How to Stay Fit on the Road

by Eric Mack

Lots of traveling and road trips, in particular, have a tendency to make you more of a well-rounded person, speaking both figuratively and when speaking about your figure. It only makes sense that spending multiple hours a day on your butt in the car, sampling the world’s roadside eateries or otherwise snacking the miles away, can add pounds and compromise the physical fitness you earned through hard discipline and dedication… that seemed so much easier to maintain at home. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way if you’re strategic and plan ahead a little bit. Here are a few tips on how to turn the road into your personal gym:

  1. Come up with a workout routine that’s portable – If you know your travels will keep you relatively close to gyms or recreation centers, you’re lucky – problem solved with one step. If your destinations are a little more far-flung, consider what kind of location-independent activities might work for you. These may include yoga, jogging, resistance and isometric exercises, hiking or tai chi, just for starters. Also, consider bringing a bike with you or renting one where you can to get around. Bike share or rental programs are available in an increasing number of cities and destinations.

  1. Pack the gear – A bike is by far the largest piece of exercise equipment you should consider road-tripping with, and that’s only because there’s such a wide variety of relatively easy external racks available to mount one outside your vehicle. Otherwise, you shouldn’t need more than your chosen combination of trail-running shoes (to be ready for any jogging terrain and day hikes, too), a yoga mat and resistance bands.
  1. Wearables – As you’re considering gear for the road, don’t be scared of connected gadgets that can be especially useful for staying disciplined away from home. There’s an almost endless variety of fitness trackers, heart rate monitors, smart watches and other accessories to strap on. Do your research to figure out which gadgets best suit your  individual goals and read reviews carefully, as quality also varies. Devices from the likes of Withings, Fitbit and Polar are among the most widely respected, if you’re looking for a place to start.

  1. Get the apps – Whether you go in for all the vital sign stats that wearables can provide or not, there are plenty of advantages of at least bringing your phone along. Armed with an app such as Runkeeper or Endomondo, your phone help you keep track of your workout, and always letting you know where you are via GPS. Many apps also offer coaching and workout routines that can be squeezed into a free half-hour or hour of your day, usually before or after you hit the road. A favorite of mine is Pear Mobile, which comes with a set of sport earbuds and a chest heart rate monitor that both connect to the app and have a broad library of workouts for running, biking and even yoga, including guided audio coaching that responds to your heart rate in real-time. It’s like a portable personal trainer.
  1. Join the communities – Most of the devices and gear I’ve mentioned so far are connected to their own online communities that can keep you in touch with friends or even just random people that share similar fitness goals to offer support and encouragement, something that can be surprisingly helpful for motivation while you’re away from home. If you really don’t care for the apps and gadgets, there are plenty of groups on social media platforms like Facebook, and you can always send postcards with photos of yourself jogging or doing a downward dog on the rim of the Grand Canyon out to humble brag to all your frenemies at home.
  1. Compete – This is the real key to staying fit on the road that no one tells you about. No one wants to be a slouch on race day, so search a site like to see if there’s a race happening near any of your destinations while you’re nearby and sign up! If there isn’t one, then sign up for a race taking place near your home a few weeks or so after you get back from your trip. If you’re really legit, you’ll sign up for one on the road and one at home afterwards. Bam! You’ve just added a major shot of motivation to your agenda that will translate across your travels.
  1. Watch the road food – This last one is probably the toughest, because sometimes there’s just no place to go for lunch but the Arby’s at the truck stop. If you’re serious about maintaining a healthy diet though, you can stock up on fresh, healthy stuff at your favorite store the way. Consider an uber-efficient (and often uber-expensive) cooler like those from Yeti that turns a bag of gas station ice into a small refrigerator for your perishables that lasts 2-4 days. If you plan to eat out, but can only take so many greasy spoons, search an app like Yelp for “vegetarian restaurants.” The trick here is not to go veg, but to find restaurants that at least offer vegetarian options; which means they probably also offer other low-calorie or healthier options. This seems to work better than just searching for “healthy restaurants,” because algorithms can still get pretty silly sometimes.

Good luck, and may your travels make you well-rounded; but not too round.