Healthy Hacks for Staying Fit On the Road

Greetings from Las Vegas, Nevada!

Over the past six months, I have not missed a workout despite spending time in quite a few different places:

  • Nashville, TN
  • Dallas, TX
  • Austin, TX
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Miami, FL
  • A floating music festival
  • San Diego, CA
  • Maui, HI
  • Las Vegas, NV (three times!)
  • Portland, OR

Not only have I not missed a workout, but I’ve also managed to get in the best shape of my life over that time frame.  We receive emails every day from people who have the same problem:

“Steve, when I’m at home I am great and can stay on track, but I travel a lot for work and it’s really easy to get thrown off, help?”

Although I’ve already written extensively about being healthy as a traveling nomad three years ago, I wanted to revisit this topic for the traveling working professional and share my experiences and thoughts about staying healthy on the road.

It is absolutely possible to make great progress while traveling; one of our best success stories ever, NF Rebel Joe, managed to lose 130 pounds in 10 months while traveling TWO weeks a month, every month.

If you happen to be a road warrior, or travel junkie, and/or spend more time in an airport than an office, I got you covered!

Get your head in the game

you can

The challenge with getting fit on the road is often due to not having the right mental attitude before the trip even starts.  It’s not due to a gym, or no options for healthy eating, but because your head is not in the game.

I stopped telling myself that missing workouts and eating like crap was inevitable, and instead decided that getting fit was inevitable, no matter my location.

So, before you even set foot on a plane, or before you get into your car, you need to level up your mental game:

1) Make a commitment to yourself.  I knew I was going to be traveling like crazy for the past six months, and in the past I would always tell myself “I don’t have time to exercise.”  However, over this recent stretch, I haven’t missed a single workout. How?  By telling myself that I WOULD NOT MISS A WORKOUT!

I’ve had to work out very early in the morning, very late at night, or cram a workout in halfway through the day.  I’ve worked out in gyms, parks, playgrounds, etc.  Remember, “I don’t have time is a big fat lie.”

2) Make exercise the one constant in a trip full of uncertainty.  As pointed out in this article, I’ve made exercise into my “Constant” (to borrow a term from Lost) – when my life gets crazy and I’m always in a new environment, exercise is the constant in my life that keeps me grounded.

3) Never miss two in a row.  I realize we all have busy lives, and things happen, but I’ve added this rule to my life that has kept me on track despite a hectic lifestyle.

I had to apply this rule last week after having a bit too much fun at the World Domination Summit.  I was exhausted, with no voice, and had very little time, but I knew that if I missed a day on my workout, suddenly skipping my workout the next day would be even easier.

So, when I’m traveling, I NEVER miss two workouts in a row.

If I was supposed to work out on Monday but due to travel had to skip it, I would work out on Sunday, and then again on Tuesday.  If I have to eat an unhealthy meal, then my NEXT meal that same day suddenly becomes the most important meal of my life, and it has to be healthy.

Plan ahead

hitch

When you get ready for a trip, you probably go through a checklist:

  • Toiletries kit
  • Socks, underwear, undershirts
  • Dress/Suit/Tie/Shoes
  • Laptop, iPad, Kindle

There’s one thing that might get left out: your plan of attack for getting fit!

I now travel everywhere with a set of olympic rings (purchased from my buddy Peter at FringeSport).  I know that with those rings, as long as I can find a tree branch or swingset to hang them from, I can complete 99.9% of a workout that I would complete if I was at home.

I also make sure I have enough workout clothes with me, as all it takes is a simple “oops, out of workout shirts” to convince myself that I’m not ready to exercise.  It’s a amazing what we can justify to ourselves to avoid something.

I put my workouts into my Google Calendar, with alerts set to remind me on the days and times I need to exercise.  This one action probably adds 50% to my probability of actually exercising.  Just as you would build a better batcave at home, you too can build a better batmobile (see what I did there?) that sets you up for success.

I do the best I can to plan ahead on my meals too.  If I know I’m going to be spending all day in an airport, or on an 8-hour road trip, I see if there’s a way I can bring a healthy snack along with me so that I can tread water (and maintain momentum) until a healthier option presents itself.

I remind myself that ANYTHING is better than nothing. Last week, my schedule was so hectic that I only had thirty minutes to work out, so I dialed my workout back to just the essentials.  I warmed up, did sets of heavy squats, then some romanian deadlifts, and got the hell out of there!

If you don’t have time to work out for an hour, do 30 minutes. If you don’t have time to run 5 miles, run 2 miles.  If you only have time to do push ups in your hotel room, do push ups in your hotel room.

YES, planning ahead requires work.  Planning ahead also puts you in a much better position to succeed.

Now that we’ve taken care of the mental aspect of travel, it’s time to dig into the logistics.

Locate your “gym”

gym

Despite spending probably 50-60 days in hotels over the past six months, I probably used a hotel gym twice.  

Why?

Because most hotel gyms are absolutely awful – they generally have a collection of treadmills, ellipticals, and non-function work-out machines (boooo machines!)

So I work out anywhere and everywhere else.  You have a few key options when it comes to training on the road. I don’t care which one you pick, as long as you pick one:

1) Find an actual gym. A simple google search will reveal actual gyms in the area that you’re staying.  I guarantee there is a 24-hour fitness, LA fitness, or local gym that will have the actual equipment you need (for me, it’s barbells for squats, deadlifts, and presses, and something to hang my rings from).  Call them before you arrive and ask them how much a week’s membership is, if they allow deadlifts, and if they have any free trials.

This is the most expensive option, but if you have room in your budget and this is something you can spend extra money on, this is my favorite option - it’s a lot easier to stay on a routine when you can replicate your home workout situation.

2) Find a playground. While traveling the world, I would pull up google maps each time I got to a new town and looked for a green square on the map.  I figured that as long as there was a park, there would be trees and hopefully a playground.

We’ve covered an extensive playground workout (which I used while living in Ecuador) that will give you a complete full body workout that can be done anywhere! Really, you just need something to hang from for your “pull” movements and everything else can be done with just your body weight.  This is where my Olympic rings come in handy!

3) Use the hotel gym.  While planning for my trips, if I can’t find a suitable gym or park in the area near to my hotel, I’ll contact the hotel or check out the hotel online and see pictures of their gym – if they have dumbbells then I know I can at least MacGyver myself a workout that still covers the essentials (build your own workout here). It’s not 100%, but you can get pretty darn close if you’re creative and plan properly!

4) Do a hotel room workout.  So busy you can’t even leave your hotel room?  Hotel gym sucks? No park or gym near you?  Do a hotel room work out!

Here’s more info on how to complete a true workout without leaving your hotel room, in 20 minutes!

5) Do a gas station workout!  Check my guest post on Mark’s Daily Apple about how to stay healthy on a roadtrip.  Pull over and do a workout using the side of your car while filling up your gas tank:

Shhhh, did you hear that? It was all of your excuses for not exercising while traveling flying out the window!  With ONE of the five options above, you literally have no reason why you cannot complete a workout while traveling.

Now, the REAL reason why exercising is so damn important isn’t just because it helps build muscle, make you stronger, and keep you healthier – it also helps ensure that the calories you consume are going towards building muscle and not getting stored as fat.

On top of that, how we eat is 80-90% of the battle, whether we’re trying to lose weight or if we’re looking to get bigger and stronger, and by exercising every day we always keep thinking healthy.

So let’s dig into road warrior nutrition!

Eat right, level up

unhealthy

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something in our brains that tell us “I’m traveling, TIME TO EAT LIKE AN IDIOT!”  

If we’re not careful, all of our months of hard work focused on making better eating decisions can grind to a screeching halt, not unlike getting hit with a red shell in Mario Kart (I see you Luigi!).  When you take an entire week off from eating healthy while traveling, it makes getting back on track when you return infinitely harder.

So we need to tread water and stay on target while traveling with our diet so that we don’t lose all of that momentum.

Focus on these few goals while traveling: maximizing protein consumption, limiting liquid calories, eating vegetables, and never making two “mistakes” in a row.

Protein builds muscle, and it can also be incredibly filling.  I make sure every meal has a protein source, and aim to eat as much of it as possible.  This is much preferred to filling myself with empty calories like bread.

I limit liquid calories.  I know I’m going to be drinking, so I am extra diligent with my meals so the alcohol doesn’t throw off my diet completely.

Vegetables are my friend. Like protein, I try to eat as many veggies as possible, knowing they’re full of nutrients and light on calories.

Remember that anything is better than nothing.  We’re not compounding a mistake by making two.   Saying “I ate like an ***hole for breakfast, so today is ruined” is a losing mentality.  So, if we eat poorly for one meal, the next meal HAS to be healthy. No excuses.

Mentally you’re prepared to eat right, now let’s cover an actual game plan for doing so.

Road warriors unite

polynesian resort

BOOM!  Just like that, we’ve officially conquered every barrier between you and a healthy life on the road.

It really comes down to three key things:

1) Priorities – staying healthy and getting stronger can happen on the road, but it must be front and center in your mind.  Making healthy eating decisions is a choice. Going to the gym is a choice.  No more excuses.

2) Plan ahead - know where you’re going to work out, and when.  Put your workout in your calendar.

3) Never miss two in a row - shit happens and life gets screwed up while traveling.  Don’t let one mistake become two.

What are your biggest struggles while on the road?

Have you found a way to be happy and healthy while traveling?

Inquiring minds want to know! Leave a comment below and help out your fellow road warriors.

-Steve

PS: Speaking of travel, next week I’m off to Amsterdam for 3 days and then Croatia for 10 days!  This is my first international trip since going to Brazil for Carnival last year, and I’m so freaking excited.  Time to cross a few things off the Epic Quest list :)

If you happen to live in/near Amsterdam or Split, leave a comment or hit me up on twitter at @SteveKamb so we can meet up!

###

photo source: Sonia Carolina: You can, Anne: Gym, Brave Heart: McDonalds, Robert: Highway, i k o: hitch-hiking, Joe Penniston: polynesian resort

Get The Rebel Starter Kit

Enter your email and we’ll send it right over.

  • The 15 mistakes you don’t want to make.
  • The most effective diet and why it works.
  • Complete your first workout today, no gym required.
  • These are the tools you need to start your quest.
  • Healthy in a Hotel

    Hi all! I JUST started a new blog on this topic last week (so not much content yet, but watch for more soon!). Check it out – http://www.healthyinahotel.com. Steve was definitely an inspiration to me for staying healthy when I started traveling every week for work. ~zettarooski (Jozette)

  • Kathryn

    Hey Steve! Im going out of town on Wednesday but I am staying with my family. My great grandma cooks dinner every night and it is not anywhere close to healthy. I am only 15 so i really can’t drive anywhere to get something else..Any ideas?

  • Amanda

    Great article! For me, the toughest part of traveling is dealing with peer pressure from your coworkers/co-travelers. It’s so much easier traveling by myself; there’s no one saying, “Great meeting! Skip your workout, let’s go celebrate at the bar!”

  • Tracie Laulusa

    Kathryn, we all face that challenge when we are eating at relatives’ or friends’ houses. I try to eat more of what is on my list of “good” and less of what is on my list of “bad”. Then make sure you are doing your best eating at your other meals. Maybe you could ask your family to stock a wish list of healthy snacks–sugar peas, cucumbers, fruit, whatever is on your list.

  • Tracie Laulusa

    What exactly are olympic rings. I put that in the search bar at Fringe Sport and it didn’t come up with anything like rings.

  • LadyWitch
  • Aaron Johnson

    My personal favorite for exercising at hotels is the Johnson & Johnson 7 Minute Workout app!
    https://7minuteworkout.jnj.com/

  • Aaron Johnson

    Portion control. :)

  • Bullwinkle

    Great article. I just came back from a long weekend and I was able to still get in a good workout on the road. I agree that most hotels have crappy gym facilities but mine at least had a pull up bar. I was able to get in 5 rounds of pull ups, push ups, and squats. I had brought my jump rope so I was able to get in 100 double unders. Topped it off with 10 laps in the pool. Felt great. My only regret is that I am one of those idiots that feel when I go away I can eat like anything I want. So yeah I have to work on that.

  • Tracie Laulusa

    Thanks!

  • Gary Hamon

    I bring my kettlebell with me when I’m on the road (as long as I’m not flying). I can get a really good workout in my room with just one bell.

  • http://travelstrong.net/ Will Owen

    Some great advice in there Steve.

    It’s not that difficult to wake up a bit earlier and get in a quick bodyweight workout, but it is difficult to ensure that you’re going to be able to eat well on the road. That’s why you have to make healthy eating a *priority* by taking some healthy snacks with you if you’re going on a long trip, thin about your protein sources in a given country, drink plenty of water throughout the day etc.

  • zlycher

    I used to workout at a gym every single day and was in great shape! Then I changed locations for a month and totally fell out of my routine. I realized that I needed to have the tools to workout anywhere. I highly recommend “You are your own gym” by Mark Lauren. I’ve read the book and have been doing his workouts two months. I feel totally capable of getting a good workout in any situation and can even make up my own without referring to the book!

  • Mike

    Steve: any tips for finding veggies while you’re on the road? Lettuce/tomatoes are easy to find, but there’s only so many chicken caesar salads a guy can eat.

  • http://www.leeandshannon.com Lee

    If you have any free time while you’re in Las Vegas, hit me up. I have a buddy in from out of town and he and I have both sort of had that “I’m not going to be able to keep up with my kid if I don’t fix things soon” realization a few months ago and have been rapidly fixing that situation. We were hiking at Red Rock Canyon this morning before I went in to work and I was talking about your site and he seemed really interested. But yeah, if you have time, could go hiking at Red Rock or Lake Mead, or come over for a home cooked primal meal. I guess that’s one way to eat healthy while travelling, post about it on the internet and meet up with like minded people to eat ;-)

  • Nerdy Jock

    When it comes to vacation eating, I’m not afraid to indulge. The key is to make choices and plan ahead for what you want to indulge in! If you know you’re going to an amazing local restaurant for dinner, go lighter on breakfast and lunch. Pick what you want the most and then really enjoy it.

  • Jay M

    Some hotels know their workout room sucks and partner with a local gym. Always ask if yours does and can get in somewhere for free.

  • Pat Lebrun

    What about doing 12 hour shifts and being too tired to work out? I normally work 8 hour office shifts when I’m working at home, but when I get on the road, it’s generally 10-12 hour shifts of hard work on the field….I get tired very easily in that situation and most o the times I can’t manage to do a single movement, but go to the restaurant and sit in bed!

  • Kaleb

    I travel a minimum of 8 days a month (usually more like 10-14) and I’ve found Anytime Fitness to be a great gym while on the road. Memberships are usually around $35-$45 but it’s pretty rare that I can’t find one, and sometimes I end up in some really small towns. Also eating at grocery stores is the way to go as most if them have fresh cut fruit and chicken breasts along with lunch meat.

  • Shane Mclean

    This is a awesome post. I have no excuses left :(

  • Howard Proctor

    I am frequently on long road trips and often only have the choice of Mcdonalds at service stations. One of the things I try to do is “make the most” out of a Maccas meal. For example, ordering chicken nuggets (no sauce), a salad (instead of fries) and a coke Zero. It is still putting trash in your body, but fulfills some of your macronutrients without having too many carbohydrates. I guess it is OK if you balance it out with a healthy breakfast and dinner. Love your rule to never miss two in a row!

  • Susan DeHaan

    I am close to Amsterdam and been meaning to get back over there. When will you be there? I would love to meet up.

  • MFFozz

    For me Thai restaurants and grocery stores are my main go to while traveling. Thai especially you can sub extra veggies and meat for rice or noodles and they usually have a good variety. but I usually stay at a town for a week or two before heading to the next spot so it makes it easier. If you are actually road tripping and not staying for any length of time in a city the best way is to prepare in advance. I like to travel with a cooler packed full of everything I need but if you are in an actual city google is your friend it just takes some diligent searching.

  • http://teaandkettlebells.com/ Simone

    What about going for water instead of the coke? :)

  • Mike

    Yeah, I was thinking some more about this last night, and ethnic food may be the way to go. Fajitas (for example) aren’t the best thing in the world, but they generally have peppers and onions mixed in. Also, if you can get a hotel room with a microwave, those veggie steamer bags (or Green Giant single-serving vegetable things) can work.

  • bmiller85

    Kathryn, is there any way you can bring food that is healthy and eat your Grandma’s in moderation? For example, if she makes a hashbrown casserole as the main course, it would be advised to eat some (as you don’t want to starve), but also eat some carrot sticks you packed (or almonds, or whatever else you may bring). Eat to not offend your Grandma, but also eat your own snacks between meals.

  • bmiller85

    It’s always tough to get back into a habit you fall out of. Way to go on getting back on the horse!

  • bmiller85

    Pat, do you work on a 4 day on, 3 day off schedule? Or something along those lines? Being that rest is essential for muscle growth, you could develop a program where you work hard on strength training during your off work days at a gym, and then on work days (before, after, or while at work) work on mobility to increase flexibility and range of motion. You can do 30 minutes of mobility work (all you need are a few resistance bands, and 3 lacrosse balls) each off day will actually help improve your strength training. Mobility exercise will also help alleviate your muscles after a hard days work and also help you sleep better.

  • Brett Vaughan

    I wish I’d found this sooner. I just came back from a trip abroad, and while it was much easier to eat smaller portions while there, I found I was eating more of them. My work requires I travel quite often, so this post is an amazing find for people like me and so many others who just have a hard time fitting the nutritional goals we live by at home, to the road.

    Thanks for this.

  • http://www.themindofsteel.com/ Mind Of Steel

    I don’t usually travel for business so I see it as a vacation – take a break, enjoy, relax and focus on fun. This has been my mindset for a long time but it’s not sustainable if you want to develop yourself. I think that’s the mindset a lot of people have, which is why they skip workouts and eat unhealthy. This post has great tips on how to avoid procrastinating. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.themindofsteel.com/ Mind Of Steel

    Whenever we stumble upon something awesome, we wish we’d discovered it sooner. It’s all about applying it in the future. Keep it up!

  • Christy

    Map costco and eat chicken salad.

  • Jamelle

    Great post! As a coach in the NBA the travel schedule is really tough and it’s nearly impossible to stay with a diet. Even though we are always around a gym the routines can be tough because time is so unpredictable. It is very easy to accept skipping workouts or falsely trying to make up for lack of dieting discipline with random quick workouts. Working on the mind is really the most important thing and I have found that locating food options and fitness centers in advance for establishing a plan is a great way to stay organized and on track. Also telling someone to hold you accountable as a support system is a good way to stay motivated as well.

    Appreciate the post!
    Jamelle
    http://WWW.MATURENATURE.COM

  • amc

    What a shame I just missed you (unless you’re still in the Netherlands). Hope your trip was fantastic.

    My favorite train exercise is to cycle 100 calf raises with one minute wall-sits. Takes up no room, has a good balance component, and lets me watch the scenery at the same time.

  • amc

    snelle vraag: ben je geïnteresseerd in een korte-en-langzaam jog een zondag? ik zou het leuk vinden om het kennis van andere nerd-fitness-fans te maken.