Fitness habits tend to fly out the window (porthole, sunroof, whatever) while traveling, but with these nine tips for how to stay fit while traveling, there’s no need to leave your six-pack behind.
How can we be so sure?
Because we drink our own Kool-Aid (sugar-free, of course).
Kim and I use the following strategies to not only stay fit while traveling but also have better travel experiences in the process.
How to Stay Fit While Traveling
1. Get Sweaty With Others
Join Local Fitness Classes
From boot camps in Nairobi to CrossFit gyms in Mexico to jiu-jitsu classes in Panama City, Kim and I love finding local workouts to join. Not only does it help us stay fit while traveling, it’s a travel experience in itself.
We meet locals, discover new forms of exercise, and often visit parts of towns most tourists don’t.
Plus it’s often free!
Many of these classes and gyms let you do your first session without paying a dime.
2. Try Unusual Terrain-ing
Take Advantage of Unique Environments
Forget going to some soulless gym that’s no different than the one you use back home. Create an unforgettable workout by getting outside and taking advantage of the unique terrain of the place you’re visiting.
Some Examples From Our Own Travels
- On Colombia’s Pacific Coast, we converted our hammock into a workout device.
- In Lamu, Kenya we did sprints up and down the dunes and joined our new friends Awham and Captain Jawad for a swim to Manda Island.
- On the vast tidal flats of Savary Island, BC we sprinted, threw rocks, and rolled logs.
- In Northern Quebec, we walked along the bottom of a lake holding stones.
- While staying at a luxurious villa in Phuket, Thailand we invented a refreshingly cool pool circuit workout. Watch the video below.
The opportunities for unusual terrain-ing to stay fit while traveling are as endless as the variety of geographies on this planet. See our comprehensive guide to natural outdoor workouts for ideas and tips.
3. Hard and Fast Rules
Do High-Intensity, Low-Duration Workouts
To get and stay fit, more isn’t better.
Harder and faster is better.
In a 12-week study, world-renowned exercise physiologist Dr. Martin Gibala found that subjects who did three 20-second intervals of high-intensity training enjoyed the same health benefits as those who did 45 minutes of medium intensity continuous exercise.
In other words, if you go balls-to-the-wall, a 60-second exertion can provide the same health benefits as a 45-minute jog.
While one minute of exertion is surprisingly good for fitness, Gibala recommends 10 hard minutes (with 10 rest minutes in between) for maximal health benefits.
Example 20-Minute Workout
- Warm-up with 3-5 minutes of moderate exercise such as jogging, bear crawls, skipping, or slow burpees.
- For 1 minute, do high intensity exercise as hard and fast as you can—burpees, mountain-climbers, stair runs, spinning. Anything. As hard and as fast as you can.
- Rest for 1minute.
- Repeat this 1 minute-on, 1 minute-off cycle nine more times.
- Do some cool-down stretches.
- Get back to traveling.
Exert yourself as much as possible during each interval. The harder you go, the more you benefit.
4. No Weights? No Worries
Strength Train With Your Bodyweight (and Maybe your Buddy’s)
Compliment your interval workouts with some pure strength training to stay fit while traveling and stay strong.
Not only do strong, lean muscles look good, but they burn extra calories and protect you from injury. But how do you find heavy enough weights when you’re on a remote beach or in a foreign city?
Easy. Look in the mirror. There in the reflection is one heavy-ass weight:
No matter how strong you are, I guarantee there’s a bodyweight exercise for every muscle that will leave you hobbling for days (in a good way).
Not Heavy Enough For You?
If you don’t think you’re heavy enough to build strong muscles with bodyweight training, here are a few tips:
- Do one leg or arm at a time. If you think one-armed pull-ups and elevated shrimp squats are too easy, join the circus because you’re a badass.
- Use momentum to make things harder by doing explosive exercises like jumping or sprinting.
- Use your travel companion as extra weight. Do piggy-back sprints, have them sit on you while you do push-ups, or try these other partner exercises.
5. Eat As Much as You Want, Just Not Whenever You Want
We’ve all heard a million times that diet is even more important than exercise.
That sucks for those of us who want to stay fit on the road.
Eating is arguably the best part of traveling. To not gorge on all the local treats would rob us of a big part of the travel experience. Without it, we might as well travel in virtual reality.
Luckily, we don’t need to compromise on what we eat to stay fit while traveling.We just need to compromise on when we eat.
If we limit ourselves to eating twice a day and spend some days fasting, we can stay fit no matter what we eat.
Why Eating Less Frequently Works
As Dr. Jason Fung explains in his book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, amazing things happen to our bodies when we limit our feeding frequency:
- Our metabolism speeds up (i.e. we feel more energetic and burn even more calories).
- Our hunger hormones die down, so our urges to snack dissipate.
- We consume fewer calories overall.
- Our alertness peaks.
- Our body gets used to burning fat for fuel.
- We get sexy.
How to Break Your Addiction to Snacks
I used to think it would be impossible to cut down to two meals a day, and that I’d die if I went a whole day without eating. But, after learning some water fasting tips the hard way, now I can fast for five days with ease.
The trick was to start small, rewarding myself for cutting out snacks by eating bigger meals. In no time, it became easy. I was never hungry anymore and I saw results.
↳ More on this: A fun and childishly simple explanation of intermittent fasting and how it's like responding to emails.
6. Lace ‘Em Up
Explore More by Running and Hiking
At home, Kim and I aren’t avid hikers and we entirely avoid jogging.
On the road, we transform.
We actively seek out nearby trails, especially ones with views and waterfalls, and we run around cities aimlessly.
Often, this is how we make our favorite discoveries, stumbling upon unexpected scenes that we could have never found any other way.
An added bonus: it works up an appetite to eat more food.
- As I mention in my 55-Item Fine-Tuned Packing List, get black runners so you can wear them when not exercising to save yourself having to pack an extra pair of shoes.
- Make sure to pack your runners and a set of sports clothes in your carry-on, or wear them on board.
- Download Maps.Me to find offline trail maps everywhere in the world. It’s free.
- Download Google Maps for offline use.
7. Don’t Break Your Budget if You Break Yourself
Ensure You’re Insured
By staying fit you reduce your risk of injury and sickness, but you’re not invincible. So get travel insurance or global medical insurance.
It’s boring and can feel like a waste of money, but if something goes wrong, you don’t want an accident to hurt your finances even more than it hurt your body.
Your credit card might even cover you for up to a month. Be sure to check the policy. Or, if you’re Canadian like us, check out our research on the Best Credit Cards for International Travel.
How to Find the Best Plan for the Lowest Price
If you haven't left let, potentially save yourself a couple of hundred bucks by reading our 8 Simple Steps to Finding the Best Travel Insurance.
And if you've already left, see How to Find the Best Travel Insurance When Already Traveling.
8. Plan to Stay Fit While Traveling
Include Fitness in Your Planning
If you don’t plan to stay fit while traveling, you won’t.
It may sound stupidly obvious, but most of us rarely do it. We research activities, restaurants, and hotels in advance, but let our future selves sort out exercise when we get there.
And then, when the time comes to work out—surprise, surprise—our future selves decide they’re too busy or tired.
Do your future self a favor. Add exercise to your travel planning.
Search for outdoor workout areas and boot camps or classes you can join. If you can’t find any, look for parks or soccer fields for sprints and intervals, and stairwells to jump up and down.
Also, look for accommodations close to these areas and ask if they have blenders or cooking facilities so you can make healthy meals with delicious local produce.
Our Favorite Fitness Toys We Take Traveling
- Foam Roller. This isn't always packable when we're traveling carry-on. But if we travel for more than a few months, this is a necessity and helps our muscles recover quick.
- Lacrosse ball. Feels so good for massaging sore muscles.
- Elastic resistance bands. We always pack a couple of these. With a bit of creativity they can make any exercise harder or easer, they are useful for stretching, and we even use them as leashes to hold each other back when sprinting.
- Phone Pouch. Holds my phone tight to my belly or small of my back when running around with it.
- Wireless Headphones. Kim and I both have Plantronics Backbeat Fit wireless headphones. My pair just bit the dust after 3 years of heavy use and I've already ordered new ones.
Don’t Stress About Staying Fit When Traveling
Exercise should relieve your stress, not increase it.
So if you’re feeling stressed and not at all in the mood for a workout, relax. Get a good night’s sleep, maybe do a bit of yoga or stretching, and don’t sweat it (literally) until the next day.
With long-haul flights, never-ending bus rides, line-ups, and cultural hurdles, traveling can be stressful enough as it is.
And give yourself credit for all the walking you’ll do. Walking on its own may not get you as ripped as Brad Pitt in Fight Club, but it’s better than the endless hours of sitting you probably do back home.
- Avoid whirlwind trips where you’re changing hotels every day. Yes, travel time is precious and your bucket list is long, but from our experience, you’ll enjoy your trip more (and have more energy to stay fit) if you deeply explore specific destinations rather than trying to see everything.
- Don’t sacrifice sleep. You might have more hours in the day if you sleep less, but they’ll be significantly worse and your fitness will deteriorate no matter how hard you exercise. If you don’t believe me, read the book Why We Sleep. It 100% convinced me to never sacrifice sleep again.
Freshen Your Approach to Fitness
For more fun but effective ways to stay fit while traveling, check out our pool, rock, and underwater workouts, and posts on why you should ditch the gym to work out outside and embrace the workout-life balance of a fitness lifestyle.