Staying in shape, mentally and physically, is obviously important to overall well-being. Personally, I find my mind is sharper and more importantly, I’m a much happier person when I take care of myself physically.
Since last April, I’ve been traveling a ton for my consulting work, typically somewhere between 2-3 weeks every month. Traveling is something I love so I can’t complain too much about that buuuut it certainly makes staying in shape difficult. Before this travel madness started, I had a regular gym routine (3-4 days of lifting weights, 2-3 days of cardio) but that’s difficult to keep up when you’re in a different place almost every week.
Over the past few months, I’ve learned a lot about staying in shape while traveling. As is usually the case with me, most of these lessons were learned the hard way:
Skip the hotel breakfast
Free hotel breakfasts are almost always god-awful, especially if you’re staying at a road warrior hotel, like Homewood Suites or Residence Inn. Tell me if this sounds familiar: Soggy, somewhat rubbery scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes that taste like they’ve been out for weeks, and some strange processed meat as a side.
Oh, I forgot about the waffle maker.
Do yourself a favor and skip most of that. Maybe grab some eggs and toast if you’re really hungry. But probably the safest items to consume in a hotel breakfast are the coffee, tea, and juice. With all the other stuff, you’re going to be consuming amounts of sodium and sugar that’ll leave you feeling exhausted for the rest of the day.
So if you’re not going to eat breakfast at the hotel, what can you eat?
Find a grocery store
Grocery stores are amazing places. Even in the middle of nowhere, you can find a grocery store that sells healthy food. My advice is to go to a grocery store the day you arrive and pick up a few things. Obviously food choices are somewhat dependent on whether your hotel room has a fridge/microwave. Here’s what I typically buy, assuming there’s a fridge:
- A few apples
- Some nutrition bars (I like Nature Valley Oat & Honey bars)
- Greek yogurt
That sounds like a solid breakfast to me.
Take advantage of free exercise
This is a concept I try to use all the time, not just when I’m traveling but it’s even more important on the road. The idea is this: if you have to do something, for example, go from the ground floor of the hotel to the 4th floor, there are two options available to you:
Option 1: Take the elevator
Option 2: Walk up the stairs
Even though option 2 is more energy intensive, it’ll take you to the same place as the elevator, you’ll burn a few calories, and you’ll probably save yourself the stress of waiting for an elevator that takes forever and the awkwardness of being in an elevator. Related question: aren’t elevators just the most awkward places ever?
Another great form of free exercise if you’re in a city is just walking to meetings instead of taking an Uber or cab.
Get good at hotel room workouts
Let’s face it: hotel gyms leave a lot to be desired. That said, there are some great workouts which don’t require any equipment and can be done in your hotel room (like this and this). Start doing them regularly when you’re on the road and add your own variations to keep it interesting. The easiest exercises to do in a hotel room, no matter what size, are:
- Pushups (all kinds)
- Bodyweight squats
- All sorts of ab exercises
Take advantage of real gyms when you’re home
On a related note, if you’re on the road regularly, it’s easy to get into a routine of laying on your couch and watching Netflix when you’re home. I love Netflix as much as the next person but make sure you squeeze in some “real gym” time when you’re home. A real gym is a place that has barbells, plates, machines, and space.
If I get home before 8pm from a trip, I try to squeeze in a short, gym session the same evening.
Free meals aren’t really free
One great thing about work travel is being able to expense your meals. That’s amazing right?! Well, yes and no.
The good news is that you can take advantage of being in a new place and try types of cuisine and restaurants you typically wouldn’t go to. In some industries (like the one I’m working in now), work travel can also entail fancy dinners which gives you an opportunity to try more upscale restaurants you probably wouldn’t choose on your own.
The downside? Well, all those meals might be covered by your company/client but that doesn’t mean the calories don’t count. Just because dessert is covered doesn’t mean you should get dessert.
Remember the “freshman 15” from college? (I do…) You see a similar effect among new consultants for a very similar reason. I remember when I first started college, the “coolest” thing was being able to drink soda with every meal. A few months later, despite being a college athlete, I had gained 15 pounds and it was pretty obvious that the soda needed to go. Don’t make the same mistake as 18-year-old Neil.: try to eat the same way on the road as you’d eat at home.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the perks of going to fancy restaurants! Just be smart about it.
For someone who travels a lot, I still haven’t learned how to properly sleep in hotel rooms. Almost without fail, I find it difficult to fall asleep the first night I’m in a new hotel room. Knowing that allows me to plan for it. Most nights I sleep for about 7 hours so on my first night in a new room, I’ll try to budget 8-9 hours for sleep, which gives me some time to toss and turn and still get a normal amount of sleep. It doesn’t always work but it helps.
Skimping on sleep is a great way to get sick while traveling – probably the worst possible combination.
Avoid alcohol, especially late at night
Related to the above, drinking alcohol affects your quality of sleep and can also contribute to getting sick. If your travel requires you to fly, keep in mind that planes dehydrate you so drinking alcohol before, during, or immediately after a flight can be rough on your system (and on your skin). If you do choose to drink, just try to balance each drink with a glass of water and you should be able to avoid dehydration.
And yes, I learned this lesson in the worst possible way by going out in SF the night before a 6:30am flight (what the hell was I thinking?). Next time we’re in the same city, ask me for the story.
If you haven’t heard of StandStand before, you need to check it out. Basically it’s a portable standing desk made of a three interlocking pieces of wood. Great product that travels nicely in a laptop bag.
Especially after sitting for a while in a plane/train, working on a standing desk instead of sitting down feels amazing. Trust me.
Traveling for work can sometimes (or usually) be rough but being smart about how you travel, eat, and move while on the road makes all the difference between a miserable trip and a productive one. I’ve been on both sides of the productive/miserable spectrum and believe me when I say the productive side is a lot more fun. Let me know if you have any other suggestions for staying in shape while traveling – I’d love to try it out.