Balancing fitness and travel can sometimes be a struggle.
Actually, I take that back.
It’s almost always a struggle.
Whether it’s travel for work, vacation, or for long-term nomadic journeys like I’m currently doing, keeping up with your diet and training can get really tough.
And I know how hard it can be to balance fitness and travel because as of writing this, I’ve been on the road for the last 5 months traveling between 6 different countries in Southeast Asia.
I’d be lying if I told you that I’ve been able to #eatclean and go #beastmode (or whatever hashtags the #fitfam world uses nowadays) week in and week out. Because here’s the thing: I’m only human like you are.
Anyway, I’ve been able to implement many different “hacks” and strategies for staying in shape while traveling.
Some worked, some didn’t.
Let me share with you what I’m currently doing that does work. These are things you can do anywhere and anytime, no matter if you’re traveling for just a weekend, a week, or even a full month.
1. Forget About the “Vacation Mindset”
In my eyes, this is just an alibi and an excuse to not do the things you’re supposed to do.
Be mindful of what you put in your mouth, and don’t eat like crap. Nobody said you HAVE to drink and eat your face off.
If you want to indulge, then by all means, eat what you want to eat. But just don’t binge on everything.
Just ’cause you’re on vacation, for example, doesn’t mean that you have to eat mindlessly.
And if you do eat/drink mindlessly, the good news is that there are strategies you can use that I’ll go over later to offset those nights of heavy drinking.
2. Prioritize Protein
Chances are that you will end up eating out more often than normal. And that’s fine. When you’re on the go, you don’t have much time to cook anyway.
So here’s something to keep in mind: have a protein source with every meal.
If there’s one thing mainstream media has gotten right about nutrition, it’s that you want to make sure you’re consuming enough protein.
Why? Because of its numerous benefits:
- Reduction of appetite and hunger
- Can boost metabolism and increase fat burning
- Helps with increase of muscle mass and strength
- Improve bone density
- Can reduce late-night cravings
So when you’re eating out, choose a meal that has relatively high in protein content.
Eating at a Mexican restaurant? Get tacos (with meat, obviously) instead of a quesadilla.
Eating at an Italian Restaurant? Get chicken marsala instead of spaghetti.
Eating at a Mediterranean restaurant? Get a shish kebab instead of a falafel plate.
And if you’re in a country like Thailand that serves lots of noodle and rice dishes, it doesn’t hurt to go protein-only from time to time (and double up on it too to keep yourself full for a while).
3. Budget Your Calories
When traveling, your schedule is different, therefore the timing and portions of your meals can be drastically different too.
With this in mind, it’s crucial to understand that there should always be tradeoffs. For every choice you make comes a compromise.
If you say yes to one thing, you have to say no to another.
Remember, calories are the #1 determining factor of weight loss/weight gain. It’s simple science, and there’s no way around it.
This is why it’s crucial to always have an awareness of how much you’re eating, with or without tracking your calories/macros.
Some real life examples:
If you have that extra slice of pizza, that might mean saying no to ice cream later.
If you end up eating a whole bag of chips on a bus or train ride, that might mean saying no to cookies later.
If you have 4 glasses of wine throughout the afternoon with your significant other, that might mean saying no to tomorrow’s glass of wine with dinner.
If you drink that 510-calorie Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks at the airport, that might been saying no to the cheeseburger you were thinking about getting later.
Observe your habits, weigh your options, and make some minor adjustments when necessary.
Remember, you’re always in control of your actions.
Keep yourself accountable even when you’re not at home.
4. Skip Breakfast
I’ve been a practitioner of intermittent fasting (IF) for a few years now and it’s one of the eating strategies I use on a regular basis.
If you’re not familiar with IF, it’s essentially just a way of eating in which you have a predetermined eating and fasting window.
There are many different protocols that you can do, but the most common one is the 16/8 “Leangains Method” where you fast for 16 hours and eat for 8.
The easiest way of doing this is to simply skip breakfast and have your first meal around lunch time.
The number of meals you have in those 8 hours are dependent mainly on your lifestyle and preferences. I personally fast from about 8PM to 12PM because that’s what works best for my schedule.
Without getting into too much detail, here’s why intermittent fasting comes in super handy when traveling: it allows you to extend your “budget” of calories later in the day.
By simply skipping breakfast, for example, you can save yourself some calories that you otherwise would have “used up” already.
Why does this matter? Because when traveling, it’s common to eat more of our calories later in the day and evening.
Example: if you’re flying early in the morning, instead of wasting your money (and calories) on airport food, simply wait until you reach your destination before having a meal that’s actually worth eating.
[Side note: click here to learn more about intermittent fasting]
5. Just Do Something
Nine times out of ten, you won’t have access to the same equipment that you have at your local gym.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s game over.
You might not be able to do the exercises that you normally do, but you can still get a good ass-kicking workout doing other stuff.
Have access to a gym, but it doesn’t have a lot of equipment?
No problem. You can do a lot of things with very minimal resources.
A month ago, I was in a rural part of the Philippines and their “gym” was nothing but a garage with a bunch of super old machines and a handmade squat rack that probably couldn’t hold more than 200lbs.
The week before that, I had nothing but a few dumbbells that maxed out at 45lbs.
So I put together some simple dumbbell exercises and did the following full body strength circuit for 30 minutes (which by the way, was a workout that was both efficient AND effective).
➡️ DB Front Squats x 10
➡️ DB Standing Shoulder Press x 10
➡️ DB Two Arm Rows x 10
➡️ DB Curls x 10
➡️ Bodyweight Pushups x 20
I probably ended up doing 8-10 sets before I hit the 30 minute mark. I don’t remember exactly.
Whether you only have a small crappy gym or nicer one in a 5-star hotel, you can do the workout above just as long as you have dumbbells.
So now, what if you have no access to equipment whatsoever?
Well, you still have your body 🙂
Push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and walking lunges are all great bodyweight exercises that you can do anywhere.
And when I say anywhere, I mean anywhere.
Here’s Stephanie doing chin-ups on a tree branch:
Other things you can do if you don’t care to do pull-ups on trees: hike, go for walks, run sprints, or jog.
Whatever it is you end up doing, just do something.
Do ANYTHING just as long as you’re staying active.
6. Plan Ahead
You’ve probably heard this before: if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
This applies to both your diet and training, even when you’re on the road.
Always plan ahead of time when you’ll be working out. Because you won’t have the same fixed schedule as back home, it’s necessary to make time for your workouts — and this might mean actually putting it into your calendar or schedule for the day/week.
With nutrition, if you know that you’ll be on the road or flying for a while, bring with you protein-dense prepackaged foods. My go-to are nuts like peanuts & almonds, beef jerky, protein bars (but the good stuff like Quest Nutrition Bars), and protein powder.
Remember, if it really matters to you, you will make it a priority.
As the title of this post suggests, these are strategies that I am currently implementing for my own travels. Everyone’s different, so what you do might be different from what I do.
Take what you want from this, do what you can, and always remember: sometimes things just require a little extra flexibility.
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