What is it about traveling - when we're out of our familiar nests and away from routine - that makes us feel we can splurge? That's the hardest part of trying to stay fit while traveling. We somehow feel that the foods we don't allow ourselves to eat at home - whether it's a giant economy size bag of Junior Mints or Snickers and McDonalds or even the small bag of nuts they hand out on an airplane - are ok on the road, since we're tired, stressed, exhausted and have nowhere else to turn for food. The same goes for exercise. Some people I know try to lose extra weight before a trip so that if they can't stick to a healthy diet, or can't fit in their regular swim, walk, jog or weight-training workout, they have a little cushion to call back on.
Over the years, traveling around the world in all seasons and for all reasons, I have decided there is one great truism about staying fit on the road: If you do not have an exercise routine at home, you are not going to develop one on the road. No way. So, the stronger and more engrained the workout habit is during your regular daily life, the easier it is to maintain that fitness level on the road.
The same goes for one's daily diet. If you have a habit of saying no (or yes) to the million culinary temptations that come our way each day, you will say no (or yes) to those temptations on the road.
I have always been a jogger, and so part of my travel gear has always included running shoes (I still wish they'd create an inflatable version) and socks and the lightest weight running clothes I can find. (I also wish they would make comfortable disposal running gear so you could just toss the sweats at the end of a run. ) I also carry a Walkman with familiar music, knowing that the music is the carrot that will lead me along those unfamiliar paths.
I've run in China and Hong Kong, Sydney and London, on the Atlantic beaches of France, in Amsterdam and Palermo, in gyms in Minneapolis, in the streets of St Helena, Ca. Often the memories of a run - where you are calm, alert, and more receptive to your surroundings - are what I remember most about a trip. One of my most memorable jogs was in Burgundy, along the wine route of Gevrey- Chambertin at harvest time, as we sang and waved to the harvesters that peppered the brilliant, healthy, laden vineyards. On that trip some 20 years ago, we even created a song which I can sing to this day.
Early on as I traveled about small villages in France I realized that many small hotels have no night staff and so literally lock the guests in at night as the last staff person leaves. That means if they don't open up the doors until 8 am and you want to get out for a walk or a run before that, you have to use clever means of extracting yourself from the building. I've crawled out many a hotel or chateau window and found that the kitchen door is often the most likely exit, since most hotels leave the back kitchen door open for the early-arriving kitchen staff.
Sometimes you have to be clever. Like on a recent trip to Sicily where, after three days of running through the polluted streets of Palermo, passing jeering men all along the way, my partner and I decided to hire a taxi at the hotel. The taxi took us to the nearest park, and came back to fetch us after our hour-long run.
Fortunately, most decent hotels now have a gym, and there is almost always a treadmill and free weights available for a workout. I'm a private exercise person and I will admit that when I worked up enough courage to make my public debut working with hand weights, I said a prayer all the way to the gym that no one would be there. Of course the place was crowded, but I just snuck into a little corner and quietly worked through my routine without incident. Later, when I told a friend this he said "Most people, given the chance of walking into a crowded singles bar or working out in a gym in public, would choose the singles bar."
Food, of course, either too much of it or too much of the wrong thing, or nothing at all can be a problem. I always travel with a small plastic bag full of dried fruit (organic apricots or raisins or dried apples) to tide me over during the inevitable delays. Food always tastes better when it has a touch of the familiar, so I travel with tiny vials of hot pepper, of fine sea salt, and of Tabasco sauce to season and spice up just about anything put in front of me.
I know one business traveler, Donald Marchand, an American who lives in Switzerland, who consistently orders the Asian meal on the plane. He says they're always dreadful and allow you to just push food around on the plate and not eat it. Yet, you have the satisfaction of having food put in front of you, and of feeling virtuous for not eating all of it.
Then there is the minibar problem. How many times have we all come back from a long business day, no food or at least nothing satisfying, and done a virtual vacuum of the contents before we knew what was happening.
I know one businessman -- Michael Eisner from Disney -- who once ordered the Ritz Hotel in Paris to empty out his minibar and fill it with Diet Coke. The other trick is to leave the minbar key at the hotel desk and avoid temptation altogether.
One rule I use is "When you have control, take control." So when I get to choose what I eat, I try to make the most of it. I know my needs and I need good protein in the morning to get me through the day, whether good food, bad food, or no food is to follow. My standard hotel breakfast is a poached egg, a bowl of cottage cheese or yogurt and a bowl of mixed fruits. That way, no matter what the day deals me food-wise I know I'll have energy to carry on, will have fewer 'dips" or cravings and will more easily resist what I feel that should not have.
The modern world offers all sorts of travel gear that can help us stay fit on the road. I recently purchased a set of travel weights (they weigh next to nothing and can be filled with water in your hotel room) for both upper body and lower body strength. Of course they take an age to fill and to empty, so it's not a gadget you're likely to use for one night stands. But for long trips where I'll be staying several nights I expect they're going to be a godsend.
Learn to make it easy on yourself: I find that if you have a long list of exercises you love to do - swimming, band exercises, weights, walking, running, a treadmill, a Stairmaster - the more likely you are to do at least one of them on the road. If you make regular visits to friends or family in other cities, stash some workout gear in a spare drawer. You're much more likely to exercise than not.
But sometimes, simple walking is the best, safest exercise in a city. I always try to have a map of the city I'm visiting and ask at the front desk in a destination is walkable. More times than not, it is.
And you know what? If none of this works, don't beat yourself up over it. Just try again the next time. And remember, it takes 25 to 35 repetitions to create a new habit. So work on those habits during your at home time, and chances are, on the next trip, you'll find yourself breezing through.