The complete guide to staying in shape on the road

A buffet doesn’t have to be bad news for your diet.
A buffet doesn’t have to be bad news for your diet.
Image: Creative Commons/Hotel de la Paix Genève
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You’ve mastered the morning workout, conquered your favorite running track, and nailed the healthy packed lunch for work. But what about when your boss sends you off to a conference, or it’s finally time for a well-deserved vacation? Packing on the pounds isn’t uncommon on the road, what with jetlag, the lack of a familiar gym, long hours sitting in conference rooms, and the lure of room service, the hotel bar, and local cuisine. And then, of course, there’s the “vacation calories don’t count” attitude.

The bad news is, those calories do count, and with many of us traveling more often, they can add up. But here’s another way of thinking about this: Travel time may actually be the perfect opportunity to work out and eat well (not just copiously). Business trips can offer rare hours free of parental and family obligations, the perfect chance to treat yourself to a post-meeting yoga class or long jog. And with some planning and creative choices, a vacation trip can become like personal health spa—filled with outdoor adventures and clean, fresh food.

Quartz asked fitness experts for their tips on how to keep in shape away from home.

Pack the essentials

It’s all in the planning. No, you can’t pack your dumbbells, but there are portable workout essentials that take up little room and weigh less than a a hairbrush. Squeeze in a jump rope, some resistance bands, and a trusty workout DVD for a quick, in-room workout. Some companies even sell portable workout kits for this very purpose.

When it comes to food, pack non-perishable, protein rich snacks such as almonds, and instant oatmeal (you can use the coffee maker in your hotel room to heat the water) to avoid breakfast-buffet temptation. Rob Sulaver, a trainer, sports nutritionist, and founder and CEO of Bandana Training, a fitness brand, also suggests protein bars and individual packets of peanut butter.

Keep moving and hydrated in transit

Airports, and long-haul travel in general, involve a lot of sitting. Its easy to gorge on junk food before flights or during layovers, where the urge for some comfort food is often strong. This is where your pre-packed snacks can come in handy—or even a homemade turkey sandwich.

If you didn’t have the foresight to pack something, try to find salad or soup at one of the airport’s restaurants. Jen Sinkler, a personal trainer, writer, and co-owner of a gym, The Movement Minneapolis, suggests occupying yourself with a book or travel game to avoid boredom eating.

One way to get yourself into the right mindset while in the airport is to think about how long you’ll be sitting still on the flight. That may encourage you to move around—or even to take a hike to a different terminal.

Once on the flight, dry air dehydrates you, and dehydration makes you want to eat—so the most important thing you can do on a plane is stay hydrated. When meals are served, pass on the pasta and opt for a protein-based meal (or arrange ahead of time for a meal that suits your requirements). And don’t be afraid to ask for extra fruit or veggies if you’re hungry.

Make use of your surroundings

It’s all about being a lateral thinker, Stephane Be, a travel blogger, says: For example, think about turning a business meeting into a power walk on the beach. Or suggest a team-building bike ride or nature hike, or even deadlifts in a conference room.

If your hotel has a pool, go for a swim. Many hotels have some sort of fitness center, which may not hold a candle to your home gym but will probably have the basics. If you’re in a city, you can also sometimes sign up for a free trial at a local gym.

And there’s no better way to check out a new city than by throwing on a pair of sneakers and going for a quick jog, says Sulaver. He recommends taking advantage of the new terrain around you: “Beach workouts are sexy. Mountain running is brutal. Forest[s] are Mother Nature’s playground. Use ‘em.”

Behold, the hotel-room workout

If you’re really pressed for time, think of your hotel room as your gym: Pop a DVD into your laptop, open up a fitness app on your smartphone, or pull up some yoga videos on YouTube.

Sinkler likes to use Valslidesa set of small, portable slide boards that can fit into your laptop case. She tells Quartz they work like a charm on hotel room carpets. The company also sells a Valkit for travel. And if she’s traveling on four wheels, Sinkler makes sure to buckle a kettlebell or two into the backseat.

Pat Davidson, director of training methodology at Peak Performance, a gym in New York, told Quartz that laying out a plan of standard, basic exercises—pushups, jumping jacks, squats, and planks—serve as effective, quick workouts you can do anywhere.

Sinkler turns to YouTube for free bodyweight and minimal-equipment workouts (and she put in a plug for her own website, which also offers free weekly workouts). Some of her favorites are this 20-minute hotel workout that involves using your luggage as free weights, and this fat-burning hotel room workout. You can use a desk chair for crunches, a leg rest for tricep dips, or simply march up and down the building’s stairs.

Here’s an example of a hotel room workout video by Equinox, a gym based in New York:

Eat and drink with intention

If you’ll have access to a kitchen, then definitely hit up the grocery store.

If eating out, go for grilled, baked, or broiled proteins and steamed veggies, or a big, tasty salad, preferably involving local flavors. Jill Coleman, a fitness and nutrition entrepreneur, is on a Big Ass Salad (#BAS) tour of the world, which she’s documenting on Instagram:

Sinkler likes to immerse herself in the local culinary experience, though she skips the bread and booze. Never settle for a “meh” meal that isn’t satisfying or will make you feel bad afterwards, she says: “Farm-to-table restaurants are all the rage now, offering high-quality, sustainably sourced menu items,” she said.

Some experts suggest not even opening the room service menu to avoid any temptation; instead, call and order your own simple meal, whether it’s a grilled chicken breast with a side of steamed broccoli, or baked salmon on top of a bed of greens, with dressing on the side. At the hotel bar, customize your cocktail to make it healthier.

If you’re tackling the breakfast buffet, don’t use it as an excuse to pig out: Avoid the sugary pastries and opt for what you usually eat when you’re home, or stick to yogurt, fruit, and oatmeal. If all-you-can-eat buffets bring out the beast in you, call ahead and order something like an egg white omelet to be delivered to your room.

Use the minibar for good, not evil

Not every hotel has a healthy vending machine in its lobby. That leaves hungry guests turning to the minibar, which is generally filled with overpriced snacks your body doesn’t need. But turn away from that Tobelerone: Instead, use the fridge to stock your healthy snacks, such as lunchmeat, Greek yogurt, or local cheese.

Be realistic, and get your beauty sleep

Consistency is the key to successful fitness, whether at home or on the road. Avoid that “special occasion” mentality, and even if you can’t follow your full regular routine, find some way to move your body.

But also, be realistic about what is and isn’t possible, Davidson says: “Oftentimes we get caught up in process—that we have to exercise—and it adds stress to an already stressful situation,” he says. Sometimes, he adds, “trying to get a good night’s sleep is better and more important than working out.”