Above: Pumping up under the Wellington Arch on a freezing December afternoon
Everyone needs to take one trip away from time to time. A trip in which one intentionally disconnects from the past and the future, where existence becomes a series of interesting episodes. Perhaps a vacation in a foreign place where time can wander at its own curious pace, a time out that heals a weary mind and soul, a temporary retreat from the world where, on sacred mornings, one is soothed only by the feeling of the day ahead, the feeling of time away from the usual, the feeling of novelty. Whether it’s a long vacation halfway around the world, a business conference, or a quick getaway for the sheer joy of it, there comes a time in our lives when we are tasked to slip away from the monotonous comfort of our personal lives to visit places we don’t normally get to go. Oftentimes, this means that normal routines are completely abandoned – the normal day job, home responsibilities, and, most certainly, your diet and strength training program.
I love working out in a gym that has all my favorite equipment and all the dumbbells that my calloused hands have gotten used to, but going on a trip means that I won’t have access to them any longer. Maybe the hotel has dumbbells and some machines, but it’s never enough. If I’m in a house, it surely wouldn’t have any equipment at all.
I love running around my village before sunrise, when everything is tinted with that predawn kind of clarity and I can still easily remember my dreams, but being in another place means that I no longer have my usual path to follow.
I love having my signature meals at a specific time every single day – chicken breast, river cobbler, milkfish, tuna – but being away from home means that I won’t have my usual kitchen, my usual fridge, and my usual meal timing. Sticking to a diet can feel like a walk in the park during my usual routine, but when I’m on vacation, eating out, letting loose, and indulging is all too tempting.
I love submerging in long, sweet slumbers (who doesn’t?), but residing in another continent means having to sleep at odd hours in different time zones. Furthermore, exhausting days are sometimes followed by all-nighters filled with food and drink, which could easily lead to weight gain and sleep deprivation – the main suppressants to immune system function.
No one expects you to maintain your normal fitness levels while on vacation or a business trip, but there are many activities you can do to stay fit while you’re away.
1. Do your homework
Being extra diligent with your diet and your workout routine during the weeks leading up to the trip will give you allowance when it comes to the unavoidable damage that your body will incur, so get leaner well in advance. When booking hotels or houses, choose only those with fitness centers or those located near gyms. Then consider plotting out routes around the area where you can run,. Furthermore, make sure that your place has a nearby supermarket or grocery store – after all, relying on restaurants for every meal will easily drain your wallet and derail your healthy diet goals. Most groceries have microwavable chicken breasts and ready-to-drink protein shakes. In restaurants, take some time to read the Nutrition Facts of the dish you’re about to order, if available. Most of all, don’t forget to pack some healthy on-the-go snacks with you in your luggage, especially for plane flights, road trips, and train journeys. My favorites:
– Almonds or cashews: two to three handfuls and a long swig of water will rid you of the hunger pangs
– Peanut butter sandwich: easy to bring around, easy source of protein
– Granola or Protein bars: so that you can easily stay away from chocolate during stops in the convenience store
– Cereal: fat-free and tastes best when consumed straight from the box, no milk needed
2. Find a space to work out
A pull-up bar. A sturdy tree branch. The swing set in the nearby park. That yoga mat you packed with you. A small patch of land where you can do all the body weight exercises you know. You will get strange looks from people, but so what? It doesn’t matter if it’s doing endless sets of push-ups in the hotel room or brisk walking up and down the airport terminals while listening to J. Cole during a long layover. Sure, it’s not a full-blown workout, but every workout counts. Hotel gyms are crappy and might not have a good set of weights, but the good news is that even the simplest workout routine is enough to maintain the fitness level you worked so hard to achieve before going on the trip; it is enough to ensure that you won’t come back home fat and unfit. It will get tough at times, but mustering the will to squeeze in a quick workout in the middle of a jam-packed itinerary is infinitely rewarding. If you feel tired or out of shape, you can always dial back the intensity. Remember to do what you can with what you have, regardless of where you are. Try your best, but don’t stress yourself – you’re on vacation. Let it feel like a bonus, not an obligation.
2.1 Some workouts you can do anywhere:
Unfortunately, we are all out of excuses. These body weight workouts can be done literally anywhere, anytime.
• Push-ups / Incline Push-ups with your feet up on the bed
• Pull-ups using any bar
• Tricep Dips using a chair
• Single Arm Rows using your luggage Lunges
• Body Weight / Jumping Squats
• Walking (aim for 10,000 steps – use an app to measure your progress, or view the path you took on Google Maps)
3. Run during your free time
Running outdoors is the perfect way of moving if you want to genuinely delve into the life of things. No other activity in the world can inspire such love in otherwise common sights. It is the shortest route to that sense of freedom you seek. I can still remember the mornings I spent running along the streets of New York – barreling along the festooned lights of Times Square in little strides, taking in the champagne brightness of the symmetrical straight avenues of buildings and theatres, the smell of freshly baked pastries wafting through the chilly air, the sight of eccentric people in costumes earnestly begging tourists for pictures so that they can earn some dollars. Or that one afternoon I ran around Central Park, when I looked into everything that came before my curious eyes, sniffing out each corner – the boundless expanse of lush greenery permeating the background, the tourists having their noontime picnics, the bikers cycling along the trail, the pavement shimmering damply with puddles of rain – it was the most beautiful jogging trail I’ve ever seen. Running outdoors is not only the best way to embrace new sights and feel alive; it’s also a free mode of transportation!
4. Engage in activities that will keep your heart rate elevated
If you don’t have the time or the energy to run, then make the active choice and fill your itinerary with aerobic adventures that will force you to lace up your walking shoes. Break free from the shackles of your house or hotel room and head out into the sunshine. If the distance permits, switch from one place to another by foot. Skip the bus tour and take the train – it’ll force you to move around and stand up. Explore the neighborhood by bike. Sneak in some extra cardio by taking the stairs. Since you’re most likely skipping the gym that day, challenge yourself to try something different, particularly something that the specific place is known for. I’ve used this suppressed energy to do a lot of activities that I will forever remember – hiking through serene mountains in Scotland despite the significant drop in temperature, exploring the unbelievably gigantic map of Disney World by foot, paddling through rough rivers under the hot Bali summer sun, running along chaotic London tube stations, marching up and down narrow alleys along the rainy roads of Tokyo, sprinting through a mile-long trail in the Bay Area, brisk walking from one Hawker Center to another in Singapore, carrying numerous shopping bags like dumbbells around the bustling streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, and so much more. All throughout, I was already putting in a workout without being aware of it. I’ve come to find that on days I am engaged in a lot of physical activity, I also get to eat better. It’s a double whammy. The bottom line is: be adventurous, and pick adventures that will force you to use your body so that you can keep your metabolism, your energy, and your happiness up. Swim, bike, walk, and hike. Use the vacation or the trip as an excuse to try something new.
5. (Try your best to) Diet
This is the tricky part. When it comes to food, it’s often a dilemma. Let’s be honest: unless a bodybuilding competition or an important photoshoot is looming in the distance, it’s practically impossible to stick to your diet 100% due to the excitement, the hectic travel schedule, and the lack of access to a steady supply of healthy food. However, it’s important to accept that you have NO CHOICE but to find a way to minimize the damage inflicted by dirty food. If you do not consciously prioritize your food consumption, your shape will suffer. I learned this the hard way when I ate giant cheeseburgers everyday for three weeks during a family vacation in California. I let up a little bit too much and went home feeling like I was Shaq after devouring boxes of Krispy Kreme the whole summer. So, if you don’t want to end up like my impulsive, cheeseburger-abusing self, I will enumerate a few hacks:
5.1 Stick to a Paleo diet
Eating right will dictate 90% of your success or failure when it comes to staying fit while on vacation, but since it’s almost impossible to eat completely right, you might as well pick the kindest evil. In my opinion, the Paleo Diet is the easiest way to eat healthy during a trip. In a nutshell, the diet’s motto is: “If a caveman didn’t eat it, neither should you.” Hundreds of thousands of years ago, before Hershey’s, Spam, and Lay’s, our primal Homo Sapien ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers, and that is why they were all muscular and incredibly athletic enough to bring down giant mammoths and compete for prey with agile saber-toothed cats. Though it’s been literally ages since then, genetics haven’t really adjusted to all the sugar and the processed food that we all love to consume in the present day. When you’re abroad and trying to squeeze in a healthy meal before the big cheat meal at night, opt to eat only the food that you’re biologically designed to eat: meats, fish, eggs, salads, nuts, berries, and the like. My personal favorite: Doner kebabs in Turkish restaurants, with a lot of hot sauce. Somehow, they taste good everywhere – from Hong Kong to London. That being said, since we’re no longer in caveman times and you’re unfortunately/fortunately in the middle of a trip, the following are the exceptions:
– Pasta, rice, and cereal
– Sauces, like ketchup, mayonnaise, or yogurt sauce
– Healthy snacks that are (somehow) processed, such as wheat bread or fat-free milk
5.2 Save space for the good stuff
Visiting Osaka? It’d be a sin not to try out some Takoyaki. If you find yourself in San Francisco, the don’t miss out on the dirty Chinese buffets and the mean clam chowders served in bread bowls. Not only will eating good food make the trip memorable, but it is also one of the better ways to soak up the local culture. On days when there is a huge cheat meal involved, the trick is to consciously keep the other meals and snacks on the healthy side. For the “cleaner” meals, eat as few carbohydrates as possible, sticking with dishes that are largely made of protein and fat. When it’s time for the gluttonous event, enjoy yourself to the fullest. On such meals, don’t even bother counting calories. Get the most out of it and get back to work the following day. You’ve already spent a good chunk of your time and effort dieting back home and during the trip. Make it a celebration and savor it – take a deep inhale, look around, sip from your glass of Chianti, and be grateful for the trip and the meal you’re having. Somehow, it will all feel a little bit more delicious.
5.3 Hydrate like a fish
Aim to drink at least one gallon a day. Buy water whenever you can, or bring a jug with you no matter where you go. It will keep you from feeling tired and it will flush out all of the toxins you’ve surely been putting in your body.
These tips work. I have tried them myself and found them remarkably effective. Discipline and moderation is the basic ground; the only thing to keep in mind is that your indulgence should not be out of proportion to your energy expenditure. The body is a temple, and if you carelessly leave the doors open and let junk in without cleaning it from time to time, it will suffer irreversible damage. However, just because you’re aiming to stay fit doesn’t mean you should throw your capacity to enjoy out of the window. Vacations should conjure feelings of elation, exasperation, contention, and comfort; it should be about genuinely paying attention to all the world’s fullness; it should be about breaking out of monotonous routines and awakening one’s self to the living substance of excitement – otherwise, what’s the point?