Survival of the fitness: how to do good by your health on travel

I don’t travel a lot compared to some people I work with, but I do a bit of business travel. I just returned from a quick trip to DC. If you travel this way, and you’re trying to maintain an exercise regimen of any kind you know how hard it can be.

from DUSAN PETRICIC in The Scientist

When you get to your hotel you just want to lay in bed, relax, and veg out- meetings can go all day, and the food can be, to put it VERY generously, less than healthy. It’s easy to take the vacation way out. That is, to think, “hey, this business travel is kinda like a vacation and I can just let all this health stuff slide for a bit”. Slippery slope- very slippery. It’s not just the travel time you’re talking about, it’s also the time when you get back and start dodging your workout routines and eating well because you’re out of practice. Actually, business travel can be a great opportunity (see me with the more optimism) to actually do more than you usually do- if not in the eating area at least in the fitness area. Here are some things that have helped me (and that I aspire to, I’m certainly not perfect in this area). I’m intentionally trying to avoid the advice that’s good in this area, but could pertain any time to your fitness.


  1. Bring along healthy snacks/small meals with you. This beats the heck out of buying stuff in the airport, on the airplane, from the hotel snack bar or (heaven forbid) minibar, or from a random vending machine. This wins on the nutrition front and on your wallet too. I generally pack energy bars (the Clif Zbars for kids are actually great for grownups too and about 120 calories), instant oatmeal with extras (brown sugar, dried fruit, peanut butter) since hotel rooms almost always have coffee makers- but don’t forget a spoon, crackers and tuna fish (Starkist has cute packages, but you can easily make your own), and fruit (NOT bananas, but apples, pears, etc.). All of this should make it through security OK- I’ve never had a problem (even with the PB, which is kindof a ‘paste’).
  2. Don’t give up on eating well, but realize that there are just those times. Dinners out with colleagues, free food buffets, cookies and muffins provided at the conference, alcohol and more alcohol- all those things can be tricky. Make sure that you keep a rough estimation of caloric intake in your head and try to match it (or, if you’re really good, precede it by) doing something from the exercise list below- that way things even out, more-or-less.
  3. You probably won’t eat your best, but DON’T eat your worst. This is just common sense, but it’s really easy to forget. If you’re going to eat bad don’t go whole hog- there are generally better choices and worse choices. Try to go toward the light.
  4. Use jet lag and busy meetings to your advantage. Sometimes jet lag and busy meetings (without food available) can be your friend. You may not be hungry at the times you normally are and you may be able to avoid some of the bad by simply skipping it (this can go both ways- I get hungry early in the morning on the East coast for some reason). Also, for me busy is better. I’ll simply forget that I’m hungry (at least hungry in that bored-so-I’ll-munch way).


  1. Bring your workout clothes dummy. It seems simple, but it’s probably not the thing you’re thinking of when you’re packing. Don’t forget workout shoes (I use some flat shoes that pack easily) and an mp3 player if you normally use one.
  2. Make use of the hotel gym. Most business hotels have workout rooms. Make sure you ask when you check in where it is and when it’s open. Use it but don’t be tied to your normal workout schedule since it probably won’t work on travel.
  3. Walk. If your meeting is in the city, walk. Walk to the conference (if it’s somewhere else), to dinner, or just plan to walk around during your breaks. This is the thing that’s really helped me and it’s fun too. Do some research prior to your trip to make sure you’ll be walking in safe areas or just ask at the front desk before you venture out. Walking back to the hotel, even a longish way, after dinner can be a good way to make up some calories- but ask at the restaurant about a safe path. Running works too.
  4. Get out and see the place. If you have breaks or free time go and see the sights, but walk. Use public transportation (Metro is best) to get from A to B and walk the rest. Travel like this is a great opportunity and walking is one of the best ways to actually see someplace.
  5. Use the stairs. Not just to get up to your room, but use the stairs to work out. It may be that the hotel doesn’t have a gym or that the gym isn’t the greatest. Use the stairs. Climbing 10 floors (about 5 minutes) should burn somewhere around 50 calories– and you can do it many times. It’s likely that no one will see you sweat, but this might not be the most interesting place to workout. Listen to music or podcasts to pass the time.
  6. Do a workout in your hotel room. You can blast the tunes, watch a movie, or do this completely naked (but please close the blinds, please). There are lots of different fitness regimens that you can do with no equipment at all- and they can kick your ass. Here’s a good set specifically for the hotel room stay from NerdFitness.
  7. Dress like you mean it. Planning to put on your workout clothes provides a much lower energy barrier than actually working out. So do that first. When you’re standing around in your workout clothes you’ll start to feel stupid for not working out. It actually works.
  8. Use your layover. Airports are big. Some are really big. Use that fact. If you have a layover of more than about 45 minutes start walking. Plan out your walk so that you don’t end up far away from your gate when you need to board- which would make you feel dumb, sweat, and probably hate me for my stupid ideas. Try walking the whole thing. If you have a roller bag so much the better. Dragging one of those things around will only make things better. Skip the moving walkways- instead try to beat the people standing on them (or walking on them even) to the other end. Pretend like you’re in a super hurry to catch your plane, it’s fun.