How to fit in a workout while you travel

Sightseeing is just another excuse to break a sweat.

Person working out in a hotel room.
Traveling can mean "resting," but it doesn't mean "quitting."Estradaanton via Deposit

Traveling plays havoc with workout plans. The time wasted stuck at the airport, the crippling jet lag, and not having your gym or go-to running track at hand, are just some of the most common issues. But not all is lost, and if you really want to keep on top of things, you definitely can.

But how difficult it will be will solely depend on what you’re aiming for: if you simply want to keep active, your options are better and more varied than if you have to stick to a super strict training plan because you’re preparing for a marathon, powerlifting meet, or dance-off.

Sightseeing can be a workout

If you just want to stay active, the best thing to do is bring the right gear. A comfortable pair of walking shoes and your swimming stuff will go a long way. Make sure to pack it small enough so it fits in any bag.

When you’re in a new destination, it’s easy to rack up the steps just by exploring and wandering around. If you really want to make sure you’re getting them in, add a bit more structure to things—maybe avoid taking a taxi or train for less than a mile, or make an adventure out of climbing to the highest point in the area. Give yourself the time to walk from one neighborhood to the other. Or even run there.

Will Henke, head coach for The Program by WanderFit, recommends running as a way to get to know a new place. “As soon as I hit the ground, I set a timer for 30 to 60 minutes, put on my shoes, and go for an easy run. It’s the best way to explore the local area—it’s how I’ve found some of the coolest places when I’ve been traveling.”

Similarly, if you’re on vacation, there are lots of activities you can do that are technically exercise, but are so much fun that you won’t even notice. It’s always a good idea to sign up for a surfing, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding lesson; a city-wide bike tour; or a sunrise yoga class.

Establish a routine

Exercise equipment in private gym
Some hotel gyms can be truly depressing. But don't let them get you down.Radovan Janjuseciv via Deposit Photos

“Having some kind of workout routine while you travel is the only way you’ll stick to it,” says Henke. “When I travel, I get up at 8 a.m. every day and work out. I’m done by 9:30 a.m. and have the rest of the day free.” While you don’t have to work out first thing in the morning, making it a routine will go a long way—even if it’s just going for a walk as soon as you get up. And, if you don’t do it first thing, life might get in the way.

Keep up with a hobby

One of the best ways to work out when you travel is just to keep doing what you regularly do. Most social fitness activities—like CrossFit, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or rock climbing—actively encourage it, and gyms (or boxes) have drop-in fees and welcome out-of-town visitors.

Hitting up a new BJJ gym is my favorite way to meet locals when I travel, and it might result in some great tips for your next day of sightseeing, or even new friendships. And this doesn’t just work for organized activities—if you run, for example, you can use Strava to check out the most popular routes for local runners. You’ll most likely see a side of the city most tourists don’t.

Work with an online trainer

Person working out with a laptop in hotel room.
You only need a laptop and some willpower to work out in your hotel room. Just make sure you tip the staff after you sweat all over everything.Alla Serebrina via Deposit Photois

If you travel a lot, getting an online personal trainer could be a great idea. Henke is one, and understands the limitations most of us are stuck with when we travel. He gives some of his clients programs that work around their travel schedule and can be done with whatever equipment is available in the hotel gym. And when they’re back home in a better kitted out gym, they’ll be able to adapt the program so they can use such outlandish fitness contraptions as barbells.

Henke says that even if you can’t afford a personal coach, finding an online program that offers options for people with limited equipment is relatively easy—just dive into YouTube and search for something that both interests you and suits your needs.

Plan ahead

Sometimes a hotel gym just won’t cut it, so if you are on a specific training schedule, say for a bodybuilding or powerlifting competition, you’ll need to plan ahead and do your research. Having workouts already planned out will save you the stress of walking into a hotel gym and having to wing it.

Search engines are your friend here. Check out gyms near where you’re staying and see if they have the stuff you need—call them and ask if you have to.

If you’re super serious about exercise and your workout is a high priority on your list, find a place to train before you even book your accommodation—that way you can make sure you’ll be staying somewhere nearby.

Work on what you’re bad at

Young attractive woman in Marjaryasana pose on the bed, morning
To work on your flexibility you literally just need your body. And we can assure you you won't forget to pack that.fizkes via Deposit Photos.

Working on what you’re good at is easy and fun. Who doesn’t like smashing mile splits or doing heavy deadlifts if you’re good at them? Working on your weaknesses, however, is a lot less thrilling.

Henke suggests focusing on your shortcomings when you travel. It’s often easier to do since you’ll probably need less resistance, which means less or very basic equipment. For example, you can learn handstands and other gymnastic skills in your hotel room and most people could do with working on their mobility—which you can do even in the most ill-equipped hotel gym. Similarly, if you neglect your cardio, hopping on a treadmill or rowing machine every day for the week you’re away will push you in different ways.

Schedule a low mileage (or deload) week

Most high-volume training plans have planned low mileage (for running) or deload (for weightlifting) weeks where you still train, but at a much lower intensity. If you have control of both your travel and workout plans (or work with a coach), you can make your life a lot easier by scheduling your trip and down weeks at the same time. You’ll still have to use one of the other options here to get your workouts done, but things will be less stressful because they’re inherently shorter and easier.

Bring what you need with you

Person jumping rope
Even the most depressing of gyms will allow you to jump rope.Sasha Khalabuzar via Deposit Photos

There is an increasing amount of travel-ready fitness gear available. Stuff like the Monkii bars and packable kettlebell sandbags fit in your luggage and mean you’ll be able to plan your workouts with equipment you’ll know you’ll have at hand. The downside is that most of it works best outside, so keep that in mind if you’re going somewhere where weather is not on your side—going down to the beach to fill your kettlebell when there’s a storm raging is not likely to happen.

When it comes to packing and workout efficiency, Henke recommends everyone bring a jump rope. “They’re very small and probably the most effective thing you can pack. Bodyweight workouts plus a jump rope are much more interesting than just bodyweight workouts.”

Have fun (but not too much)

Often, the downside of traveling is not the missed workouts, but the unhealthy behaviors that accompany them. To avoid this, Henke recommends abiding by his personal rule: never have two bad meals in a row. That way, if you indulge in cakes or wine at dinner, you’ll have to follow it up with something healthy for breakfast the next day, and a pastry-heavy breakfast can precede a light Mediterranean lunch.

Henke also warns that people shouldn’t get too stressed about not training. Be forgiving with yourself and if you miss a workout one day, know it’s ok. Getting anxious about skipping a day will only undermine your whole vacation, so let yourself enjoy your time off and use the extra energy to hit your workout fresh and hard.