5 Hacks for Staying Fit While Traveling

As I write this, I’m sitting in a vegan coffee shop in Cork, Ireland. The walls are mostly glass, and as I sip my Americano, I watch tourists and locals, burrowed in their jackets and scarves, walk past. It’s still cold here in April, but it clearly hasn’t slowed the city of 200,000 people down. Watching them all walk by has me thinking about travel and how most people don’t even want to think about working out while they are away from home. Either they’re on vacation or they’re working and under a great deal of stress. Well, I’m here to tell you that designating time to move and challenge your body is the best way to fully enjoy a vacation or process work stress in a healthy way.

I travel so much for work and for fun, I’m often asked how I maintain my fitness routine (aka sanity) while on the road. The answer is surprisingly simple: if you make the effort to exercise at home, you can just as easily make time while traveling even with a packed schedule and unfamiliar terrain. The key is to have a few tricks up your sleeve to make it easily achievable.

Below I lay out five of my top travel hacks for maintaining a certain level of fitness while traveling, and I can honestly say these have saved me from jet lag, constipation (sorry not sorry), stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness brought on by being in a new place. Feel free to try all of these techniques, or simply choose the ones that work best for you. I guarantee you, the amount of pleasure and relaxation from your vacation will increase exponentially, and if it’s a work trip you will be better rested, and have more clarity and focus so that you perform at your absolute best when when required.

Hack No. 1: Book a Hotel with a Fitness Center.

If given the option between hotels, opt for one that has a gym. Even if it’s tiny, it can make all the difference between your energy flowing for the day, or you feeling stagnant because you slept in. Small gyms usually have dumbbells and some form of cardio machine. Do 10 mins of hard cardio and then weight train.  If there are no weights, use your body weight as resistance in your workout. There are plenty of videos on YouTube  that show how to make the most of a small hotel gym. If your hotel has a huge gym even better. Just knowing that you have amazing resources minutes away, can help in getting you dressed and out the door ready to move your body.

Hack No. 2: Trick Yourself by Downplaying How Long You Will Workout.

There have been plenty of times that I’ve been tired and unmotivated to workout. The key is to bargain with the voice that says “No, I’m not feeling up for it today”, by telling yourself you’ll just go for 10-15 mins. Anyone can workout for 10 minutes right? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this to myself, and then once I start, I feel amazing and don’t want to stop. The hardest part in accomplishing anything we don’t really want to do is usually by just getting started. Once that hurdle is overcome, the rest is just momentum and by then you really do start feeling good.  Mood boosting hormones like serotonin and dopamine are released during exercise, and the effects can last all day long. If I can convince myself to just get to the gym or out the door for a run, it’s only a matter of minutes before I’m thanking myself that I did. Never once have I regretted a workout, whether it was for only 10 minutes, or the more typical 45-60.

Hack No. 3: Focus on How You Will Feel After.

Visualization is a powerful tool. When I travel there are so many things I want to see, taste, and do, and spending time in hotel gym isn’t always the most exciting option. What I use to get over that thinking and get my workout in is to imagine how vitalized I will feel afterwards. I also notice that my skin is more vibrant and I think more clearly with less negative internal dialogue. By moving my body I absolutely impact how I feel and think, and that carries over into my experience for the rest of the day, whether I’m sightseeing or attending a training conference. Try imagining how wonderful you’ll feel and how much sharper you’ll be if you workout, and it will be a lot easier to convince yourself to get it in.

Hack No. 4: Don’t Be Afraid to Explore.

If you couldn’t choose which hotel you booked or a gym wasn’t an option anywhere, your next option is to get outside and get steps in. If you’re not a runner, it doesn’t mean you have to suddenly pick it up. Just walking has tremendous health benefits, and will leave you feeling energized and ready to start your day. Plus, getting out and moving is a great way to explore a new city and see where you might want to return later. When I studied abroad in France, I traveled to different countries every other weekend. I would always wake early and go running as a way to orient myself in a new city and scope out fun places to visit later in the day. The same applies today. This cute little coffee shop I’m in is one that I saw with the backdrop of the rising sun as I ran past. I never would have known it was here otherwise, and now I’m enjoying an Americano listening to Shakira circa 2002. Life is interesting and you’ll be surprised how much you miss when you stay in your comfort zone (or hotel room).

Hack No. 5: Get Your Partner or Co-Workers on Board.

Humans are hardwired for connection. We are pack animals essentially, and sometimes the best way to stay motivated to workout is by getting our friends to go with us. Working out is a great way to bond with your partner or co-workers, and often you end up learning something new about them that you never would have otherwise. And again when you engage in an endorphin boosting activity with another person, you can’t help but feel closer and more bonded to that person. Trust builds, and you feel supported and safe. This is an incredible tool for personal and professional life: don’t let it slip away.

I hope you enjoyed these tips, I absolutely love sharing my life experience in order to help others live their best lives. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or have additional tips you’d like to add that you’ve used in your life to stay fit while on travel!

The Unexpected Brain Benefits of Travel

One of the most exciting places in the world is the Atlanta airport. Sounds a little strange right? Not if you saw it like I do: a place of endless possibilities and a gateway to the rest of the world. Travel is something so dear to my heart, I consider it a friend. It’s a concept that has allowed me to eat strange foods, witness incredible sights firsthand, both ancient and new, and meet people with completely different cultural and social paradigms that have changed and shaped me for the better. I’ve learned more about history through my travels than I ever did in school, and have felt energy in places that produced a profound impact on how I understand that part of the world and how it relates to everything else. When I was visiting Normandy, our guide took us into one of the German bunkers on the beach and at once I was transported to D-Day. I felt an eerie, unsettling energy that I would have never experienced through films or reading. Travel did that, and it’s why I advocate for it so strongly–not as a future event to be undertaken after much planning and saving, but now, right now while you’re still hungrily curious about the world and physically able to meet the demands in fully seeing it.

I don’t think my affinity for travel is unique, but I have witnessed so many friends and family members postponing that next trip for various reasons, thereby missing out on so much that life and the often not talked about health benefits it has to offer. And while the reasons they proffer are absolutely logical and valid, I can’t help feeling sad about the missed opportunity of discovery, connection to others, and personal growth by foregoing the trip. So my humble advice is to go, just go. There is no better time than now to explore this amazing planet and get out of the ordinary flow of everyday life. Your bank account might take a temporary hit, but the law of reciprocity dictates that the little you give will produce so much richness of experience in return. There is never a time in traveling where you wont learn something from getting out of your routine and embarking on a journey. What you also will find, is that beyond all of the clichés of travel expanding your horizons, there are unexpected health benefits that make it imperative that you take that next trip sooner rather than later.

First, your build a better brain. Psychologists found that when you step outside of your comfort zone, you literally stretch and grow your brain. Learning anything new challenges and activates your brain in a way that following a routine simply cannot. When you travel you may not know the language,  how to navigate a new transit system, or how to order a coffee just the way you like it–you are forced to learn, and by doing so you become smarter. When the brain is on autopilot too often, it actually becomes weaker and less efficient. The novelty brought on by travel zaps your brain into active learning mode, and the amazing memories generated are just the icing on the cake to a fitter, younger brain.

Second, travel deepens your empathy for others. Empathy grows best under specific conditions often correlated with travel: being in the present moment, listening, speaking to and relying on strangers, recognizing commonality in others, and cultivating an interest in others.  Empathy, like anything, takes work, but its a skill that is beneficial to all parties. The more empathetic you are, the more you are able to prevent and resolve conflicts, be understood yourself, and promote healthy relationships. Travel is a powerful tool in strengthening your empathetic muscles, and often it doesn’t even feel like work.

Third, travel makes you happier. A 2016 study by the U.S. Travel Association and Project found that the more time taken off for travel correlated to more happiness at home. The more vacation days used, the lower the stress. The study also showed that over the past 15 years, Americans are taking nearly a week less of vacation. The case for travel could never be more important, especially when your well-being is at stake.

Life-changing travel doesn’t mean taking a trip thousands of miles away: simply going outside of your usual track of work, life, and play can have an impact. Not far from our house is a magical place called the Atlanta Chinatown Mall. Inside you will find a cornucopia of Asian food from different regions in China. When you first approach you’re greeted by a calming zen garden and a crimson bridge crossing a koi pond. The food court is definitely not fancy, but the food is unlike anything I have ever seen or tasted. I have never sampled more authentic Chinese food anywhere else–I generally point to what looks good as everything is written in Chinese, and try something new every time. Recently, my husband and I took our two young boys there, and our four-year old made fast friends with a Chinese boy around his same age. The boys were from very different backgrounds, but bonded over an iPad game and a love for fried rice. It was so interesting to watch them connect, and when the boys parents–who didn’t speak English, came over to retrieve him, there was that mutual understanding that all parents share when it comes to raising kids. We were able to communicate though our facial expressions and share an authentic moment together despite the cultural and language barrier. It made the experience of going out for good food so much richer.

The Chinatown Mall experience reminded me of one of my first travel memories: running through the San Diego airport away from my screaming mother. Our family of six was on its way to Okinawa, Japan for a two-year stint courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. I didn’t really understand where we were going or why, but I knew it was going to be completely different from anything I had experienced before, and I was excited. When we finally arrived after an uneventful 18 hour flight, I was introduced to an unfamiliar landscape, heavy humid air, and the smell of sea and salt from the ocean. My mother was understandably unnerved when a crowd of other passengers gathered around us while we waited in Customs, and started touching our hair. We were oddities with our bleach blond hair and pale blue eyes and they investigated us with open curiosity–looking back now, it was a fantastic introduction to Japan. The Customs clerk was equally as curious about this strange ragtag group of six, and made each of the kids a different origami figure to take with us, just because he was kind and knew we would like it.

We lived in an area called “The Ville” off base. My younger sister and I had a Japanese nanny, and she would sing us songs that I still remember today and sing to my boys. Because our nanny was Okinawan, we ate how the locals did, and our seemingly mundane errands turned quickly into an education on Japanese, and more specifically, Okinawan culture. We’d walk with our nanny or our mother to the Oki-Mart grocery store down the street and pass the different shops with various goods hanging in the window, usually some kind of poultry in its full form. The air in Okinawa was thick with the tantalizing smells of strange foods, the ocean, and mildew, creating a strange, yet comforting aroma unique to that part of the world. It seemed so stifling at first, but we all quickly adjusted and by the time we left, we didn’t even notice it. We didn’t speak the language of our neighbors, yet there was a bounty of learning and communication happening–as children this was invaluable to our development and growth in understanding, connecting, and empathizing with others.

I have no intention of bringing my boys on an 18 hour flight anywhere, at least not yet, but I know the extraordinary impact that travel had on me at an early age, and I want the same for them. I want them to converse with different kinds of kids like the boy at the Chinatown Mall, to taste food local to our destination, and to see landscapes they’ve never seen before. I look at it as my duty to show them the world, and spark the same curiosity about places and people who I still have today, so that they develop into smarter, more empathetic, and happier adults.

Whenever I travel, I am more awake, present, and alive then any other time. On my deathbed, I’m not going to remember those cool shoes I bought, or the purse I just had to have. Instead, I will remember that amazing meal I had in Nashville with my sister and brother-in-law, or the funny conversation I had with a Moroccan boy in a laundromat in Montpellier, or how unsettled I felt standing in a German bunker looking out on the beaches of Normandy. Travel offers you the unique opportunity to experience new places, food, and people firsthand, but its true gift is discovering who you really are and how truly connected we all are on this beautiful planet.