influence our behavior by using, changing and/or altering those. Highly recommended.

How to stay fit while traveling – a practical guide

The best place to start is to set a clear goal. Something you can visualize. What drives you to learn how to stay fit while traveling?

Is it running the marathon in a couple of months? Or taking an entry examination to become a Baywatch lifeguard?

If you have the visual – good. Picture it, feel it and, most importantly, focus on it. 

If it helps, write it on a piece of paper or find a picture and put it in your wallet. This will serve as a vision for you.

Next time you’re traveling – don’t think of daunting exercises you have to do. Think of the vision you created.

Once you focus on the vision, it gets easier to notice the gap you have to close to get there. If you put a priority to it and consistently think about it, it will guide you and help to stay on track. You’re more likely to succeed when you know where you’re going.

It’s like New Years resolutions – before you don’t see the purpose and end result you won’t stick to it for long.

I usually have a whole year planned with different races. So even when I travel, I want to work out and stay active.

Be open to challenges – mix it up

It’s not going to be the same as at home, though. We’re traveling to experience new things, and fitness is no exception.

Most probably there won’t be a good gym around. Or it won’t be possible to run easily (like in Jakarta where it’s hot, humid and sidewalks are almost non-existent).

If you know you’re going to be away from home for a while, start preparing early. Think of alternatives you can have for your existing workouts and start including those in your routine at home.

You can start including exercises with resistance bands or own body weight instead of barbells. Or walk upstairs instead of escalator to build some solid leg strength. Or scroll down for more exciting ways and reasons how to stay fit while traveling.

If the vision you’ve created is strong enough, it’ll help you think of ways to stay active. And you can have a lot of fun doing it, just by letting your imagination flow. 

Be flexible with the choice of location for your exercise. Mix it up and make it part of travel experience
Be flexible with the choice of location for your exercise. Mix it up and make it part of travel experience

Don’t forget to also think of a way how to measure if you succeeded.

Agree with yourself beforehand exactly how many minutes/hours you’ll plan to exercise in a week and make an effort to stick to it. 

Don’t spend all your time in restaurants – stay active

The easiest way how to stay fit while traveling is to move. 

Yes, what helps fight child obesity helps to keep grown up people look young and healthy.

Integrate it in your day. As long as we’re active, we’ll keep muscles working and burn extra calories.

In fact, these can be all those great things we imagine doing when we think of traveling. So we might as well do them. 

When you’re out of shape, even a small afternoon stroll through the city can get challenging (especially, if you’re traveling to cities like Luxembourg). I’m not even talking about trekking, skiing or, you know, climbing volcanoes.

The best part is that the more we do it, the fitter we get.

Our bodies are amazing at adapting to anything and, gradually, you’ll start forgetting about thinking how to stay fit while traveling and start enjoying it.

If you want to take it to the next level – squeeze in extra activity. Walk a couple of stops, instead of taking the public transport. Or use stairs instead of an elevator.

Hiking is one of the easiest activities you can do to stay fit while traveling.
Hiking is one of the easiest ways how to stay fit while traveling. Usually it’s also most visually rewarding

Even when I don’t travel I try to make workouts a part of exploring. For instance, I sometimes substitute my long run for a hike. It’s a great way to burn some fat and build strength endurance in muscles.

Apart from good training, hiking provides some great landscapes along the way.

Go the extra mile – exercise to stay fit while traveling

If you’ve come this far with my advice, I’m pretty sure you’re already quite fit. This part is for those who want to add more intensity to their travels. 

Or those who have that marathon coming up.

Generally, if you’re training almost every day, skipping more than 3-4 days will already result in some loss of fitness. Skipping more than a week will require you to revise your training program for the next couple of weeks. Skip more than 2 weeks and you’ll need up to 2 months to fully get back into shape.

Stretching, yoga and core exercises

If you’re doing lots of exploring and walking, the first thing you need to focus on is stretching. The weight of your muscles and backpack cause legs, shoulders and lower back to fatigue more than usual. That can lead to all sorts of pains – lower back, shoulders, neck or even headache.

If you’re planning to work out – spend extra time on warming up to minimize injury risk.

That being said, sometimes yoga can be the best exercise you can do for the day. Of course, after you’ve covered the distance turtles don’t cover in their lifetime.

Do it first thing you do in the morning – even before breakfast. It’s amazing how peaceful and energetic you can feel after a yoga session at sunrise.

You don’t need a special 100$ dollar hotel-offered course. Just put a 30-minute sequence from any trainer on YouTube and you’re good to go.

Also, don’t forget about core and stabilization exercises. In particular, side leg raises and planks can help to overcome leg pain caused by tight muscles, as well as prevent knee pain after prolonged activity.

Running

Running is, by far, the easiest way how to sustain and improve your fitness. You can do it almost anywhere in the world and you don’t need much for it. I bet most of us bring some comfy training shoes on a trip to walk around in – use those. 

If you’re running on the beach I suggest you do it like our ancestors did it – barefoot. Much better for joint health.

I love to run anywhere I travel to explore new places. In the best case that would be first thing in the morning, preferably just before the sunrise.

It’s great to explore the place while others sleep. There are no tourists early in the morning and you can see only locals at that time.

Like that time when I saw that amazing sunrise in Barcelona. With experiences like these it’s easy to find reasons to stay fit while traveling.

Just remember not to push yourself too hard. My favorite workout is either a very gentle 30-minute run with around 10-15 five-second sprints or a steady marathon-paced one hour run. Just enough to get my appetite going.

I love to run around the place while I'm traveling. It's a great way to learn the surroundings and find some nice views
Running is the best way how to stay fit while traveling and explore new places

Strength training

Finally, doing some strength training is good for overall conditioning. It doesn’t even have to be done in a gym – just doing some exercises wherever you can will be just fine.

If there are playgrounds with pull-up sets installed I like to use those for a quick 15-minute full body exercise. If I can do it after a run – even better.

I personally prefer doing explosive exercises. These help to build and sustain mitochondria that are critical for endurance. However, even those looking to grow muscle mass can benefit from these workouts. It doesn’t take more than 15-20 minutes to complete and is perfectly sufficient for sustaining and even improving strength.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to take resistance bands with you and do some some exercises for smaller stabilization muscles (like rotator cuff and rear deltoids). Use door handles to fix your resistance bands and do sets of 30-second-repetitions at slow speed.

My 15-minute full body conditioning workout

The idea behind this workout is to perform exercises as fast as possible, but keep those efforts very short. Duration is typically around 10-15 seconds or until first signs of muscle pain appear. If done explosively, 10 seconds is about the time when pain starts.

It’s critical not to spend more than 30 seconds on a given exercise to avoid muscle fatigue and loss of endurance.

You can mix exercises around, but give some 2-3 min of rest before doing exercises in the same muscle group (like burpees and jump squats or pushups). 2 sets should be enough, if done properly. 

  • Burpees (don’t cheat here, do the full range of motion and extend as high as possible on every jump)
  • Explosive jump squats 
  • Plyometric pushups (if you can do supermans – good, otherwise try clap pushup)
  • Pull ups (If you don’t have a place where to do pull ups, do them on a hanging tree, or substitute with a table pullup)
  • Hanging/Laying leg raises

Above all, don’t make it only about completing sets or running miles – that’s just boring. Make it a game, instead. You don’t need to do all your exercises at home. Squeeze in some activity every now and then or go for an exploration run. 

After all, these will be the awesome memories you’ll take with you from the trip. So make them matter.

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