How to Stay Fit When You’re Traveling

A guide from someone who’s mastered the skill.

By: Annie Daly

Published: February 20, 2019

As a professional freelance wellness and travel writer, I am no stranger to the open road. Since I don’t have an office I need to report to every day, I’ve turned the world into my office, working everywhere from my bed in Brooklyn to the airport in Costa Rica to my hotel room in Thailand. While this may sound like a dream job to many, though — and it truly is! — it can also be hard to maintain my health and fitness routine on the road. Jet lag can be a real drag, for one thing, not to mention all of the questionable airplane food, the gym-less Airbnbs, and the general lack of routine that travel can create. But I’ve managed. Throughout my years wandering the globe, I’ve figured out three basic, key rules that help me keep up my personal fitness no matter what — and now I consider it my civic duty to share these rules with you. Consider this your ultimate guide to staying in shape no matter where you are in the world.

Rule #1: Always have a plan.

My grandfather used to joke that “if you haven’t got a plan, you’ve got a problem!” While there are certainly many things wrong with this statement — a lack of spontaneity comes to mind — there is also one thing that is very right: Plans are actually very useful when you are trying to stay on track with your goals. I’ve found that even going into your trip with a general idea of what you’ll attempt to do is better than thinking you’ll just wing it when you get there.

To figure out your plan, do some basic preliminary research: Does your hotel or Airbnb have a clear workout area, like a gym or a cool yoga area that’s just calling for some tropical downward dogs? Are you staying on or near a beach, which means that you can go swimming, or will you be near some dope hiking or running trails? If you’re going somewhere urban, are there any cool boutique fitness studios or personal training services you’d want to check out? For example:

If you’re going to New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, for example, you could give BACH a go — we send a personalized training expert to your doorstep, wherever your doorstep happens to be.

The point here is that fitness doesn’t have to be something you “squeeze in” before you do something else — it can be the something else you do! And in my experience, having a rough idea of even the type of activity you’ll try to do will help you actually do it when you get there. Plus, I’ve found that using fitness as a way to explore a new location is one of the best ways to see the destination through local eyes — and maintain your health & fitness to boot.

Rule #2: Once you have a plan, however vague it may be, pack accordingly..

Knowing what type of activity you’re going to try to do on your vacation will also help you pack accordingly. The easiest packing situation, of course, is when the place you’re staying has a gym — in that case, you just fill your bag with your regularly scheduled gym programming, and you’ll be good to go.

If the place you’re going doesn’t have a gym, things get a bit trickier. I’ve found that the easiest gear to pack is a travel yoga mat (this one’s my favorite, because it’s super lightweight and foldable), running shoes or hiking shoes or both (because you can always find a good trail!), a bathing suit, and a good jump rope. That’s it. There are so many articles out there that tell you to bring tons of other stuff, like travel medicine balls and mini weights and resistance bands and more. But honestly? I don’t think those things are necessary. There are tons of no-equipment bodyweight workout videos online that you can do in your room, and you can always use water bottles for hand weights if you want to go in that direction. If you do want to use at least one piece of equipment, a jump rope is a solid no-fail option—and it’s super easy to pack.

Rule #3: Try to keep up one or two other parts of your at-home routine, too..

Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite parts about travel is the uncertainty of it all. Isn’t that why we get out there and explore, after all? To put ourselves in random situations and learn how other people live? Yes, it most certainly is — but all of that instability can also throw you for a mental loop as well, which can make it harder to stay motivated to keep up your fit lifestyle as a result.

I’ve found that one great way to ensure that you don’t lose motivation to stay on track with your fitness goals is to incorporate one to two other parts of your at-home routine while you’re on the road, too. For me, that’s continuing on with my before-bed skincare routine (I’ve got serums and lotions and potions galore, and I bring all of them with me when I travel), and meditating for five minutes first thing in the morning. Beginning and ending the day in the same way, no matter where I am in the world, helps me feel balanced and stable — which makes it easier for me to make healthy decisions throughout the day, too. My advice to you: Figure out one or two parts of your at-home wellness routine that you can bring with you when you travel, too. Maybe there’s a certain tea that you drink before bed every night; bring a few of those tea bags with you. Maybe you call your mom every day; don’t forget to investigate the phone situation and figure out how you’ll make that happen if you’re abroad. The point is that doing a couple of the things you do at home can help you feel more grounded in your you-ness when you’re on the road — and that can help you stick to your core fitness values no matter where you are on the map.