Healthy Travel Hacker: 11 Ways To Look and Feel Good While On Vacation or Work Trip
Exercise, eating, and packing strategies for guys who want to look and feel good while on vacation or a work-trip.
Most fitness-minded guys adopt one of two philosophies when they’re traveling.
Philosophy #1: “Screw it. I’m on vacation!”
This usually means eating crazy amounts of food, drinking lots of alcohol, partying till 3 am, and sitting around. Guys who follow the “Screw It” philosophy often gain fat, lose muscle and energy, and feel guilty or disgusted once they get back home.
Philosophy #2: “I’m gonna follow my normal workout/eating routine.”
This is well-intentioned but, in my experience, destined to fail. The guys who try to stick to their exact same workout and eating schedule often skip out on nice restaurants and experiences, spend too much time looking for a gym, and generally drive everyone around them insane.
Guys who follow this philosophy stress out and feel guilty once they realize they can’t stick to their normal routine. And they often forget to enjoy their vacation.
There’s a Better Way To Stay In Shape While Traveling
Personally, I’ve followed both of the above philosophies. And I can tell you this from experience: there’s a better way to travel, stay in shape, and not feel guilty about indulging in stuff you wouldn’t normally do at home.
It’s taken me years to “dial in” my travel routine and turn it into something that keeps me looking and feeling good while still giving me the freedom to enjoy my trip.
And if you’re game, I’d like to share some strategies with you. Here’s what to do for your next trip, no matter if it’s a short road-trip, a 2-week vacation, or a month or more in a different country.
3 Things To Do Before You Leave
Accept that you will not be in your normal routine.
You probably won’t make it to the gym four days per week. There will be no blender for your post-workout smoothie. You will not sleep for 8 hours every night.
And that’s all OK.
What you do at home is what you do at home. When you’re on the road, you’ll have to pick and choose the things that will make the biggest positive impact on your health, fitness, and energy.
Search for cool gyms, restaurants, and grocery stores.
Part of the fun of traveling is finding new places to eat and things to do. Wander down a few streets, get some advice from locals. That kind of stuff. But I still like to plan a little.
That’s why whenever I’m heading to a new a city — whether for work or vacation — I do a quick search on Google and Yelp for top-rated restaurants and gyms close to where I’m staying. (Or I ask friends on Facebook what they’d recommend.)
If I haven’t booked a hotel yet, I’ll look for a high concentration of cool stuff to do and nice places to eat. Then I’ll book a hotel in that specific area or neighborhood. Bonus points if it’s all within walking distance.
The Search is on
Gym – Expand your idea of what a “gym” is.
Is there a place where you can try Crossfit? Give it a shot. Find a bouldering gym where you learn how to climb? Go there. Heard about an “underground” gym where you can lift heavy stuff without getting funny looks? Check it out.
One thing to consider: You might not want to go to a gym at all.
When I was on a month-long trip through Europe and the UK a couple years ago, I only went to a gym a handful of times. The rest of the time I did a 20-minute workout in my hotel room. (More on that in a minute.)
Restaurants – If you saved money to eat out, now’s the time to plan the “must-go” restaurants you want to hit while you’re in town.
Grocery stores – If you want to eat a little cheaper while traveling — or if the place you’re staying has a fridge — make sure to find where the nearest healthy grocery store is.
The last time Craig and I were in San Francisco we went to Whole Foods and stocked up on water, mixed nuts, jerky, fruit, and vegetables to eat throughout the day. Then we splurged on dinner at fancy places.
Assemble Your “Healthy Tool Kit”.
Whether I’m traveling overseas or going on a road trip, I always pack my “Healthy Tool Kit”. Here’s what’s in it.
I often tend to fast on travel days, but occasionally I pack some snacks. Of course if you’re traveling on a plane you’re limited to 3 oz or less. But for most of this stuff, it’s not an issue. Also remember: Unless you’re really roughing it, they’re gonna have food wherever you go. So don’t freak out that you don’t have enough snacks.
- Raw nuts
- Baby food*
* Yes, I really pack baby food. Here’s why: most snacks are heavy on protein and fruit but not on vegetables. And we all know how important vegetables are. I normally pack 3-4 tubes of organic baby food. My favorites: sweet potato and apricot; broccoli, peas and peas. (These are also perfect for day hikes in the woods.)
I don’t like packing a bunch of extra stuff in my bag and since I tend to use a carry-on instead of checking luggage, space is limited.
In my opinion, all you really need is:
- 1 – 2 pair workout shorts
- 1 -2 quick-dry t-shirts (like Exofficio)
- 1 pair of sneakers*
* Forget Vibram 5-fingers or specific “workout shoes” while traveling. Instead, consider bringing a pair of Converse sneakers that will look good in both the gym and with regular clothes like jeans and a t-shirt.
Simple is the name of the game here. In other words, now is not the time to try new pre-workout powders or other weird stuff. And if you’ve never had a bottle of protein powder explode in your luggage, let me save you some trouble: Don’t pack any.
Of course, some people (S2B Coaches Craig and Calvin included) who pack protein and creatine in individual baggies. It works for them, but I’d still rather not do it.
Instead, stick to the basics:
- vitamin D
- probiotic / digestive enzymes that don’t require refrigeration
4 Things To Do On Travel Day
Consider fasting till you get to your destination.
Let’s be honest: airport food sucks. And the benefits of occasional fasting are well-documented.
So instead of spending $25 for a nasty chicken finger meal at the airport Applebee’s, grab some water, tea, and sugar-free gum to hold you over until you get to wherever it is you’re going. Then find a nice restaurant and sit down to a proper meal.
“Travel Fast” Schedule
Day before travel:
Have last meal at 7 or 8 PM.
Go to bed.
Wake up, drink a huge glass of water.
Sip on water, coffee, and tea throughout the day.
Have a big meal with lots of protein, fat, and vegetables at a nice restaurant once you land.
(Note: On travel days where I get in too late to find an open restaurant — or if I’m too tired and just want to get to my hotel — I’ll often just go to sleep and have a huge breakfast the next morning.)
If not fasting, have a good meal before you leave.
If you don’t want to fast, you have two great options:
1. Eat at a restaurant before you go to the airport.
2. Make a protein shake at home.
The reason I never cook food at home on travel days is simple: I don’t have anything in my fridge to cook. There’s nothing worse than coming home from a weeklong trip to discover drawers full of wilted, mushy spinach and a dripping package of ground beef. Which is why I do strategic grocery shopping leading up to my travel day, ensuring I don’t buy food I know I won’t eat before I leave.
But I almost always have the basic ingredients for a nice protein shake:
- unsweetened almond milk
- raw peanut or almond butter
- protein powder
- frozen fruit
Drink lots of water.
What most people think of as “jet lag” is really just dehydration. (Of course, jet lag exists. But the negative symptoms are compounded by not drinking enough water.)
I know it’s a pain in the ass to get up from your seat and walk to the little bathroom during the flight (or stop at gas stations to pee while on a roadtrip), but you’ll feel way better if you drink water. Buy a bottle after you get through airport security and drink it over the next couple of hours.
Move around when you can.
Walk around the airport before your flight. Get up and stretch your legs often. No matter if you’re traveling by plane or car, you’re still spending hours in a cramped little space. Moving feels good.
4 Things To Do While Traveling
Sleep in or take naps
Use your vacation as a time to catch up on sleep debt and relax. Chances are you’re gonna stay out late doing cool stuff, anyway. So instead of setting an alarm, just sleep in till you wake up naturally.
And if you can’t sleep in, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a nap in your hotel room between lunch and dinner.
Do a hotel room workout.
If you’re on a work trip, you’ll probably have a full day of meetings. If you’re on vacation, you’ll want to leave the day open to whatever sounds like fun. In both situations you still have total control over the first 30 minutes of your day. So on the days where you don’t think you’ll make it to a gym, do the following:
- Wake up
- Drink a glass or two of water
- Do the Hotel Room Workout
- Shower and head out for the day
Hotel Room Workout
Perform back-to-back with no rest in between.
Prisoner Squat x 10 reps
Spiderman Push-up x 5 reps each side
Single-leg Deadlift x 10 reps each side
Alternating Reverse Lunge x 10 reps each side
Mountain Climber x 10 reps each side
Plank x 30 seconds
After you finish the plank, rest for 1 minute and repeat the entire circuit 3 more times.
Walk a lot.
Sometimes you’ll come home from a vacation and actually look better than when you left. Why? Chalk it up to doing more “non-exercise physical activity.” In other words, more walking.
Walking to the restaurant, walking downtown, walking to the hotel, walking along the beach.
The more you walk the more calories you burn without even thinking about it.
Don’t follow a diet.
Part of the fun of traveling is experiencing new culture and eating delicious food.
But how can you feel good about eating a deep-fried Mars Bar in Scotland or washing down chocolate waffles with Belgian beer?
Easy. Just plan a little.
Let’s say you’re on vacation in Mexico and you know you’re gonna be in Tortilla / Tequila Heaven later that afternoon and evening. They’re gonna bring you all the burritos and all the Patron.
Since you’re gonna feast later that day, you may want to fast in the morning (don’t eat any food, but drink lots of water) and do your hotel room workout in the afternoon before you head out to the party. That way you can enjoy yourself and have a guilt-free time. Just don’t drink Patron on an empty stomach.
(Note about work-related trips: If your job has you traveling to random places that aren’t exactly bursting with culinary greatness, you may just want to eat basic stuff at restaurants. Our go-to meal is a large Cobb salad with a hamburger (no bun) on the side. You can find it at any hotel, restaurant, or airport in the world. It’s not amazing, but it works._
Stay In Shape While Enjoying Your Vacation
Remember: What you do at home is what you do at home. When you’re on the road, you’ll have to pick and choose the things that will make the biggest positive impact on your health, fitness, and energy.
The 11 strategies above are things I do whenever I travel. But I’d love to hear yours, too.
So if you’ve got something interesting, weird, or just plain clever that you pack/eat/wear on travel days, let me know in the comments.