Top Tips for Staying Fit While You Travel

This is the time of year for travel.  I just got back from a nine-day trip to the East Coast, and it really got me thinking.  

I am on the road approximately ten days each month, and this means a lot of hotels, suitcases, and waiting around in airports.  Sometimes, it can be very difficult to get a decent workout in, especially when it is so much easier to hole up in the hotel with takeout and premium cable channels.

This past month, I have basically put myself in a position where I can't skip workouts, because I am working as a pacer for the upcoming Mercedes Benz Marathon.  If I can't hit my pace times for those long runs, I'm SOL.  Working out while traveling it is!

1.  Plan your workouts in advance.

First things first!

If you want to work out indoors, make sure you will have access to a gym.  If you're staying in a hotel, check out online reviews or call the front desk to ask what equipment they have, whether it is in working order, and what the gym hours are.  

Hotel gym life!
If you are staying with family, or your hotel does not have a gym, don't lose hope!  Most locally owned gyms, and some chains like Crunch and L.A. Fitness offer free or low-cost guest passes.  I have had luck going to a nearby gym and asking for a tour and trial membership.  These free trials are oriented toward prospective new members, and often come with 2- or 3-day passes.  Another option is a week-long pass at a yoga studio or a single-visit pass at the YMCA. And don't overlook fitness channels on the hotel television! 

If you want to work out outdoors, do your research ahead of time.  I like to use message boards and online maps to look for hiking and running trails near where I am traveling.  Here are some good resources:  AllTrails, Every Trail, and Local Hikes (which is organized by U.S. metropolitan area).  Also check out the state and federal agency web sites for public lands near your destination.

A hiking trail near South Lake Tahoe, found via the U.S. Forest Service web site. 
Another good resource is a Facebook search for track or running clubs near where you are traveling.  In most major cities, running clubs sponsor group runs and publicize them as Facebook events.  This is a great way to see the sights in an unfamiliar place. 

On a group run to the top of Red Mountain in Birmingham, Alabama. 
Another great way to find running routes is with the Segment Explore function on Strava.   

A few Strava segments close to home. 
You can search by your destination, and sort by terrain type.  Detailed information shows you the course elevation profile, and efforts by local runners.

A popular route in Birmingham, with my PR shown on the right. 

I have found that Strava segment searches can lead you to the safest and best-trafficked running routes.  As a bonus, you can virtually compete for Course Records in a new area.  Although I'm sold on Strava, other fitness apps like Garmin Connect, MapMyRun, Runkeeper, and Nike+ have similar functionality.

2.  Take the right clothing and equipment with you.

Once you have your workouts planned, pack your bags.  If you have outdoor workouts planned, check an extended forecast for your destination.  Then, I like to use the What to Wear Tool from Runner's World.  You enter information about your run (your gender, time of day, intensity, temperature, wind, etc.) and it shows you the outfit you should wear.  I make sure I always have gloves, a light rain jacket, and a hat with a visor with me as well.

Traveling to New Orleans in summer means a sports bra and sunscreen.
If you have indoor workouts planned, pick sturdy gym clothes that can be worn a few times.  I like fresh socks, underwear, and bra for each workout, but I'll sometimes use gym shorts or tech shirts a few times.  In a pinch, you can wash some items in a hotel sink, so choose synthetic fabrics that dry quickly.  

If you are trying to save space in your bags, wear workout clothing and shoes onto the plane.  Or, get workout duds that can be worn as street wear.  I have seen cute things from Fabletics, Ink and Burn, and prAna.  You can do this with shoes, of my coworkers wears black and grey Nike Frees for workouts and with business casual outfits.

3.  Have a specific goal in mind. 

"I will work out every other day while I am traveling."

"I will get in one long run, and not worry about the rest of the days."

"No matter what happens, I will stay hydrated and stretch every night before bed."

"I will work out for at least 30 minutes each day."

4.  Give yourself the extra motivation you need. 

Travel can be so disruptive, that you may need an extra "push" to make sure you get your workouts in.   Take your fanciest workout gear, or buy something new if you're feeling flush.  Set your sights on a really scenic trail, or a gym workout you have never tried before.  Convince a coworker to try a short run.  Find a luxurious local gym or fancy yoga studio where you normally wouldn't be able to afford a membership.  

A poolside treadmill in South Walton, Florida. 

5.  While you are away, remember that nutrition, hydration, and sleep are also important. 

Don't get too hung up on workouts.  Yes, it is awesome to get in a few really hard sessions while you are on the road, but don't forget to care for yourself in other ways.  Whether you are trying to lose weight, improve performance, or stay in shape for an event, keep watching what you eat.  Use your travel as an opportunity to stay hydrated and catch up on sleep. 

6.  Let your coworkers or family know your schedule.

All of your carefully made goals and plans are meaningless unless you have someone to hold you to them.  On family trips, I make sure my husband knows my plans for workouts or longer runs.  While we're scheduling the trip, we decide how much time and which days we need for workouts.  I'll usually tell him something like, "I need afternoon workouts on Monday and Wednesday, and then time for a longer run on Saturday morning."  This way, we can plan meals, child care, and other activities.  Exercise is just as important as anything else on your schedule, so you should treat it that way!

For business travel, I do something very similar.  I usually tell my coworkers that I will be up early to respond to emails and urgent matters, then I'll be in the gym until our breakfast meetings.  I am lucky enough to work and travel with people who make fitness a priority, so sometimes I even bump into coworkers in the hotel gym. 

7.  Use workouts as a way to help yourself through jet lag.

This is one of my favorite tricks of all time!  There is no worse feeling than traveling east and getting that afternoon "slump" when everyone around you is ready to head out for dinner and drinks.  Instead of passing out in your hotel room, have a cup of coffee and a quick workout.  I find it's always best to adapt to your destination time zone as soon as possible.  You can use a short cardio workout to wake yourself up and reset your circadian rhythms.

This same trick works in reverse.  If you find yourself wide awake when everyone around you is heading to bed, use a workout to burn off extra energy.  Then, take a relaxing hot shower and try to get some sleep. 

Late night gym workout to get back on Central Time. 

Remember, it's always best to adapt to new time zones immediately.  Whether you are at the beginning of your trip or returning home, always change your watches and clocks immediately.  Then, eat, sleep, and workout according to the correct time at you destination.  If you normally exercise at 8am, set a clock and work out at 8am local time.  It sucks for a day or two, but I promise it's the best way to adjust. 

8.  Any workout is better than no workout!

While you are traveling, you should focus on maintaining your fitness.  It's really not the time to bump up your mileage, set PRs, lift heavy, or exhaust yourself.  Sometimes, I even like to use travel as a little recovery, and focus on rest and injury prevention.  For a routine that helps with these goals, check out these easy exercises to improve running and prevent injury.

9.  But remember to stay flexible.

If you're traveling for work, remember that your job performance might have to take priority over workout time.  If you're visiting friends or family, socialization or other obligations are always more important.  So try to relax, and not put yourself into a position where you are feeling stressed about missing a workout.

Remember, even if you are forced to skip workouts for the entire duration of your trip, you won't get out of shape as quickly as you think.  Some studies show that even if you take 12 weeks off, you will keep 80% of your fitness!  Also, it won't take as long as you think to get back in top form...probably only half as many days as you took "off."

This book, Hanson's Marathon Method says that 1-2 days off makes no difference to training, and "training can resume normally without scaling back mileage or intensity."  If you take 7-10 days off (the normal length of one of my business trips), "upon your return to running, you should run easy for the same number of days that were missed."  Easy!

10.  Get right back on track as soon as you are home.

Finally, don't miss a beat once you are back home.  I'm betting that you won't even notice any days off or changes to your routine (especially if you are the type of person who read this post to the end).  Again, one of the best ways to get over jet lag is to go out for a quick run or hit the gym for some short, intense cardio.  Especially if you have crossed several time zones, you may not feel like sleeping or waking at the appropriate time.  Use a workout to burn off extra energy before bed, or to wake up and get energized before starting your day.

Good luck!