How I stay fit while traveling more than 100 days a year
As a food and travel writer, most of the questions I get tend to be about restaurant recommendations, which cities to visit, and “How do you stay in shape when you eat like that?” And yes, it’s much harder to stay fit while traveling than at home. But the truth is that most of the pizza, pastry, and pasta I eat tends to be on camera or documented in some way. And if I’m in Columbus (which happens to be the last city I visited), I’m not posting Instagram stories of my morning yoga, weight training, cardio, etc.
Just like numerous pizza questions led me to write a list of my favorite NYC pizza spots, “How do you stay fit while traveling?” questions have inspired this post.
While everyone’s metabolism is different, and things like where you live and what hours you work play a major factor in how you are able to stay fit in your day-to-day life, I hope you find something useful in this piece.
Take advantage of the hotel gym
Most hotels and resorts have gyms. While most are no substitute for a stand-alone fitness center, anything is better than nothing if you want to stay fit while traveling. As someone who travels more than 100 days a year, I try to start every morning with at least 30 minutes at the gym. The only exception is when my flights are way too early to get a workout in. While I do take advantage of the hotel buffet when time permits, it’s usually just for a post-workout yogurt or some fresh fruit.
Keep a gym membership (the more locations the better)
I’ve had a Planet Fitness Black Card membership for several years. This allows me the convenience of being able to find a gym in nearly every major American city and many in Canada. I’ve used more than 40 locations in the United States alone. And if there are multiple locations that are a similar distance from where I’m staying, I try to use a different one each time. I’ve done this in cities like Markham, Baltimore, and Harrisburg. Last year, I was even lucky enough to have a Planet Fitness location next to my hotel in State College.
You can join Planet Fitness now for just $1 down via my referral code.
Walk whenever possible
Most of my travel is to larger cities. And I always try to stay in the most walkable areas. While part of my reasoning is that I want to avoid passing by potentially interesting spots because I’m on wheels, it’s also to substitute for the fact that I can’t do the type of intense P90X workouts I do at home. I usually do weights at the gym and cardio at home.
Over the past year, I’ve explored new cities like Chattanooga, Colorado Springs, and Calgary. While those are just three examples, all had one thing in common. They were generally walkable, but I also had the option to either use an easily accessible bike rental (Chattanooga and Colorado Springs) or the free light rail in the downtown area (Calgary).
Take advantage of hotel bikes
Just because you don’t see bicycles neatly lined up in your hotel lobby doesn’t mean they are not available. And I’ve never had a hotel ask for anything more than a damage deposit on a bike. So assuming no accident(s), hotel bikes are essentially free. From more spread-out cities like Boise to compact ones with good public transit like Boston, I’ve used hotel bikes for trips of less than a mile to 30-mile journeys to outlying areas.
Yes, I’ve probably used Uber and Lyft more than I’ve cycled, but whenever I’m not in a rush, I always opt to cycle longer distances or walk shorter ones. That’s especially the case after dinner. And every hotel I’ve taken a bike from has always given me a helmet and lock.
Stay away from sugary drinks and avoid all alcohol
I realize this is not for everyone, but just think about how many extra calories you are taking in with sugary drinks. As mocktails (or zero-proof cocktails, according to Royal Caribbean) are becoming more prevalent, I do tend to try one with dinner from time to time. But ONE and WITH DINNER. I try to splurge only once a day, and it’s nearly always at dinnertime. And then I try to walk afterward. That’s pretty much a requirement in cities like New York, but I try to eat dinner early when traveling. That usually works outside of Spain, Argentina, and parts of Latin America.
I appreciate the money I save by drinking tap water with most meals. Just look at any menu at a nicer restaurant, and you’ll see that you can easily spend as much on drinks as on food.
Try a juice cleanse
Back in January, I did my first juice cleanse. It had been on my mind for several years, and I finally settled on Arden’s Garden out of Atlanta. I went with the 2-day detox cleanse, which I was not sure I’d be able to complete. In fact, I was so concerned about this that I waited until I had two days in a row when I’d be driving during dinner time. And those happened to be the two days leading up to the 2023 Boston Travel and Adventure Show.
The Arden’s Garden 2-day detox cleanse called for me to drink eight 16-ounce bottles of distilled water mixed with orange, grapefruit, and lemon juices. It took me two-and-a-half days, but I did finish the 16 bottles. Afterward, I felt energized and focused (the complete opposite of the sluggish feeling I might get after eating dinner right before bed).
My biggest concern was the fear of not being able to fall asleep due to extreme hunger. But it wasn’t like that at all. Maybe it took a few more minutes, but I was lucky enough to stay in my own apartment the first night. The following night, I had a comfortable room at the Westin Copley Place Boston, and my presentation at the show went fine, as did New York and DC the following weekends.
While I do plan to do another juice cleanse in the future, it will be a strategic thing. I’ll most likely do the next one after a trip that is mostly food-focused and where I have to eat more than I usually would for more consecutive days than I normally would.
In summary, while I do recommend a juice cleanse, it can’t undo a month of poor food and drink choices in two days.
Cook at home
You may be forced to eat out when traveling, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a regular thing at home. Cooking at home saves you money and can be much healthier as well. At a minimum, it will give you complete control of which ingredients you are using and how much. And you don’t have to actually cook. For example, three of my go-to dishes at home do not require any cooking beyond heating brown rice.
Two of the three are Burmese tea leaf salad and a poke bowl. The other is papaya salad, which you can watch me prepare on Instagram. Like I try to do when dining out, I usually drink water or green tea with dinner.
For breakfast, I make a smoothie with fresh fruit and Shakeology powder. That usually holds me over until lunch, when Greek yogurt with silan date syrup is usually enough to hold me over until dinner.
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