This article is a longer version of a piece I originally wrote for Inc. Magazine and on my blog.
I have traveled a lot over my career–it is often an every-week situation with two to four flights, hours of driving, multiple hotels in the same week, early mornings and late nights, and plenty of meals on the go. When I say I’m an experienced road warrior, I mean it!
I also used to be obese as a kid. When you combine that with my business travel, people always ask me how I’ve kept from becoming overweight again. And more relevantly here, how have I kept the grind of travel from leading to a downward health spiral that takes down my ability to perform in a high-stress job?
It has not always been easy or taken no effort, but it has been far easier than I thought it would be, and staying fit is one of the reasons I have been able to cope with the stresses of travel as well as I have and continue to thrive in my career.
It boils down to making better choices across three things—set yourself up to be active, make good food choices and use time with purpose.
Set Yourself Up to be Active
I make a conscious choice to stay active every day. That means some form of cardio every day. That takes planning, but once you get into a routine with it, it gets easy. Here are the things I depend on to ensure I get my daily sweat in:
- Pack for Success–make sure you have a shirt, shorts, socks and workout shoes in your bag at all times. I recommend unstructured, minimalist sneakers that can squish down like Nike Frees so they do not take much space. You can use a carabiner to clip your sneakers to your backpack or briefcase if space in your bag is a problem.
- Choose Your Hotel Strategically–I scope out hotels online to find ones with gyms I know I will find something I like to do in. For example, if you like the elliptical machine, make sure your hotel has at least one of them. If you like to run outside, make sure your hotel is in a location that allows for that. If you are not sure, just call and ask the concierge. Most hotel chains have made fitness a priority and have pre-made running routes or deals with local gyms for their guests to get a day pass.
- Have a Plan B–sometimes, I find that I just cannot get to the gym for some reason. I am always prepared with backup options I can do right in my room. YouTube is full of free workout videos, yoga programs and more. Find a few you like ahead of time so you can use them in a pinch. Another great option is to do one of the many 30-day challenges you can find online for things like planks, wall-sits, squats, pushups and more. Grab 10 to 12 of them to combine into a routine, or pick three or four to do as a circuit you repeat three to five times. I travel with a resistance band to make sure I can get some resistance training anywhere. Think that is not good enough? Tom Brady swears by it, and he looks pretty fit to me.
Make Good Food Choices
I learned long ago the hard way that life on the road can be indulgent. Eating out for all of your meals means you will be faced with fast, fatty, sugary (and delicious) options at every turn. I limit my options or my desire to make bad choices a few ways. I travel with protein powder packets and a Blender Bottle to fuel and fill me at breakfast so I avoid hotel breakfasts, which are typically full of pastries and sausage. I also often travel with oranges and a few low-sugar, high protein bars to make sure I have good choices to grab if I find myself hungry or stuck with no good options for meals.
When eating out, I often focus on the appetizer section, choosing a dairy-free soup and salad to pre-emptively make me too full for a heavy main course (it also keeps the bill smaller–Hello, expense management!). I also try to steer the restaurant choices to places that inherently have healthier options, like Japanese restaurants.
Beyond this, there are actually two crucial things I changed that made food a total non-issue. First, I stopped drinking alcohol years ago. That cut out lots of sugar, and therefore lots of empty calories. It also removed the burden on my body of processing the alcohol, which is something it does not need to face on top of trying to recover from a hectic lifestyle. The other change I made was becoming vegan years ago. I learned quickly that you have to work hard to gain weight as a vegan as you naturally avoid the main culprits of weight-gain. Not choices for everyone, but definitely hugely helpful changes I made.
Use Time with Purpose
The final piece of the puzzle is being purposeful with your time. I do a few key things to keep me moving forward rather than chronically running out of time for wellness.
- Set Aside the Smartphone–this is a tough one for many, but not pulling your smartphone out every free moment you have will keep you from the time-black hole of reading social media updates, emails, etc.–next thing we know, that hour we had free to hit the gym is gone. Keep the phone out of your hands to help keep yourself active.
- Hit the Gym at the Right Time–hotel gyms are usually jam packed from 6-7am and often again in the evening from 5:30-7pm. Try to get there before 6am so you can get right on the machine you want to use, or if that is too early for you, think about going in the evening outside of the busy period. Waiting for equipment likely means not working out that day.
- Try to Fly at Consistent Times–this is a tougher one to deliver on, but it will help your body a lot if you get to wake up around the same time every day. Waking up at 2am for a super-early flight when you would otherwise sleep until 6am will likely require a couple of days to recover from, which will make it harder to workout on those days. The more variable your daily schedule, the worse this impact gets.
Some of these suggestions may sound too hard to do. The good news is, any one of them can help, so start small and make a change you can handle. One success will lead to another, and soon you will find yourself making a series of smarter choices as you start to feel and look better despite your road warrior status.
This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats.