Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, and no matter how long you might be gone, it can be difficult to maintain the routines that you practice at home. That said, an active lifestyle is not incompatible with a life on the go. After all, you’re already moving! So, if you want to get and stay fit but find that the logistics of traveling are interrupting your progress, you might just need to take a step back and try a different approach. There is no reason that making healthy choices should be an extra burden on your life, and that’s true regardless of whether you’re at home or on the road. Eating well and exercising should enrich our experiences, not detract from them. A small change in perspective and a more holistic idea of wellness could make a big difference when you’re out in the world.

 

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As a disclaimer, I’m not a fitness guru. I’m not a nutritionist or a sports scientist, either, but I am a traveler who enjoys an active lifestyle and has had to think about my relationship with wellness as it’s changed over the years. I hope that some of my thoughts on the matter will you help you develop yours, too.

Stop Seeing Wellness as a Zero-Sum Game

I’m not sure if the term zero-sum gets used a lot in discussions of fitness, but in any case, I’ll explain what I mean. At times, I’ve been frustrated with my exercise routine because I’ve viewed it as a necessary commitment to reverse my less-than-healthy habits. After a night out or a weekend of comfort food, I’ll go for a run or hit the gym because I feel like I have to, like I’m restoring some kind of balance. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like an unhealthy way to think about my lifestyle. At least I’m making an effort to compensate for the bad with the good.

There is an inherent contradiction in this train of thought, though. Balance is a very tricky thing: if we try too hard to restore balance in our lives, it can actually have the opposite effect and throw us even further off balance.

 

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What does that mean in practical terms? Think about what you do outside of the gym as much as what you do inside of it. When you’re traveling, it’s tempting to bend the rules that you might set for yourself at home. For example, drinking alcohol is a tried and tested method of dealing with long-haul flights, as well as a huge component of socializing when in a new place. Obviously, if you enjoy drinking, do it! Just be cognizant of other health factors during your trip, such as potential dehydration or irregular meals, and make your decisions in function with your overall wellness. If you take care of yourself first, you won’t have as much “damage” to repair later on. When it comes to making those repairs, only approach them as your body and mind are ready. Whatever liberties you’ve taken and stress you’ve endured during travel might have taken their toll, but you have plenty of time to reverse those effects.

So, if you’re feeling strung out from your trip, don’t rush to get active and immediately address it that way. Your body always needs rest, nutrition, and hydration to remain fueled. If the playing field changes, but your exertion doesn’t, you may quickly be running on empty. That first becomes important when and if you exercise while you’re still away from home. In that case, don’t go into your workout expecting to perform as well as you normally do, and don’t push yourself harder than you feel you should. In fact, if you usually exercise five or more days a week, consider dialing it back while you’re on the go. Research shows that in the short term, shorter intervals of intense exercise can have similar health benefits to longer workouts of more moderate intensity. Generally, the best thing to do when you’re traveling is to make sure you get moving, particularly after sitting for long periods of time in transit.

 

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Pack and Prepare

This might seem obvious, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone on a trip and forgotten to bring along proper workout gear. Before you depart, take the time to lay out everything you’ll need, with careful regard for the weather in your destination. I recommend doing this separate from the rest of your attire, especially if you’re like me and tend to leave packing to the last minute. If you’ve made a commitment to a certain amount of activity in your life, seeing your running shoes or workout clothes in your suitcase while you’re away might just give you the extra motivation to suit up and go.

If you mainly use your phone to monitor your physical activity at home, consider investing in some equipment whose functionality won’t be affected by going abroad. As a distance runner and hiker, I’m crazy about my stats — I always want to know how far I’ve gone, and for how long. For this reason, my GPS-activated Garmin watch is a must-have when I’m on the road, since it accurately tracks my distance and location all over the world for no extra cost (i.e. data). Also bear in mind that recovery is almost always more difficult outside of a regularly scheduled regimen, so investing in a foam roller or a massage ball that can fit in your luggage and supplement your stretching isn’t a bad idea.

 

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Stretch!

Every traveler has most likely experienced some degree of stiffness, which can be a result of sitting for long periods of time, wearing uncomfortable shoes, or eating poorly — and in some cases, a fun combination of all three! Our hamstrings, hips, and lower back muscles are usually the first victims of our long-distance travels, but there are stretches you can do in your hotel room, in the airport, and even on your plane that will have manifold health benefits, including increasing blood flow through your muscles. If you’re worried about looking a little strange stretching in public (note: passport control is probably not the best place for downward dog), rest assured that several great stretches don’t require total prostration; some barely require you to move at all.

Try standing on the balls of your feet for a few seconds at a time, slowly lowering yourself back down until your heels are almost touching the ground, and going back up. This will aid that all-important blood flow to your feet and lower legs, which can heal muscle and minimize pain. To stretch your calves and ankles (and increase blood flow to your feet), turn one foot onto its outer side, lengthen your posture, and lean forward slightly until you feel a stretch in your lower leg. Whether or not you actively stretch, at least perform a posture check every now and then: make sure your weight is evenly distributed between both sides of your body and that you’re standing on all points of your feet. Let your shoulders roll back, and try to make sure they are in line with your hips, so that you’re not slouching forward or backward. This can help one avoid extra pain that is caused by standing for long periods of time with certain body parts doing more work than others.

 

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Explore, and Try New Things

This is the best part. Travel is all about exploration, expansion of your comfort zone, and exposure to new people, places, and ideas. We might not think about how these things relate to our wellness straight away, but a holistic approach to our health is best cultivated by opening ourselves up to as many different perspectives on these matters as possible. For instance, running and meditation are the two biggest pillars of my personal approach to wellness. While I didn’t necessarily discover them through traveling, travel made them more accessible and enriching for me. After all, my mentors in these subjects would never have even heard of these practices had it not been for the cross-pollination of knowledge by travelers centuries ago. Today, meditation and running are tools that many travelers, including myself, use to make sense of new environments. Running helps me explore the thoroughfares and back streets of new cities, while meditation brings me back into my body and grounds me in the present moment, keeping me calm and focused while navigating new pathways.

Depending on the destination, though, there can be plenty of other unique activities that will push you physically and mentally. I’ve already written about the ecological benefits of bike-sharing programs, and hopping on a bike for a joyride has to be one of the most enjoyable (and health-promoting) ways to explore a new place. But there are countless other ways to get your blood pumping on the road — you could try sandboarding in Southern California or North Carolina, rock-climbing at a world-class facility in Austria, or surfing if you’re anywhere near some nice waves. And if you need extra motivation, look around for activities you haven’t tried. In Moscow, I went on a terrifying and trying, but ultimately thrilling, three-storey rope and bungee agility course to challenge my limits (and quickly resolve a fear of heights). Whether you prefer a cardio workout or lifting weights at the gym, look around for new ways to move your body that will also make for some great stories.

 

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Hopefully, after reading this, you feel less daunted by committing to staying healthy while on the go. The main thing to remember is that, ultimately, wellness is a personal thing, and everyone should approach it in the way that is most comfortable to them. If you want to make a change and get healthier, you can do it. If you’re frustrated with your progress and feel stagnant, take your foot off the gas a bit and regroup your body and mind. The most important thing to do when you’re on the go is enjoy the present moment, because it will pass before you know it. Treating yourself with kindness is the best way to ensure you do that.

Do you have any tips for practicing wellness while traveling, or memorable physical activities from your time on the road? Let us know below!

Header image by Sasin Tipchai

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Joseph Ozment
Originally from Tennessee, Joseph Ozment is a writer and musician whose relationship with travel was shaped by growing up between the Southern U.S., Wales, and Hong Kong. So far, he's written for a newspaper in Russia, released a handful of home recordings, and started a novel (with plans for more, someday). When he's not busy running country roads or cheering on Liverpool FC, he's most likely making the next cup of coffee, or plans for the next trip.