How To Stay on Track Anywhere You Go

Are you planning on traveling for the holidays this year? Or perhaps you’re someone who travels frequently for work or even leisure. According to the TSA, late November, mid-late December, and early January are the busiest travel times of the year.

For most people, although the end result of seeing and spending time with loved ones is (usually) great, the act and process of getting there can be very stressful. If you’re a fitness fanatic who enjoys routine and structure, and wants to stay on track while you’re traveling, it can be even more stressful. How am I going to keep my gains? How am I going to eat in a way that makes me feel good physically and mentally? How will I adjust to the time zone change?

I get it, it can be a lot to think about. But if you’re traveling this year, or you travel regularly and struggle with health, fitness and wellbeing when you do, you’ve selected the right article.

If you spend a bit of extra time considering a few specific factors before you go, you’ll save yourself a ton of stress when you get there, and you’ll be able to mimic your normal fitness routine as closely as possible (obviously, this will heavily depend on where you’re going - there are exceptions and circumstances where some of these tips won’t work). 

The most important things to focus on to stay fit while traveling are sleep, training, and nutrition. Your mindset and managing expectations are other important factors that cannot be overlooked. Below, I’ll highlight some of the most important aspects of each category to consider when you travel. 

Obviously, sleep comes first.

In order to train hard, eat well, and preserve your sanity, you must start with sleep. This is especially important to consider if you’re changing time zones (especially if it’s a 3+ hour change). If at all possible, you want to try and get on the same day/night schedule as the time zone you’re going to.

This will likely result in one difficult day (3 hours or less time change) or 2-3 lackluster but doable days (6+ hours time change). But if you don’t consider the following, you’ll just be tired and cranky for much longer than necessary: studies show that for every hour of time change, it should take about 1 day to adjust.

So if you flew from New York to Los Angeles (3hr time change), it should theoretically take you 3 days to fully adjust. However, coming from someone who has spent the last 11 years frequently flying to different continents (5-10 hour time changes), you can beat the system (the system being your body’s circadian rhythm) if you plan it correctly. 

Here’s how: no matter what time you arrive at your destination, you immediately adjust to the new day/night schedule. Getting there in the middle of the night or day is a bit easier- just do what you’d normally do. But if you get there, say at 9-10 PM, try to get to bed. If you get there at 6-8 AM, stay up for the day (ideally, you’ll have been able to get a bit of sleep [albeit poor sleep] while on the plane). 

For the latter example, I do understand how much suffering that can be, and it’s acceptable to not be 100% on your game. Short naps are fine (and encouraged), but do your absolute best to get through the day and get to bed at a normal bedtime for the new location. For the former example (arriving at 9PM), if you’re coming from west to east (LA to NY) and it’s only 6PM according to your body’s clock, this is when sleep tools and supplements shine. Blue blockers, melatonin, magnesium, ashwagandha, theanine, lemon balm, gaba, glycine are all effective options. 

Although I don’t recommend implementing all of these tools every night, this is a perfect situation to utilize them. Even if it takes you awhile to fall asleep, you’re still going to feel better the next day than you would if you just stayed up late.

Another hugely important thing to remember is to maximize how much natural light you see in the morning in your new time zone (get out in the sun). This is a great habit to do daily, but even more crucial when trying to adjust your circadian rhythm.

In short, pretend you didn’t change time zones. Trick your body into thinking that the day/night schedule is normal. You will feel fatigued for a day or two, but it’ll be far less severe. Once you’re on a normal sleep wake cycle, it’s time to start venturing out to train and eat.

Training tips

There are many options for training while traveling. It’s not as inconvenient as many people make it out to be and if it’s important to you, you’ll make it happen. First of all, if you’re going on a vacation and it’s not a regular occurrence, you don’t need to train. But if training is something that improves your life and you want to do it, have at it. I know I'm more enjoyable to be around when I'm able to train (albeit less than normal) while on vacation. However, if it’s more of a stress to find a place to train and it detracts from your vacation, don’t sweat it. You won’t lose gains in a week. 

One of my favorite things to do to shake off jet lag is to get a workout in soon after arriving. If your destination is in the same time zone or even if it’s a minimal time change (3 hours or less), finding a gym and getting a workout in is a great way to boost your energy for the rest of the day. If you’ve changed time zones more drastically, perhaps it’s best to skip training for that day and focus on the sleep tips above.

If you travel a lot, and can’t afford to take several days off from training every time you travel, or if you want to train regardless of how often you travel, here are some considerations:

Gold Standard: Find a local gym at your travel destination before you go. A simple Google search can essentially handle this for you. Ideally, you’ll give the gym a call to ask them any pertinent questions and see if you can sign up for a pre-paid temporary pass/membership for the dates you’ll be there so you can just show up and train. One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to check out new gyms. I always have great sessions in new locations. If that makes me a nerd, I’m ok with it.

2nd best option: This applies to those staying in a hotel: There are certain hotels with world class gyms. I once stayed at a JW Marriot for a month in Ankara, Turkey, and the gym in the hotel was one of the nicer, most well-stocked gyms I've ever seen (not just for a hotel gym, but a gym in general). It had all the machines imaginable, dumbbells up to 150lbs, squat racks, deadlift platforms, an indoor olympic sized pool, sauna, turkish bath etc.

But this scenario is quite uncommon, and I stayed there on the government’s dime (wildly expensive). Chances are, if you’re going to a standard hotel, the quality of its gym will be somewhere between terrible and below average. Some hotel gyms are a broken treadmill, weights up to 10 lbs and a random medicine ball. Others are more well stocked, and will certainly suffice short-term. If you can find a hotel with a basic cable machine, adjustable bench, and appropriate dumbbell weights, you’ll be good to go. 

Find a park: If you’re in a somewhat built up area, parks are everywhere. A simple Google search will usually show you several options, and most have photos. Parks almost always have something you can do chin ups on, and many even have parallel dip bars. They’re a great option for an upper body workout. 

Example Park workout: Tri-set of: 20 pushups (slow, controlled tempo), 10 chin ups (or however many is hard), and 20 steps each leg of a bodyweight walking lunge. Repeat for 20-30 minutes and you’re good to go!

Worst case scenario: If, for whatever reason, you cannot make it to a gym, there are no nearby parks, you’re not staying at a hotel or the hotel you’re at is lacking a fitness center, you can train anywhere.

Ideally, you’ll bring some resistance bands (easy to pack in a carry on) and have a bit more options at your disposal. But even if you don’t have anything, you can get an adequate training session done in your hotel room. Push ups and all variations, air squats, goblet/zercher squats holding your luggage are all good options. If you have bands, you can add in pulling/hinging resistance and stimulate more muscles.

If you're at a hotel with many floors, find the staircase and run up it several times, or walk up it wearing a backpack with some weight in it. You will inevitably get some weird looks if you take the elevator back down, but those people are usually just jealous of your discipline and wish they could be you. There are always options that are better than doing nothing at all.

*Pro Tip: Be careful with most “hotel room workout” Google searches. They tend to be HIIT style plyometric based workouts (burpees, jumps etc.). Plyos are great, but not for cardio/high reps. Burpees are ok if you do them with great form, but disastrous if you don’t. 

Get your steps: finally, no matter where you’re at, you can walk. Walking is the best way to familiarize yourself with a new area. It requires zero equipment, and is healthy, both mentally and physically. There’s no reason not to accumulate 10-20,000 steps a day when you travel to a new place, especially if it’s an urban area. 

Nutrition tips

Alright, we’ve got sleep and training under control, now it’s time for the hard part (for most people); nutrition. Sticking to your eating plan on the road can be very difficult. And again, if you’re on vacation and want to enjoy yourself, have at it.

Personally, I still like to feel good on vacation, so I tend to eat healthy, nutritious foods most of the time. If I’m going to indulge in a treat, I do it at dinner/after dinner when the day is over. I don’t enjoy the rest of my day after eating 6 donuts or a massive plate of biscuits and gravy with a side of pancakes. That’s just me, though. You’re welcome to do what you enjoy- it’s vacation!

Done for You Meal Prep: If you’re trying to stick to a healthy nutrition routine, there are many options. In this day and age, meal prep companies are everywhere. Again, this applies mostly to people traveling to or near urban areas, but a simple Google search can tell you where meal prep establishments are located in the vicinity of your destination.

You can even call them before you go and arrange a pickup for meals you’ll be needing while you're there. It can be as simple as just one meal a day, or all three, depending on your situation and goals. I’ll be honest, the quality, quantity and taste of food at some meal prep companies may be of concern (it has been for me). But it’s certainly worth considering. 

Prep Your Own Food: Another option is to select an airbnb with a full kitchen or hotel with a kitchenette. This can not only save money, but also allow you to prepare food just like you do at your house. If you prefer preparing your own food (I know I do), this is certainly worth considering.

If you’re staying at a relative's house, while there’s nothing wrong with eating whatever they prepare, if you’re staying there for several days and they don’t value nutrition like you do, buying your own food and making that the bulk of what you eat is a great strategy.

But consider this: please don’t be that person who skips holiday dinners and turns down your mom’s famous cookies, though. You don’t need to eat them 24/7 every day you’re there, but, special occasions are special occasions, and there’s more to life than having a perfect diet.

Restaurants: Depending on where you’re going, there may be some great restaurant options. You can usually build your own healthy breakfast no matter where you go. Lunch is usually doable as well. Don’t be afraid to search for some healthy restaurants if you don’t want to cook or rely on meal prep for every meal. 

When I travel, I usually cook most breakfasts and lunches, and go out to eat for dinner. I've never really had an amazing enough breakfast or lunch at a restaurant to warrant eating out for those meals. Dinner is a different story, and wrapping up a great day with a great meal and some dessert is usually a worthwhile experience. 

Considerations for road trips: One thing that has always puzzled me is when people go on long road trips and need to stop every 2 hours for “snacks”. Last time I checked, sitting in a vehicle is not energy intensive. This may sound like a personal attack to some of you, but you don’t need to fuel your body like you’d fuel your vehicle during a road trip.

If you’re hungry, by all means eat, but I’d argue that most of the gas station food you’re snacking mindlessly on throughout your road trip is not solving a hunger dilemma, rather, a boredom/craving dilemma. 

If you do have a long trip ahead, prepping your food is the gold standard. Fasting is also a great option for some people. Worst case scenario, if you need food from a gas station, stick to things like beef jerky, ready to drink protein shakes, fruit, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, and other foods that are minimally processed, satiating and high in protein. Nuts are fine, but a 900 calorie pack of trail mix may not be in line with your goals (albeit delicious). Just some things to consider. 

Mindset is everything 

Here’s the deal, traveling is stressful, and it has the tendency to throw people off their routine. If you’re able to come to terms with the fact that everything won’t be perfect and that it’s not the end of the world when something doesn’t go to plan, you’ll be much better off.

Even if you’re going to visit family for the holidays and end up eating yourself sick and skipping the gym for 3-5 days, guess what, you’ll be ok. If you do this and then feel extreme levels of guilt, only to punish yourself and swing in the extreme opposite direction afterwards, you’re not helping your relationship with travel, food, or fitness. 

I used to be that person that didn’t want to travel because I knew I’d inevitably drink too much, not train like I usually do, go overboard on the food, and then hate myself for it afterward. This is not a healthy mindset. Planning and preparation go a long way. But accepting imperfection and making the best of your situation go an even longer way. 

I hope you’ve learned a thing or two from this article that you can apply to your next trip. Traveling is stressful in and of itself, but the truth is, many of us make it even more stressful than it needs to be. I assure you, travel and fitness can mix. You just need to take ownership and take action. 

Happy Holidays! What do you do to stay on track when traveling? Let me know in the comments!

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