How to Stay Fit on the Road

If you’ve worked hard to get in shape, lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle, there’s no reason to blow it on a few days, weeks, or even months of traveling. But when sandy beaches and umbrella drinks, hearty pastas and decadent desserts, or overflowing steins of beer are calling your name, it can be hard to resist. Here’s how you can balance enjoying your trip to the fullest with maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime.

Make Fitness a Part of the Fun

tuscanybiketourEasier on some trips that others, working fitness into your daily activities is a great way to stay in shape. Chances are you’ll be walking several miles a day to take in all the sights of a city, but to burn more calories look for ways to boost your activity level even higher.

Rather than hiring a fully-crewed yacht for your Greek island-hopping adventure, book a bare-boat charter. You’ll not only save money by working the sails and rigging yourself, you’ll burn of plenty of piña colada calories too.

Plan on touring some Tuscan vineyards? Sure you could hire a driver, but why not work off that wine by riding a bike instead? A helicopter ride to the base of the Grand Canyon would be fun, but a two-day descent riding a mule might feel like more of an accomplishment.

Snowshoe across a snowy winter wonderland rather than hopping in the horse-drawn sleigh, and don’t drive through the French countryside when you can canoe yourself down the Dordogne and get a unique perspective on the area’s small towns. Look for creative ways to make physical activity a part of your every day experiences and it’ll feel more like fun than exercise.

Do as the Locals Do

thailandgymIf you prefer your workouts in a gym but your hotel doesn’t have one, you’re not out of luck. Just look for a local gym. Most offer day or weekly passes for only a few dollars. You may even be able to sign up for a class or schedule a personal training session. If you are a member of a national chain gym in your hometown, inquire about rates for a mobile membership that allows you to visit other locations for no extra fee. Yoga studios and alternative fitness centers often offer free introductory classes as well.

To combine cardio and culture, look to local fitness methods. Try Brazilian capoeira, take a muay Thai kickboxing class, learn to tango in Argentina or try Jujutsu in Japan.

Every Little Bit Counts

Little steps do add up. If you can’t find the time to do a full-fledged workout, try to squeeze in extra activity where you can. Turn that long walk on the beach into an exhilarating run or swim some laps in the ocean before settling in to sunbathe.

Skip the elevator to the rooftop observation deck and take the stairs instead – you’ll burn some calories and make that view of the city even more rewarding. See the city by foot rather than taking public transportation or look into one of the low-cost bike rental programs offered in many cities. You’ll get around faster while adding in some activity.

Bring the Tools You Need to Succeed

jumpropekidIf you do have time to work out but prefer to do so in the comfort of your room, you’ve still got plenty of options. A jump rope fits easily into even the smallest backpack and delivers a great cardio workout. A resistance band is lightweight and compact but can still offer a muscle-building challenge.

If you swear by dumbbells, bring an inflatable set that can be filled with water and is easy to empty and store. If you are traveling with a laptop, bring a few workout DVDs along too. Exercises like sit-ups, lunges, squats, push-ups and jumping jacks require no equipment – all you’ll need to get your heart pumping is a little motivation.

If you are following a plan like Weight Watchers, you can stick to it on the road. The truly committed can even attend meetings in 25 countries. Find that a food diary keeps you on track? There’s no need to break that good habit now. Writing down what you eat will help keep you on a healthy path and act as a memoir of your culinary adventures.

Splurge vs. Save When it Comes to Calories

Not everyone wants to follow a “diet” on vacation. If the thought of counting calories on your travels is as appealing as a border-crossing body-cavity search, try the “splurge vs. save” method instead. Make healthier choices on some meals so you can indulge at others. Pass on the buttery breakfast croissant and go for some fruit instead and your total calorie count for the day won’t be so high, even if you opt for a dessert crepe later on.  Skip the slice of pizza for an afternoon snack, reach for a granola bar instead, and reward yourself with a second glass of wine at dinner.

Remember that it’s all about the trade-off. One day of indulgence won’t derail a healthy lifestyle, so alternate higher-calorie meals with more lean ones or work off a decadent dish with a little more physical activity.

Everything in Moderation

sharingappSaying no when everyone else around you is indulging can sometimes require an almost inhuman level of self-control. Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to say “no,” you just have to know when to say “no more.” Order an appetizer as your entrée for immediate portion control, or only eat half of your entrée dish; there’s no shame in not being a member of the clean-plate club.

Eyeing both the pasta and the grilled filet? Offer to share with your companion – you’ll save money, eat less, and get to enjoy a variety of dishes. If you want to have some homemade tiramisu, go for it but offer to share or only have a few bites. Once you are done with a dish, cover it or ask the server to take it away to remove the temptation to mindlessly nibble. It takes your body up to 15 minutes to realize it’s full. Eat slowly and stop when you are satisfied.

Remember that alcohol packs a pretty big caloric punch too. Alternate drinks with a glass of water or diet soda. You’ll drink less over the course of the evening and save not only calories and money, but maybe even a little bit of dignity too. Staying relatively sober will also prevent you from making bad late-night food choices.

Traveling doesn’t have to mean throwing a healthy lifestyle out the window. You can enjoy the tastes of a new place without compromising a commitment to eating well, and being on the road isn’t incompatible with being physically active. By working exercise into your travels, picking your calorie battles and enjoying everything in moderation, you can expand your travel horizons without expanding your waistline.

photo credits: Bike tour by astrobri on Flickr, Thai outdoor gym by Ryan van Laar on Flickr, jumprope girl by JonRawlinson on Flickr, Appetizer by greendragonflygirl on Flickr

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Older comments on How to Stay Fit on the Road

Sean Keener
29 May 2009

Agree with these tips. As I get older – I’m 36 now – exercise is one of the main parts of travel for me. Yoga, running, hiking. I want to do the active things I do at home, just in other places.