Travel does NOT have to equal weight gain. This is what this guide is for. I want to show you methods that I’ve used to accomplish this. First off, I want to reiterate that travel is hard and I understand the challenges that come with it. It’s not surprising that most people tend to gain fat while traveling; they’re away from home and their routines. Food isn’t prepared. There isn’t time to workout. Sleep schedule is off. These are all valid reasons, but they’re not impossible to overcome.
First and foremost, travel is one of the biggest hurdles people encounter while on their fitness and health journey. I get it. I travel quite a bit these days visiting family and attending conferences on the mainland. With each one of my trips, even if I indulge in the local fare quite a bit or have a few too many drinks with old friends, I still come home just as lean and fit as when I left (sometimes even dropping a few pounds unintentionally).
Before I get to solutions for those issues, I want to address a bigger problem that is prevalent: Vacation Mindset.
When traveling, people tend to let things go in terms of fitness. There’s this strange thing that happens when people leave home: they start to feel like what they do on vacation “doesn’t count.” Or, they feel the have a “right” to loosen up a bit, because “hey, it’s vacation!”, even if it’s not.
Yes, of course, you have the right to do whatever you want. If you want to stop working out and start eating junk for a few days, have at it. You certainly have that right. You have the right to gain as much fat as you can deal with, and you have the right to complain about it later. But don’t.
That said, I strongly suspect that if you didn’t care about gaining weight, and didn’t really want to learn how to lose it while traveling, you wouldn’t have bothered reading this. You’re already ahead of the game.
However, the Vacation Mindset is more of a subconscious thing, and it poses challenges even for people who want to change. While we may not feel justified eating fast food because we don’t have access to a kitchen, chances are we tend to eat out more often. And while we may not immediately abandon all pretense of attempting to exercise, chances are we aren’t going out of the way to find a gym that has everything needed to follow our current program to the letter.
Vacation Mindset is a big challenge, because it encourages us to feel like we “should” be skipping out on these things to enjoy our trip.
This is nonsense.
If you’re traveling for work or any other obligation, there’s no reason to go off the rails with diet and training. Treat these days like any other days: get up, train, go to work (conference, meetings, etc), and make the best decisions possible with regard to food. It’s just like any other day at the office. Sure, you can indulge a bit and have a few drinks at the bar, but even then there are ways to be smart about it.
If you’re actually traveling for pleasure/on vacation, the natural impulse is to splurge and enjoy all that your destination has to offer in terms of culinary delights. You’ll also be tempted to skip training in favor of sightseeing. Both understandable. But as you’ll see below, you can actually get the best of all worlds, and stay fit without giving up training, and while still enjoying the local cuisine.
My point is, whenever we’re away from home, the deck is basically stacked against our fitness goals. There are enough actual, logistical external hurdles to contend with that we absolutely cannot afford to fall victim to the Vacation Mindset and create more internal ones.
Everything you’ll read in this guide will help you avoid both, but you need to do your part and actually execute.
With all of that said, let’s jump ahead into some nutrition strategies for travelers.
Let me be clear about something: when you’re traveling for pleasure, you should be indulging in the local fare.
I insist on it.
It makes no sense to me to avoid any singular aspect of a country, especially the food. I’m a firm believer that when you travel, your goal should be to immerse yourself in the culture with all of your senses; to me, “tasting” different countries is just as important as seeing those countries.
Food is the single most accessible expression of what a culture puts in the world for others to consume. It’s what makes them unique. My point is that food is an important part of a cultural identity, and therefore an important aspect of experiencing a culture. In a very real way, a visitor to Spain has as much to gain and experience, culturally, from eating paella as they do from seeing the Prado Museum or La Alhambra.
In an effort to get the most complete experience, whenever I travel, I make it a point to see museums and monuments, cities and castles, but I also intend to eat like a local while doing so. I suggest you do the same.
Eat tacos in Mexico, gelato in Italy, and ramen soup in Japan.
While I won’t go so far as to say you can constantly indulge and be wholly unaffected impact on my physique, truthfully, you can experience a lot of what a country has to offer in terms of regional delicacies.
To get you started, here are three key strategies for allowing you to do this.
#1: Make Travel Days Treat Days or Fast Days
My theory is simple: airport food and last minute meals are just not going to help you hit your goals. A majority of the options aren’t any good, and it’s tough to stick to your dietary restrictions, count macros, etc. Even if you could, it’s a pain when you got a lot of other things to track (like flights, delays, baggage, etc).
Below are two options to use on the days you physically travel. Choosing one really depends when what type of trip you’re going on, and how long you’re going to be there. Here’s a breakdown of each, and some ideas on when to use them.
The Travel Days Are Treat Days Approach
It’s as simple as it sounds: any day that you are physically traveling, eat whatever you want and don’t worry about limiting yourself at the airport, or when you get to your destination.
Instead, just have an “intelligent treat.” That is, don’t worry about food, but don’t turn eating junk into an Olympic event. The goal here is to remove a stressor, not to give you an excuse to eat three Cinnabons and think there won’t be consequences.
This is a “treat day” in name, but in practice it’s more of a “free” day. That is, you don’t have to count calories or macros, and it’s okay to eat things you normally wouldn’t, but you still have to make reasonable dietary decisions; get enough protein, veggies and drink lots of water.
Obviously, you can enjoy yourself. If eating some candy while waiting for your flight makes you feel like you’re gonna enjoy your trip more, do it, just don’t eat four bags of candy. Be at ease, but be smart.
Having a travel treat day is usually my go-to when I’m going somewhere I don’t plan on making food a part of my experience. For example, if I’m traveling on business to somewhere in Kentucky, I don’t particularly feel the need to “experience Kentucky” from a culinary perspective; for me, I’m happy to just eat like I would at home. This applies to most of my US travel. I tend not to factor “experience” into things very much.
The big thing here is how often you do this. If it’s a weekend trip, it wouldn’t be beneficial to have two treat days only three days apart; so you would just do it on ONE of your travel days.
More than anything, I like this method for when I’m traveling to a single destination, and planning on staying for a long period of time.
One of the important things here is that I always fast the day after one of these treat days.
This brings us to the next option: fasting on travel days.
The Travel Days Are Fast Days Approach
I’m a longtime practitioner of Intermittent Fasting (predetermined periods of abstaining from food alternated with a predetermined feeding window). If you’re not sure what this is, you may be a bit intimidated to try it; isn’t just “not eating” bad for you? No, it’s actually not. In fact, it’s quite healthy and there’s more and more research proving this.
I like to fast for about 16 hours a day: from about 8pm until 12pm. This means I have an 8-hour “feeding window”, during which I have my first meal around noon, and my last meal at around 8pm. When traveling, I take it a step farther and simply avoid food on days that I physically travel, until I get to my destination, no matter how late that might be.
This might sound crazy, but before we get into it, let me ask you a question: Have you ever been on a cross-country flight, looked at the food options, and stressed out about how to make to “right” choice? If you have, then you know where I’m going this.
Over the past several years, I’ve learned that no matter how good our intentions are, and no matter how disciplined we are, it’s very challenging to stick to a diet when traveling. Unless I’m having a treat day, the only way I’ve found to truly mitigate this issue is to simply not eat at all. If we can’t choose correctly, it’s better to choose nothing.
Airports and train stations are not known for healthy food choices, and aren’t really conducive to dietary success. Planes and trains themselves are even worse, the food is awful for us, and doesn’t even taste good; it’s just something we settle for because we’re hungry and we think we “need” to eat.
Intermittent Fasting is completely safe, highly effective for fat loss, and has a myriad of benefits for both health and fitness. Does fasting take a bit of discipline? Absolutely. But strangely, it’s easier than choosing the right foods all the time. It’s just a weird bit of human psychology. The mild discomfort will be worth it, and always is: you’ll wind up feeling better, looking better, and eating better food.
#2: Prioritize Energy Intake
On a trip to Mexico, I gave myself one rule: stay at around 2500 calories each day with my meals. At home, I usually average eating about 3000+ calories each day, so I set my new goal below that. As you can see from the chart to the side, I averaged about 2600 calories that week. You’ll also notice that on Tuesday (first day of the week indicated by an “M”), there wasn’t anything. That was my travel day which I decided to fast. (That day isn’t factored into the average.)
I ended up losing about 4 pounds at the end of this week, all while fully indulging in plenty of tacos, tlayuda and chochinita pibil.
The combination of fasting and prioritizing total energy intake (caloric intake) was a one-two punch that made everything I did, in terms of staying lean, both easier and more effective. By fasting and removing the option to eat something that wouldn’t have been worth it as an experience, I freed up my calorie budget for a far better experience later that week.
I was able to have a stress-free day of travel, and then a stress-free week of eating traditional cuisine. I had one other rule: no alcohol during this particular trip. This brings us to our next strategy.
#3: Pick Your Poison
As I said earlier, I believe that one of the most valuable aspects of traveling is experiencing other cultures, and that this is done, in large part, by experiencing food. And I believe that you should do that.
If you’re in Italy, you should eat pasta. You just don’t need to eat it at every meal; make sure you have some protein, and make sure to have some veggies. In other words, indulge, but don’t go off the rails. If you want to stay lean and burn fat while traveling, you need to be smart.
Yes, I want you to eat your way through the world and enjoy what every country, state, and region has to offer, but the fact remains that you’re subject to the limits of human physiology, and you’ll need to stay within your calorie budget.
Sadly, you can’t eat everything without putting on some weight. So in addition to everything mentioned above, you’ll also have to make some decisions in terms of what’s most important to you: what types of things are worth it for you to indulge in? What’s going to enhance your experience?
For me, it’s savory and salty things. Others may prefer desserts, which, for the most part I usually ignore. My preferences obviously influence the way I indulge. No matter how it’s prepared, or how much fat is in it, I love to eat the regional savory meat dishes. This is important to my experience.
Here’s another example: wine with dinner may be a non-negotiable for you, and you’re happy to skip out on dessert to be able to enjoy a few glasses. Whereas, someone else would much rather forego alcohol all together and go nuts on some dessert.
My point is that you need to pick your poison. Fasting is helpful. Staying within your calorie budget is helpful. But at the end of the day, the only way to travel and still get to indulge is by being selective with your indulgences. And to do that, you need to prioritize.
There are so many amazing things to choose from, and if you plan smart, you should be able to try all of them during your stay in a given area. That’s the goal.
A secondary but equally important goal is to completely avoid wasting time, energy, or calories on frivolous garbage. No fast food and no pre-packaged nonsense. Why? It’s likely not good for you, it’s not going to help you hit your goals, and it’s not going to add anything to your life or your trip.
Again, I don’t want you shy away from “bad” foods. I just want you to make sure that if you’re eating foods that are less than diet-friendly, they should actually enhance your experience of the trip. Basically, if you’re going to eat 500 calories worth of strudel, make sure it’s some of the best strudel in a city known for it’s strudel – not something you remove from a cellophane wrapper when you’re starving on a train.
Having said all of that, I do want to arm you with some strategies you can use at all times. The bulk of these have to do with eating at restaurants. Let’s jump into that.
One of the biggest impediments to staying lean while you’re traveling is how often you’re going to be eating out for nearly every meal. Unless you’re going to be staying in a single place for an extended time and will be cooking your own meals, you’ve pretty much going to have to rely on restaurants.
This can certainly make things challenging, although, like anything else, if you have a few strategies in place, you can breeze through this. In this section, I’m going to provide with those strategies.
If you’re going to be eating out at night, make sure you travel with your own snacks so you can keep energy up throughout the day. This allows you to stay full and not binge when you get to the restaurant.
For healthy, portable, convenient snacks you can travel with, I have two recommendations:
Bulletproof Collagen Bars and Quest Bars – They’re both delicious and make a great snack. They’re actually perfect for a dessert, as well.
In a perfect world, you’ll only go to restaurants once or twice per day, and having your snacks on hand will not only keep you from saying, “screw it, let’s just eat here”, but also keep you from making bad decisions when you get there.
- I recommend Shakeology and/or Athletic Greens each day you’re away. You probably won’t be getting enough vegetables or vitamins, and this will help you feel your absolute best despite the change in diet and sleep pattern.
- Ask your restaurant server NOT to bring the bread basket (or chips and salsa).
- Drink a full glass of water with no ice or hot tea prior to your meal. This will help keep you from over eating.
- Eat slowly and only to about 80% fullness. When you’ve reached that point, either ask for a box immediately and/or cover your plate with your napkin.
Now, we come to the fun stuff: training.
No matter how well you’re eating or how strategically you time your indulgences, the fact remains that if you don’t get some exercise, you’re going to have a tough time staying lean.
In this section, you’re going to find everything you need to tackle your travel workouts. Not only will I provide some programmed workouts, I’m also highlighting 3 strategies for successfully incorporating intense, fat-burning training into your travel schedule.
If you follow these tips and put in some time, you can get a great workout at any gym, hotel, or country in the world.
#1: Prioritize Physical Activity FIRST THING In the Morning
It’s hard to train on vacation – we’re so busy and there’s so much to do. I get that. It happens to everyone, and when time is short, it seems that our training session is the first thing to get cut.
That’s why I always make a commitment to do something first thing in the morning. Even if it’s not a full workout, just do something. A walk. Some sprints. A few sets of pushups. At the least, you’re getting some activity, which will not only burn some calories, but also elevate your metabolism.
If you do it first thing in the morning, you have no excuses. Chances are, you don’t have anything scheduled that early in the day. Even if you do, getting out of bed 30 minutes earlier isn’t going to make or break your stay.
In an ideal world, you’ll be able to get in a 30-45 minute workout. (I’ve included a number of them further below). If you find you don’t even have enough time to head down to the hotel gym, you can still do something quick. If you don’t feel like leaving the room, you can truncate one of the bodyweight workouts I’ve given you and do a 10-minute circuit. If you want to multitask and add in some sightseeing, go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood.
No matter what, get yourself moving right away. Travel days tend to be busy, whether it’s vacation or business, and moving first thing in the morning will ensure it actually gets done.
Make this commitment and stick to it, and no matter how the rest of your day goes, you’re already on the right track, and have made some progress, or, at the very least, done some damage control.
#2: Always Have a Plan (And a Back Up Plan)
Anyone who has ever stayed at a hotel knows that the gym situation is usually an issue. Usually, I attempt to find a real gym close to the hotel, but that generally means taking extra time to get there and paying guest fees. That can add up. For that reason, I sometimes settle for training at the hotel.
Now, while some hotels do have pretty decent facilities, most of the time you’re going to wind up with a few treadmills, a universal machine, and a (usually incomplete) set of dumbbells up to 50 pounds.
Sure, you can get a good workout with all of that, but you need to have a plan. Think about it: when was the last time you went to a hotel gym and just “did whatever”? Probably not too long ago. Was that a great workout? Probably not.
Firstly, I think we can all admit that workouts are better when they’re planned out. The less we have to think, the better.
Adding to that, when limited in terms of equipment, sitting there and figuring out what to do to create a decent workout can sap energy and creativity, and by the time you actually get started, you’re too drained to have anything but a lackluster training session. Personally, I want to avoid this at all costs.
To that end, I recommend that whenever you travel, go prepared with 3-5 pre-written metabolic workouts. These are fast paced circuits that will help you burn fat or stay lean, without using weights heavier than 50 pounds. In addition to being generally effective, having them written down means you’re more likely to follow them as closely as possible. Not only does this make your workout better, it also helps you get out of there a little faster.
In addition to that, I normally have a few different bodyweight workouts that I bring as well, that way I can train without even leaving my hotel room.
My point is, you need to have a plan. And that plan has to allow you to be as metabolic as possible during your workouts — meaning less rest and more work. Your time is limited so you’ll want to make the best of it. One great way to accomplish this is to set a timer for as much time as you have available to you, and work as quickly as possible within that time frame.
#3: Master the Art of Improvisation
As the old saying goes, even the best-laid plans go awry. When you’re traveling, this is even more likely to be the case.
Even if you did your homework and came prepared with a bunch of pre-written metabolic workouts, there’s still a good chance that the equipment at the hotel gym will be so limited it’s almost impossible to follow the workout as written.
If you don’t know how to improvise, you can run into the issue mentioned above, and just sit there trying to figure out what to do for 15 minutes before getting started. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, so get inventive.
Once you start thinking outside the box and are willing to be a little creative, you’ll start coming up with ways to have awesome workouts in just about any situation.
Time for the fun stuff! You know you need to train first thing in the morning, you know you need to be willing and able to improvise, and you know you need to have a plan. If you show up without some awesome workouts in your pocket, you’re in trouble.
Below you’ll find a number of workouts to take on your next trip, so you’ll be prepared for just about any situation.
Stuck in your hotel room? No worries, you can choose a bodyweight-only workout.
Hotel gym not what you expected? There are 2 dumbbell metabolic workouts to help you burn fat with limited equipment.
Found a great gym close to your hotel? Awesome. You’ll have a great workout to do once you get there.
Check out all the available workouts by clicking the photo below.
Well, that’s it.
Everything you need to know to burn fat, build muscle, and work towards your fitness and health goals – especially when on the road.
Armed with the information on this page, you’ve got two solid nutritional protocols, as well as a number of great strategies you can employ to indulge and still make progress. Plus, you’ve got several effective workouts you can use no matter what. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, whether you’ve got a hotel gym or just a park, you can get in a metabolic training session and burn fat.
I’ve given you all the tools I can; now, you’ve just got to use them the next time you hit the road. Happy travels!