Stay fit while traveling cover photo of Kim showing how it's done
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Don’t Forget to Pack Your Sixpack

Our fitness habits tend to fly out the window (or porthole, or whatever) when we travel, but that’s no excuse to not stay fit. With these eight tips for how to stay fit while traveling, there’s no need to leave your six-pack behind.

You might even pick one up as a souvenir!

How can we be so sure?

Because they work for us. We drink our own Kool-Aid. (Sugar-free, of course.)

Chris and Kim looking fit in Namibia
We’re happy because we stay fit while traveling, not in spite of it.

8 Fun & Fast Tips to Stay Fit While Traveling

Instead of a long, boring jog, Kim sprinted up and walked down this hill in Medellin 15 times.

1. Hard and Fast Rules

Do High-Intensity, Low-Duration Workouts

To get and stay fit, more isn’t better.

Harder and faster is better.

It’s possible to get the same health benefits of a 45-minute jog in as little as 60 seconds of all-out exertion if you go balls to the wall.

World-renowned exercise physiologist Dr. Martin Gibala proved this. His team surprised the world with a 12-week study that found that subjects who worked out doing just 60 seconds of all-out exercise (in three 20-second sets) enjoyed the same health benefits as subjects who did 45 minutes of continuous medium intensity exercise.

While one minute of exertion is surprisingly good for fitness, Gibala recommends 10 hard minutes for maximal health benefits.

Example 20-Minute Workout

Here’s an example workout that meets that criteria:

  • Warm up with 3-5 minutes of moderate exercise (jogging, bear crawls, skipping, slow burpees).
  • For one minute, do burpees / mountain-climbers / stair runs / spinning / anything as hard and fast as you can.
  • Rest for one minute.
  • Repeat this minute-on, minute-off cycle ten 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.

Intrigued?

To learn more about the surprising science behind interval training and get some workout inspiration, I highly recommend you read Dr. Gibala’s book, The One-Minute Workout.

Your body is heavy enough for most strength training, but for further difficulty throw another body on top!

2. No Weights? No Worries!

Strength Train With Your (and Your Friends’) Bodyweight

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 to 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—you—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 really don’t think you’re heavy enough to build strong muscles with bodyweight training, here are a few tips:

  1. Do one leg or arm at a time. If you think one-armed pull-ups and elevated shrimp squats are still too easy, join the circus.
  2. Use momentum to make it harder by doing explosive exercises like jumping or sprinting.  
  3. Use your travel companion to weigh you down with exercises. Do piggy-back sprints or have them sit on you while you do push-ups.
my breakfast during my 3 day fast
Chris’ typical breakfast while traveling. He only eats a couple times a day when traveling, but when he does, he devours just about whatever he wants.

3. Eat As Much as You Want (Just Not Whenever You Want)

Fast Intermittently

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 when traveling.

We just need to compromise on when we eat.

If we limit ourselves to eating twice a day, and take some days off eating entirely, we can stay fit, pretty much 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 (since we can only fill your stomach so much)
  • 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 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.

For a bunch of simple, easy-to-understand tips on fasting that’ll make you not want to eat, check out my Water Fasting Tips from A Guy Who Learned the Hard Way.

Or get a copy of Dr. Fung’s book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, for the complete details.

We try to look for group workouts everywhere we travel.

4. Get Sweaty With Others

Join Local Fitness Classes

From bootcamps 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.

stone training workout
Beaches with rocks like this are perfect for some unusual terrain-ing

5. Try Unusual Terrain-ing

Take Advantage of Unique Environments

Forget going to some soulless gym that’s no different than the one you go to back home.

Create an unforgettable workout by getting outside and taking advantage of the unique terrain of the place you’re visiting.

Examples

Here are some examples of unusual terrain-ing from our recent travels:

The opportunities for unusual terrain-ing are as endless as the variety of geographies on this planet.

kim looking tired hiking up cerro las tres cruces medellin colombia
Kim taking a quick breather on a run/hike up Medellin’s Cerro de las Tres Cruces.

6. Lace ‘Em Up

Explore More by Running and Hiking

At home, Kim and I aren’t avid hikers and avoid jogging entirely.

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 out about any other way.

And, as an added bonus, it works up an appetite to eat more food.

Quick Tips

  • As I write in my 55-Item Fine-Tuned Packing List, get black runners so you can wear them when not exercising too and 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 (if you’re not wearing them already).
  • Download Maps.Me to find offline trail maps everywhere in the world. It’s free.
  • Download your Google Maps for offline use. Our Top 9 Google Maps Tips has the simple steps.

SHOP THE GOODS

Triggerpoint foam roller
Triggerpoint

Foam Roller

Plantronics wireless headphones are perfect for getting fit while traveling.
Plantronics

Wireless Headphones

Spibelt phone pouch for exercise
Spibelt

Phone Pouch

Rubberbanz rubber band for exercising outdoors
Rubberbanz

Resistance Bands

Chris' dad jumping off waterfall in Costa Rica, hopefully covered by travel insurance
Look into travel insurance before you leap into any travel activity.

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.

It’s boring and a “waste of money,” but if something goes wrong, you definitely don’t want to hurt your finances even more than it hurt your body.

Your credit card might 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

To potentially save yourself a couple hundred bucks and not be too overwhelmed, read our 8 Simple Steps to Finding the Best Travel Insurance.

It’s geared towards Canadians, but the steps and tips apply to everyone.

Kim working out in Bangkok
In Bangkok, we planned to work out at a local outdoor gym, Lumpini Park. It turned out to be a highlight of our stay!

8. Plan to stay fit while traveling

Include Fitness in Your Travel Planning

If you don’t plan to stay fit while traveling you won’t.

Duh.

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.

But 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 (see: 4. Get Sweaty with Others). 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 accommodation close to these areas. Ask if they have blenders or cooking facilities so you can make healthy snacks with delicious local produce.

relaxing in hammock
Traveling can be stressful. Read a book on exercise when you’re too tired to sweat.

9. Relax!

Don’t Stress About Staying Fit When Traveling

Exercise should relieve your stress, not increase it.

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.

Also, give yourself credit for all the walking you’ll likely be doing. 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.

2 Sub-Tips

  • 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 spreading yourself thin across many.
  • 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.

10. If You Liked These Tips and Want More

Get On The Unconventional Route

We want to help you find fun but effective ways to stay fit while traveling. Check out our pool, rock, and underwater workouts, stay tuned for more tips and ideas and don’t be shy to leave us questions in the comment boxes below.

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How About You?

Let us know what you think about these tips, any questions you might have, or any tips of your own in the comments.

We really, really appreciate it when you do so.


Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use special links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we'd recommend anyway. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to.

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6 comments

    1. I feel you Megan. I guess it’s a question of mentality. We don’t find it hard at all because, as we wrote, exercise is one of the ways we have fun, explore, and meet people while traveling.

      This depends on the type of vacation too. If you’re moving from place to place every day, you’re gonna be too exhausted to exercise, but we’d strongly advise against traveling that way anyways (as we wrote in our travel tips).

  1. I’m really surprised you didn’t mention putting on your runners and just getting out and exploring! It is the best way to see and experience a new place. You don’t have to be in an area that’s special… it’s all different and interesting. Running is optional but it does let you see more in less time. I think the best advice of all is ALWAYS HAVE YOUR RUNNERS IN YOUR CARRY ON!

    1. Thanks Mary, a.k.a. Mom. You’re right. It seems almost too obvious to me, but that could be because you trained me for it to be second nature. We’ll add it to the post!

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