Away Court Habits: Living Well on the Road

by | Jun 11, 2014

Photo by ikarl67

When I was a kid I used to dream of one day having a job that would take me all over the world.  I have always loved to travel, so in my brain I envisioned a non-stop vacation filled with exotic places, foods and adventures.

Of course, reality is nothing like that.

There is a huge difference between traveling occasionally (whether for work or play) and traveling regularly, several times per month. When traveling is a special occasion, there really are no rules. Foodists have accounted for periodic indulgences in their healthstyle already. But when travel becomes your normal, your Home Court Habits become diluted and you need to integrate a new set of (much more complex) habits to make up the difference.

This year for the first time, my travel schedule has moved from periodic to frequent. And adjusting my healthstyle to account for the change hasn’t been easy. Putting aside the difficulty of eating well at airports and on the plane, simply being outside your familiar environment can throw off even your most ingrained habits, like cooking and exercise.

After 6 months––and much trial and error––I’ve finally developed a set of Away Court Habits that help keep my healthstyle in check while traveling. I won’t pretend that these are as powerful as my Home Court Habits, but after nearly two weeks away on my last adventure I came home feeling pretty darn good about my state of health and fitness.

Away Court Habits

1. Eat vegetables

To be honest, I’m a bit shocked at how difficult it is to get sufficient vegetables in each meal while traveling. No matter what part of the world I’m in, I’ve found that contenting myself with standard menu options won’t get me anywhere close to the amount of vegetables I need to feel full and nourished without overeating heavier foods.

My new policy is to scour the menu for the dish with the most diverse vegetable assortment, and if necessary add something extra to the dish (e.g. an egg) to make it tastier and more satisfying. Alternatively, I’ll sometimes order the tastiest sounding dish, then order a side salad or vegetables on the side to supplement. I make a point to eat all the vegetables, then stop eating the other foods (usually breads) when I feel full.

Even with this tactic I often feel veggie deficient, so if I ever find a place selling fresh vegetable juices I make sure to hit it up.

2. Buy water ASAP

It is way too easy to dehydrate yourself while traveling. I once sat on a flight for over two hours before anyone came around to offer water. I do my best to bring my own with me, but in some countries you cannot board a plane with water even if you purchased it passed the security check point.

Once I land, I make it a top priority to find a convenience store near my hotel and stock up on large water bottles. It is nearly impossible to justify paying $6 for water from the hotel minibar, so I know I will go thirsty unless I stock up on my own.

5. Acclimate your jet lag ASAP

Circadian rhythms are the hormonal signals your brain uses to know when it should wake, sleep and eat. When you travel these are thrown off by the change in timezones, and results in the incredibly unpleasant feeling known as jet lag. When you have jet lag, you are tired when you should be awake and you can’t sleep during the night. When you’re in this state you feel constantly drained, and are far more likely to make poor decisions (especially related to food).

I’ve learned the hard way that it is essential to normalize my sleeping patterns as soon as possible upon landing. Try to get yourself on your destination’s clock as soon as possible, ideally as soon as you get on the plane, or even earlier. If I’m traveling west, I find I acclimate quicker if I don’t sleep at all on daytime flights over 9 hours. Flying east is tougher, but being disciplined the first day or two about staying awake during daylight hours can usually solve the problem.

Studies suggest that exposing your eyes to bright light in the morning time (at your destination) can help recalibrate your circadian clock. I sometimes find it useful to use a sleep aid like Ambien or melatonin the first night at my destination to help me get a full night’s sleep and be well rested for the next day. Check with your doctor about what options are best for you.

4. Embrace short workouts

Exercise was one of the most difficult habits for me to embrace while traveling. My home court exercise habit (30 min cardio, 30 min strength training on weekdays) is so strong that it created a mental barrier that was preventing me from working out on the road.

There were two limiting beliefs holding me back. First, I believed that I needed a full hour (plus 45 minutes to shower and get ready) in order to exercise, and I rarely want to commit this much time when I have limited time at my destination. Second, most hotel gyms are very limited in both space and equipment quality, so I believed I wouldn’t be able to get in a good workout even if I did drag my butt to the fitness room.

Once I realized these thoughts were holding me back, I decided to try an alternative: the short workout. Instead of telling myself I needed to spend an hour sweating in the hotel dungeon in order for exercise to be “worth it,” I told myself I should just do something each day to increase my heart rate. This meant that I could pop down to the gym for a few minutes to squeeze in a quick sprint on the treadmill, or power through a set of shoulder and tricep workouts. If I want to fit in a workout in under 10 minutes, I load up a workout on Fitstar (I’m an advisor).

More often than not, committing to one small workout resulted in me dedicating at least 30 minutes a day to fitness. A huge improvement over nothing. This “just do something” mindset makes a huge difference in my ability to stay in shape while traveling (I can tell by how squishy my muscles look when I get home and how sore I get when I return to my normal routine).

5. Walk like a mofo

Even when I am able to squeeze in quick workouts, walking is still a HUGE part of being able to keep fit on the road. I try to squeeze in extra steps whenever possible.

I start racking up steps as soon as I get to the airport, avoiding those moving sidewalks like the plague. Heavy luggage? An even better workout. I’ve found it is much easier to integrate walking when I’m in a city, as opposed to a rural or suburban environment, since your feet are often the most practical way to get around congested urban streets. I’ve also found it is my favorite way to explore new cities, as I have a better since of place and direction when I move through it on foot as opposed to in a vehicle.

6. Chew like a mofo

I am the last person who will ever tell you to avoid bread, rice, potatoes, or even sugar when you’re in a place you rarely visit. But while I embrace exploration, I certainly don’t endorse overeating.

I haven’t yet figured out why (maybe jet lag?), but I’ve noticed that my mindful eating habits tend to be harder to maintain while I’m traveling. Recently I’ve tried to be more diligent about putting my fork down between bites and chewing my food thoroughly, and it has definitely helped. While I don’t want to avoid specific foods, mindfulness helps me eat only as much as I need to feel satisfied.

7. Take your multivitamins

Even though I’m really good at taking my multivitamins at home, I had a really hard time remembering to bring them with me on the road. It took me years before I realized that the barrier that was keeping me from bringing vitamins was that I didn’t have a dedicated travel sized vitamin container, and my regular bottle is too big to pack. It sounds lame, but lack of a $1.50 container was preventing me from doing the one thing I know helps me avoid catching a cold while traveling.

Although I haven’t seen any science to back this up yet, nothing correlates stronger with my personal tendency to get sick than skipping my multivitamin for a several days in a row. It feels silly even to write that, but I’ve been testing this on myself for nearly 10 years, and the correlation is really strong. I’ve managed to get through the past 6 months of travel without a single cold, so this is an Away Court Habit that I’ll be sticking with.

Do you travel often? What Away Court Habits have you developed to keep you healthy?

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18 Responses to “Away Court Habits: Living Well on the Road”

  1. Ghazaleh says:

    Hi Darya, great post. I find the exercise thing to be incredibly difficult when traveling – I’m tired, have tons to do, etc. I like to do a bit of “runsploring” (especially if I’m up early jetlagged) – jog around the town to explore. It helps get a workout in, see the town (especially if I’m tight on time), and figure out where I want to go to when I actually have time.

  2. CafeEJ says:

    I travelled weekly for nine of eleven years for IT project work. Fortunately I was typically going to the same location for the duration of the project so was able to learn where to find healthy food and map out a running route. The hotel gym’s are limited but sufficient – it is just a matter of discipline to recognize you must have the same habits on the road as at home.

  3. Beth says:

    I travel a TON for work. The exercise thing is a challenge on days I travel for sure, but I usually end up getting a very good workout in the next day when I am staying town that night and not on a flight.

    But, the vegetable thing!!! Yes, it is SO HARD. There are so many times I go to restaurants and there is a soup and a salad appetizer on the menu and NO entrees that are veggie based. Very frustrating!

  4. Mark says:

    Great post!

    I also struggle with eating healthy and exercising during trips. The thing is, even with all these great tips it is more a mental thing (for me) to actually execute them.

    My tip to add to your list would be: prepare before you leave and decide how you are going to handle the difficulties that will come up. Be prepared mentally and also practically with a bag of nuts, a list of simple body weight exercises, a bottle of water, a map with healthy restaurants near your hotel etc.

  5. JM says:

    How do you feel about those powdered green drinks in a pinch?

  6. AJ says:

    I travel all the time! Internationally and domestic. A couple things that I do:

    1. Pack nuts, rolled oats, and small packets of almond or coconut butter. When eating at restaurants, I focus on eating protein, veggies and legumes. We all know that the veggies come in small portions. But I don’t mind eating a very small meal socially, as I enjoy focusing on the company around me. When I get back to the hotel, as long as I get access to hot water, I can eat something in a somewhat healthier way.

    2. I developed a “traveling habit.” Whenever I go to a plane or train station, I fill up my large tumbler with hot water at any cafe and make myself delicious tea (no sugar). This tradition is comforting, it fills me up, and it hydrates me, keeping me from wanting to buy the decidedly unhealthy food available at those stations.

    3. Stretch on the plane. Do the shoulder rolls, neck rolls, wrist rolls, leg raises, sitting twists, pretty much everything that they advise you to do. Massage your temples, the back of your neck, your shoulders, and calves. I do it all the time even if people think I’m weird. I think that it makes a difference with fighting jet lag and feeling refreshed.

    4. When I travel for work, I’m unbelievably committed to work. I like to make the most of a trip, and that includes longer work hours, networking, squeezing in more meetings, staying on top of things happening back at my home time zone, and going to bed very early so that I’m at my best the next day. I eat a high protein/veggie breakfast, but my approach to the trip doesn’t leave a ton of time for eating a big lunch (or any lunch at all!) or dinner. It sounds intense, but I love my work, so this isn’t difficult for me.

  7. Sandy says:

    Yup the vegetable thing! Especially when one is in Central Europe as I am at the moment. Thankfully I have found m

  8. Sandy says:

    Yup the vegetable thing! Especially when one is in Central Europe as I am at the moment. Thankfully I have found more variety when we got to Vienna and was even able to get a full vegan meal! The workout thing? I resort to running in every single new place we go. I take turns with hubby as we have a 6 yr old that we can’t just leave behind. On days I don’t run, it is short workouts for me in our hotel room or rental flat. But I do have to work on the mindful eating business!!!! Thx for the post! As a family of global nomads, not only do we live abroad and move around every 3 yrs it seems on average (Beijing at the moment and Singapore starting in about 18 days), but we travel frequently, usually in spurts (like last yr, we had a spurt of traveling in over 5 places in a span of 6 months, with our 6 yr old) and just recently again, after a travel rest of 2 months, another 7 places, usually in several countries in the past 4 months. We still have 10 more days of traveling left :) and then another big one after going back to China for a final pack! Hopefully we stay put longer so we can all adjust before traveling again :)

  9. Britney says:

    Thank you for these practical tips!

    I have been staying at airbnbs ( lately, because you can find awesome places with really great kitchens. This way I’m not subjected to eating out all the time, especially for little things like breakfast and some lunches. Like you’ve stressed, breakfast is 30% of your weekly meals. It makes a difference.

    It’s also quite nice to check out new farmers’ markets to see what grows well in that particular area. There are some really unique finds sometimes.

  10. Abbey says:

    Your point about multivitamins is so true! I just can’t believe they haven’t found more with research yet! I feel so much better and more energized (plus that great benefit of not getting sick) when I’m taking my vitamin regularly. What gives with the lack of research?

  11. Jane says:

    On working out. Since I prefer to run more than anything combine it was exploring a new place. I even tend to run at “tourist pace” I’ve found great parks or other areas all over the US and the world to explore. I only hit the hotel fitness dungeon if I have no choice.

  12. Alta says:

    Dear Darya,

    Maybe a bit off the topic: I am a mom of three (from Pretoria, South Africa). I never had weight issues until I got pregnant and then I was in denial (this new washing powder is shrinking my clothes!). I just could not get myself to diet and your book was the answer to most issues I had with dieting. I managed to learn some healthy habits myself and your book gave me many more ideas. I would like to share this habit (that might also be a useful ‘away-court’ habit):
    Never eat while walking/standing.
    This habit is particularly useful for me as mom since the preparation of the kids’ food is a bit different in schedule and ingredients than ours – its such an easy and annoying habit to snack between the fridge and lunchbox. And boy, do they add up!

  13. Pamela says:

    Awesome post, thanks Darya! Do you have a particular multivitamin that you’d recommend?

  14. Dee says:

    Exactly Darya ! I’m actually in the US now. Thank you for personally helping me calm down and focus during my frequent business travels

    I can identify with everything you said in this piece- especially being ‘vegetable deficient’ and the importance of carrying vitamins and medication

    I have 2 things to add also…
    1. adjust your schedule and sequence to suit your temporary routines.
    My waking, workout times, mealtimes, work out locations – even shower location change when I go on the road. For example, Here I do after work workouts on evenings, at home I rarely am able to fit in a workout in the evening. Back home I use the gym in the office building, so I head to work, workout, then get dressed. Here I get dressed in the hotel first before heading off to work.
    2. Sometimes working in foreign countries require more eating with work mates which can get you in trouble
    . I try to skip some meals and maybe join for others – most times I suggest where we eat dinner

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