Travel brings with it the thrill of discovering a new place; the dread of sitting for long hours on a bus, plane, or train; the excitement of trying unique local foods; and the discomfort of sleeping in unfamiliar beds.
With travel, unpredictability is the norm. It’s hard to stick to any kind of a routine (and sometimes to even remember healthy habits) when on the road.
Whether it’s trying new foods, a red-eye flight, no gym for miles, or the germs on an airplane, travel can take a toll on health, fitness, weight, sleep, inflammation levels and more.
While I love to travel, I still want to feel energized, stay fit, be healthy, look good, and eat well. In fact, for many of us, including me, a beach (cruise, tropical, athletic, etc) vacation is often the reason we work so hard to eat clean and get into shape.
After all that effort, what a disappointment it would be to undo it all the good work in the first week or so of a trip. That’s why I’ve put together a list of seven essentials to help you (and me)
Stay Healthy and Fit While Traveling
1. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is just as important while on vacation as it is at home because it supports a strong immune system, helps with weight loss, increases energy, reduces inflammation, and helps us to feel happy, resilient, and solution-oriented when things go wrong on a trip (as they’re bound to).
For me, sleeping 7-8 hours per night is critically important. Thus, when I’m getting up early for a flight, changing time zones, or for whatever reason missing out on sleep, I seek ways to make it up. I may sneak in a nap, try hard to sleep on the plane, or give up a night on the town and sacrifice being ‘cool’ to go to bed early.
Sleep is something you can choose to commit to, whether you’re traveling for pleasure or for work. Perhaps it means pushing back the early morning meeting or skipping drinks after dinner if it’s too late. But if you want to be at the top of your game, both mentally and physically, then adequate sleep is a must.
2. Bring the Essentials
No, not toothpaste, deodorant, and cash, though all of those are important too, what I mean is herbs, teas, supplements, and superfoods that support your health at home and become critical when traveling. With overindulging, drinking too much, and/or sleeping too little, it’s easy to become inflamed, suffer digestive irregularities, compromise the immune system, and gain weight on a trip. Fortunately, teas and supplements are generally small, lightweight, and easy to pack.
I bring BeLight Tea to soothe digestion, sleep tea to help with jet lag, BeEnergized matcha to reduce inflammation and to keep me dancing through 8 hour weddings, Clean to undo any over indulgence, probiotics, and Immune-boosting supplements. These help to ensure my stomach is happy, my metabolism stays high, my energy levels are strong throughout the trip, and prevent (or minimize) illnesses (like colds).
Carrying your own essential teas, herbs, and supplements can help you quickly tackle a tickle in the throat or a pain in the belly. Figure out what you and your family are most likely to encounter (or what preventative measures you already take at home) and stock up on the necessities before your trip.
3. Walk Everywhere and Take the Stairs
Walking is a great way to explore a new location and it’s the perfect form of lifestyle fitness. It’s easy, it burns calories, settles the stomach, and is relaxing. Taking the stairs adds another layer of intensity and muscle challenge to the walking, helping to better maintaining muscle mass in the lower body.
A number of years ago, I developed a stairs-only policy when traveling (especially on cruise ships, where there’s not as much space to walk, but plenty of stairs to climb). While walking and taking the stairs may not be the same as a full gym workout, I’d rather be out exploring by foot and experiencing the destination than stressing about my workout. It’s good enough.
You, too, can consider walking more on your next trip and adopting a stairs-only policy. If you have someone else to hold you accountable and take the stairs with you, it’s a lot easier to stick with. And then, even if you can’t make it to the gym, you’ve essentially still done your stair-master and treadmill workout.
4. Do a Plank Challenge
While walking and taking the stairs are great for the lower body, they’re not particularly targeted or effective at keeping the abs and upper body defined. If your vacation involves a swimsuit, you’re probably especially keen to keep the middle tight. Planks, or holding a push-up position (or some variation thereof), is a fantastic exercise to build core strength, and it actually works the whole body.
For this 3-week trip, I decided to start a plank challenge about 10 days before leaving to help keep my core challenged and chiseled. By starting before the trip, I’m already making it part of my routine and looking forward to that sense of satisfaction upon completion, which helps me actually stick with it when travel makes the days crazy. Since this is the first time I’ve added this to my fit travel habits, I’ll have to see how it goes and report back.
If this is something you want to try, you can search “plank challenge” online and choose one that fits your level. If you’re grossed out by the thought of putting your forearms on the floor of some hotel room, lay a towel down under your arms and do it with your shoes on, or skip the shoes and do it on the bed (you’ll recruit added muscles for stabilization).
5. Moderate Alcohol Consumption
With not needing to get up and go to work everyday, it’s easy to slip into drinking everyday. But alcohol packs on the pounds FAST. And it increases inflammation, reduces sleep quality, leads to increased food intake, messes up sensitive stomachs, and creates a host of other issues that don’t equate to staying healthy or fit.
Depending on the nature of the trip and who I’m traveling with, it can be easy or not so easy to limit my alcohol consumption. But I think (hope) I’m off to a good start. These last 40 days, I’ve drastically cut back my alcohol consumption (which has made it easier to drop a few pounds), and I’m finding that alcohol is affecting me in weird ways now. I’ll be sticking to water in restaurants, slowly sipping only 1 drink per bar, and otherwise refusing alcohol.
To keep your own drinking in check, there’s no simple trick or single strategy I can give you. You have to figure out what works for you and how to respond to the environment you’re in.
(Sweets are often very similar to alcohol, especially in people who don’t drink. So, if sugar is your Achilles heel, consider a similar approach.)
6. Eat Veggies
Nutrient-dense, fiber-rich vegetables are essential to staying healthy, maintaining regularity, and getting enough vitamins and antioxidants. They also encourage a fit and trim waistline. In traveling to many foreign countries (where tap water isn’t safe), we’re advised not to eat vegetables that haven’t been cooked or washed thoroughly in purified water. (Check out this list of countries where the water is potable and it’s safe to eat salad.) Other countries only offer potatoes or carrots as cooked veggies, which hardly count.
Depending on the place, I often find getting enough quality veggies very challenging. If I have the time (and a kitchen) I like going to the grocery store or a local farmers market and getting my own veg, preparing them properly, then having them for breakfast or as an appetizer before dinner.
Though we may think we’re getting enough veggies while traveling, it’s often hard to get the same quantity and quality on the road. If you’re suffering from constipation, consider the quantity and type of vegetables you’re eating and adjust accordingly. If you’re not finding satisfying options on restaurant menus, try asking for a special order.
7. Honor Thyself
When traveling with a group or following a set itinerary, it can be easy to get caught up in accommodating everyone else or sticking to the schedule. As a result, we ignore and silence the body or mind’s needs for rest, relaxation, connection, downtime, etc. (I know I’ve done it all too often.) Just like at home, when we ignore our own needs, we become irritable, suffer digestive problems or pain, and tend not to enjoy the experience as much.
So, my goal for this trip is to listen to my body and honor it’s needs. I know I need a lot of alone time and it can be hard to find that while traveling, but for my own happiness, I must carve the time out. To stay healthy and not overeat, I need quiet time, adequate sleep, and an active mind-body connection.
The best way you can figure out what you need (sleep, less food, more veg, less activity, more exercise, etc) is to just be, quietly; listen to you body and feel what it’s telling you. Then, honor that, even if it means missing out on something for a few hours or making someone disappointed for a bit. In the long run, it’ll make you and everyone around you happier.
Those are my 7 essentials to staying healthy and fit while traveling, though honestly I think they can apply to anyone, even when not traveling. They’re great lifestyle habits that make for a healthy body and a sound mind. Though they may be more difficult to follow when hitting the road, they’ll certainly help ensure less guilt, an easier return to the daily routine, and more a pleasant and enjoyable trip.
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