Prioritizing nutrition, fitness, and healthy habits is such an important part of staying healthy when traveling and spending time abroad. It’s often too easy to take on the mindset that since you’re traveling, you can take a break from your normal exercise routines and healthy habits – but this will ultimately backfire, causing you to lose energy and motivation to keep up with your healthiest way of being.
Many people believe that it’s just too difficult to exercise regularly and stay fit when on the road, so they build in this “off” time, and vow to get “back on track” when they return home. The problem with this mindset is that it builds in poor excuses as a reason to slack off on important habits, and is extremely detrimental for long-stay travelers and nomads looking to build a life abroad.
A big part of the nomadic lifestyle is learning how to adapt your “normal” life to the road and to another country. This means being flexible and able to create a set of productive and healthy habits that will keep you at your peak wherever you are – whether that’s in an airport, on a train, or moving into a new apartment in a foreign country.
Staying Fit While Traveling
Before we look at how to maintain fitness while traveling, let’s look at some of the excuses often brought up for why people DON’T stay fit on the road:
Common excuses for slacking off on fitness when traveling:
I don’t have my normal gym/equipment! – True, you’re going to have to adapt to an entirely new environment, and that may mean finding new ways to workout without the equipment you’re used to. But guess what? So many places you’ll likely travel to do have gyms and fitness equipment – it’s all about being resourceful and finding these places as you go. Also, get creative with how you workout – you definitely don’t need a gym or any special equipment to get your heart pounding and sweat on.
My sleep schedule is all out of whack! – It’s easy to think that because you’re traveling and your sleep pattern is off, that exercise should be the first thing to go. But in reality, exercising will help your body get re-grounded and re-energized, as long as you take those first few steps out the door to get it done.
I’m not eating my regular meals, so I might as well not workout. Just because you’re not cooking in your own kitchen, doesn’t mean that your exercise regimen should go out the window. Use this as even more reason to stay fit when you’re away from your normal routine, creating a fitness habit that inspires healthy eating, and getting creative with finding or preparing healthy meals if you don’t have access to a kitchen.
Fitness Tips for Travelers
Get acquainted with the local facilities. – Nearly every city or destination you visit will have some sort of gym or fitness facilities that you can easily take advantage of when on the road. It may take a bit of time and effort to find these places, but consider this a part of the traveling life. It’s so crucial to prioritize your fitness if you’re going to get the most out of your travels, as this will improve your energy and mood. Book accommodations as close to a gym or fitness center as you can, to make sure you will actually use them.
Look up local classes or sports meetups – Yoga classes, aerobics classes, Ultimate Frisbee, pickup soccer… these are all probably going on in the places you travel to. It just takes a simple search on Google or Facebook to find a plethora of fitness-related meetups, classes, and activities going on every day. Bonus: it’s a great way to meet other travelers and locals. Try a few classes, and if you’re staying in town long enough, develop a routine where you go to those classes every day or every week.
Build exercise into your days – If you’re sightseeing, then you can count on the fact that you’ll be getting plenty of exercise in your days. Make sure to see the city by foot, and you’ll log miles and miles without even realizing it. Rent bicycles to see parts of the city that are too far to go by foot. Go hiking on the weekend to experience the local natural surroundings. The possibilities are endless, and you definitely don’t need a gym to stay fit. If you really are a gym rat and can’t find one nearby, you can build in a solid workout routine into your mornings in your room at home, completing short and intense intervals of aerobic exercises that require no equipment. With an internet connection, you can watch countless videos on YouTube to inspire and guide you through exercises you can do at home. There really are no excuses for not staying in great shape on the road!
The Importance of Commitment
Yes, we all know that staying fit and active is an essential part of being healthy and enjoying life to the fullest. But a super crucial part of setting up and maintaining a fitness routine when you’re traveling, is making the commitment to yourself and your health goals.
It’s definitely more difficult to keep up a fitness habit when you don’t have all the routines and comforts of home. That’s what makes this kind of commitment even more meaningful. Keep in mind that when you commit to a fitness practice away from home, whether you’re traveling around Asia, immersing in one country, or intending to move abroad for several months to a year, you’re declaring to yourself that health and fitness are a priority.
The commitments you make to yourself, especially when the circumstances may be more challenging than normal, reflect the way that you’ll show up in all other areas of your life – from business to family to relationships.
When you’re traveling internationally, you may run into some epic long layovers – 24 or even 36 hours or more. These are dangerously long periods of sitting, shuffling through airports, and sitting even more, for hours upon hours on end.
First off – don’t judge yourself if all you feel like doing is barely scraping by to the next stopover. Air travel is exhausting, and combined with the time changes and crazy security and customs lines, it’s so important to be easy on yourself and your energy levels.
In other words, don’t pressure yourself to be an Ironman doing pushups for an hour at every gate you’re waiting at! But that being said, it is important to get your blood flowing and stay active, in order to decrease your jet lag and make sure your energy and health stay high when you land.
Pre-boarding tips to stay healthy when flying
While long-haul travel isn’t exactly the healthiest thing for your body, you can definitely mitigate its effects by taking some simple measures in the hours before you board:
Avoid fast food and the bar. While it’s convenient to grab a burger and relax with a cocktail in the hours before your flight, you’ll be better off avoiding these unhealthy options. Most airport food is laden with dehydrating salt and chemicals, and your options on board won’t be much better – so do your best to find a salad or bring your own food to the airport to snack on before boarding.
As for alcohol, while it can be relaxing to have a drink before flight time, alcohol dehydrates your body and combined with the dehydrating atmosphere on a plane, this lowers your immune system and makes you more susceptible to germs and illnesses picked up on a plane. Use a healthier alternative to relax, such as melatonin or herbal remedies.
Pack a (big) empty water bottle. Don’t get stuck in the trap of having to wait for those teeny little cups of water to come by in the beverage service while on your flight – this won’t be enough water to hydrate you fully in the low humidity cabin environment. Bring your own large water bottle to fill up in the water fountain, and make sure to empty it before going through security. This will help you avoid the exorbitant costs you’d have to pay for a little bottle of water at one of the airport shops outside your gate.
Remove your contacts. When you’re in a dry environment like the cabin of a plane, it can be really tempting to scratch and rub your eyes – which is a great way to spread germs and cause an eye infection when you’re in such close proximity with others for so long. Avoid this problem by removing contacts, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding touching your eyes on the plane.
Take your vitamins before you fly. In the days leading up to your travel, make sure that you’re up to speed with taking your multivitamins – especially immunity-boosting vitamins like C and D. You never know how that little extra boost might help you ward off the mixture of germs that are inevitably to be found on your airplane.
Staying healthy on board long flights
Exercise well the day before. Before you leave, make sure to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. In fact, really try to get a great workout in – the kind that leaves you feeling awesomely exhausted afterwards.
Exercise before flying has several benefits. First off, it releases chemicals in your brain that lower stress levels, which is obviously beneficial for dealing with all the hassles of international travel, and the changes your body will go through. We can all agree that it’s far more pleasant to approach a big trip feeling relaxed in your body and mind.
Secondly, getting good exercise in before you fly should help your body rest by the time you get to the flight. Getting a good chunk sleep in while in the air will help your body adapt and bounce back much more quickly when you land.
Get up and move every few hours. While it might be easy to kick back and watch 4 movies straight without getting up from your seat, make sure to get up and stretch every couple of hours if you can. (Obviously, you’ll have more freedom if you’re sitting in the aisle.) It’s important to keep your blood flowing and your muscles from getting too stiff in that seated position – so use those restroom breaks to get a little extra standing and stretching time in.
Eat a healthy meal before flying. Everyone knows that airline food isn’t exactly Organic Express. And while plane food is definitely better than it used to be, it’s still loaded with sodium and preservatives to add back the flavor that’s lost at 35,000 feet (that’s right, the sensitivity of your taste buds actually changes with altitude!)
A steady diet of sodium and chemical-laden food for 12 hours will leave you feeling tired and bloated, so combat this by eating clean before you board. Bring healthy snacks like nuts and fruit to snack on, or even pack your own meal to bring with you.
Drink a ton of water. And we mean a ton. Flying is very dehydrating, as your body is exposed to re-circulated air and low cabin humidity for a prolonged period. Combat the negative effects of dehydration by consciously sipping water and avoiding sugary sodas and dehydrating alcohol while in flight. It might create more restroom trips, but that’s fine – you need to get up to stretch anyway.
Staying active over long layovers
During those times when you’re stuck in an airport for many hours at a time, it’s definitely tempting to park it at a café and zone out on Wi-Fi watching movies or catching up on work. But remember that you’re in between long flights where your body is completely immobile – now is the time to get some activity in so you can arrive feeling non-zombie-like.
Here are some great ways we’ve found to stay active over layovers:
Go exploring! Simple and sweet, walking is great exercise and there’s plenty of it to be done in an airport. As long as you’ve checked your heaviest bags, you’ll be free to explore and wander during your layover, unencumbered by weighty luggage. If your layover is many hours, simply commit to a 30-minute walk, or several 15-minute walks, in between stints of catching up on work on your laptop. Some airports even have walking paths for this very purpose.
Stretch or practice yoga. You might feel silly at first getting your yoga on in public, but you’d be surprised at the number of abandoned gates and sparsely populated (and carpeted!) areas of the airport you can find that are perfect for some seated stretches and even a few downward dogs. Stretching and practicing some yoga feels sooooo good when you’ve been sitting for hours on a plane – take our word for it! If you travel with a yoga mat, then all the better – don’t be shy to lay it out and get your practice on! Chances are, you’ll just inspire others to get off their butts and move around a bit as well.
See if your airport has a gym. Many airports are catching onto the fitness craze, and are opening up gyms and specialty workout areas for travelers on long layovers. Check with the information desk to see what facilities are available – airports are now opening everything from yoga rooms to showers and spas, massage facilities, and pools.
Tal Gur is a world traveler and personal development enthusiast. An adventurer at heart, after trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, Tal spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey continues as a location-independent blogger, lifestyle entrepreneur, and coach. Tal’s published two books: One Year to Freedom, a 1-Year Roadmap to Living Life on Your Own Terms; and, his most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living – 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World.