Over my 25+ year career, I’ve spent about 750 nights on the road.
Whoa – over two years, man. This can raise “what am I doing?” career questions (it has for me).
But you don’t have to travel nearly that much to face this challenge: how to stay fit, eat decently and otherwise protect your wellness on the road?
Based on longtime self-observation and trial-and-error, here are four strategies to prevent travel from being hazardous to your health.
FITNESS: 1st CHALLENGE IS MAKING TIME
Long before you do – or don’t – put on running shoes, the first battle is one of mental orientation.
A fitness-maintaining trip starts out with this strong intention: ranking just behind (1) an “essential” level of work and (2) sleep, staying physically active is your key priority.
⇒ Workouts often have to displace “business dinners” (they’re killing us, anyway).
⇒ You need to balance work-social things like sporting events and golf with taking care of yourself. These may be part of the reason you travel (in sales and bus dev especially). But if they prevent at least a “survival” level of exercise…you gotta change something.
⇒ Some evening email is vital, but it’s also a bottomless pit. And you may wallow in social / digital media for further time. At some point you need to draw a line, man. Unplug and go to sleep so you can work out in the a.m. (or go work out in the evening).
⇒ Your at-home schedule may need adjustment. Example: At home, I often work out in the morning. But on trips, after all-day meetings and with things to accomplish by start-of-business the next day, I’m mentally fried and not productive at the hotel room desk.
So I switch things up by (1) working out in the early evening, (2) feeling refreshed and getting to bed early, so I can (3) get stuff done pre-business-hours the next day, with far more mental sharpness and productivity.
FITNESS: CONSIDER IT WHEN TRIP PLANNING
You can hit the hotel gym. IF they have one, it’s open when you need it, it’s bigger than a closet, and the equipment you want isn’t being used by someone who got there before you.
If possible, choose hotels considering gym hours, size, and quality. Easier said than done, though, because these facts are tough to find online. Hotel and booking sites often just say “fitness center.” Ironically, “24-hour fitness center” usually means a tiny converted guest room with next-to-nothing in it.
So, you’ll greatly enhance your ability to stay fit on the road if you include:
1. Running. Doable anywhere, anytime, and a great way to explore a new place. Hotel selection comes in here, too, since nearby neighborhoods can be great or awful for running. I often choose a hotel based on where I can run, even if I’m a little further from where I need to do business. Not sure where you can run in City X? Check out Great Runs or Map My Run.
2. CrossFit, boot camp classes, yoga or spinning near your hotel. These options are all over the place, and often open earlier than the hotel gym, too. Spend two minutes with Google and you’ll know what’s available.
3. Use of your room for fitness. Like a 15 to 20-minute calisthenics routine (great complement to a run), or an online streaming class (HiiT, yoga, all kinds of great stuff is available). Most online booking tools show greater “room details,” for a sense of your room’s available floor space.
Finally, don’t forget small choices you can make all day. Walk somewhere for lunch, or between meeting locations. Take the stairs, dude.
NUTRITION: SOME PLANNING & DISCiPLINE
First, to eat healthy on the road you need a blueprint for how to eat healthy in general. Obvious, so why mention this? NOT having a healthy eating approach is even more dangerous on the road. That’s because things the world offers you tend toward bigger restaurant or room-service meals, booze, and unhealthy airport temptations.
Once you have a blueprint in mind, follow these rules to stick to it (or at least have a high batting average).
1. Bring food with you. Energy bars, travel-friendly fruit (apples, oranges), nuts, beef jerky. If you have these, you won’t get driven by simple hunger to eat whatever’s available.
2. At the airport, see rule #1. Or, buy these at the airport. They’re normally better than prepared foods you’ll find. Keep avoiding refined sugars and refined (white) flours. Yeah, this cuts out 95% of airport food. Thus the suggested focus on portable foods mentioned here.
However, an increasing number of airports do have ready-made or make-your-own salads nowadays. Maybe your “Id” wants Sbarro’s. Overrule it and get a salad with lean protein and a non-drench amount of dressing. Within 15 minutes, you’ll be glad you skipped Sbarro’s, burger & fries, or Cinnabon.
Trusty Starbucks has reasonably healthy choices among the sandwiches, salads, meal packs and yogurt.
3. On the plane, avoid airline food if possible. Definitely avoid alcohol. I realize “turn down free booze” is heresy to some who fly business/first. But those drinks are massive extra calories and carbs – and a dehydration threat while flying. All in a context where on arrival, you’ll be battling to avoid further unhealthy eating. Don’t go down two strikes immediately!
Also on the flight, drink a lot of water. And, don’t have the air vent blasting down onto you. It’s piping germs from the whole plane straight down into your face.
4. At your destination, try not to deviate much from your normal eating patterns. If you normally have a light breakfast, have one most days on the road. The bacon and cheese omelet with home fries and buttered toast is tempting. But unless you compensate later in the day by eating less than normal…you just made today a weight-gain day, brother. Same for lunch and dinner, really.
So often on the road, two or even all three meals are bigger and less-healthy than you’d eat at home.
5. Beware the “don’t eat all day then pig out in the evening” habit. Your body slows metabolism after so much time without eating much (since the prior night). Then, you put in a ton of calories and your system metabolizes it poorly. This pattern also interferes with exercise.
As a unifying theme to all this, watch out for the “feeling sorry for myself / these are exceptional circumstances” trap. That gives you permission to blow off fitness, eat and drink to excess, and burn the candle at both ends.
And are the circumstances really exceptional? If you’ve traveled even a third as much as I have, you’re talking about living a nearly a year of your life in that mode.
So for many of us, travel is just a normal part of life. And for a healthy life, we need healthy travel. I hope all my times in airports and strange cities can help you move in this direction, too.
“Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man. Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can.” (The Allman Brothers, Ramblin’ Man—click to listen)
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