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.
Recently 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 hard 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 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.
When you eat also had a big impact on setting your circadian rhythms. Try getting on the local eating schedule for breakfast, lunch and dinner as soon as possible upon landing.
Sometimes this means forcing yourself to eat when you aren’t hungry, but in my experience it can cut days off your timezone adjustment.
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.
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 sense 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?
Originally published June 11, 2014.