When I decided to start living internationally and abandoned my home base, I was worried that working out while traveling and staying fit would fall by the wayside.
But I’ve managed to keep it up for the vast majority of the time I’ve been abroad. Most places around the world I have been to, save for the very remote ones, all have somewhat of a gym culture. Nothing will match places like Australia, Canada or the U.S., but any of the many cities I have lived in throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America have all had gyms.
Some of the gyms I have been into were pretty much unusable because of unsafe, not enough or inadequate equipment. I’ve definitely walked into more than a couple of gyms, seen the facilities, remembered that I didn’t have travel insurance should I need reconstructive surgery on my face, and done a quick 180.
While having access to a gym and safe places to run and workout is nice, if you are willing to work with what you’ve got and you are committed to staying fit, working out while traveling is possible anywhere. I’ve found ways to exercise while living out of tiny Southeast Asian hotel rooms, birdwatching lodges in the Amazon and everywhere in between.
With that in mind, below are some ways–both conventional and unconventional–you can stay fit while you live in and travel to different places. They are:
- Make Sure Your Accommodation is Close to a Gym
- Ask to Join in
- Don’t Forget About Your Posture
- Don’t Let Your Diet Get Away From You
- Don’t Be Afraid To Improvise
- Working Out While Traveling 101: Walk Everywhere
- Nature Travel is Healthy Travel
- Invest in Some Travel Workout Equipment
- Bring a Jump Rope Everywhere You Go
- Bodyweight Workouts
Make Sure Your Accommodation is Close to a Gym
If you are doing the digital nomad thing and are booking your accommodation through Airbnb, one question you will have to get used to asking potential hosts is “is there a gym close by?”
Airbnb never gives you an exact location prior to booking, and the approximate location you do get can be way off once you’ve actually paid. If you’re coming from a big city in Australia, Canada, Western Europe or the United States, you can be virtually certain that every neighbourhood (and any building of a particular size) is going to have at least one decent gym.
Elsewhere this is not always the case, which is why gym (and grocery shopping) are usually my two main criteria when choosing an Airbnb. Chances are if the neighbourhood–if it’s a neighbourhood where a lot of foreigners stay–is also where wealthier locals live meaning there is going to be a gym.
Ask to Join in
If you are someone for whom intramural sports were part of your weekly exercise routine before you started traveling full time, you should keep in mind that most places outside the West don’t have a lot of options for these kinds of things.
What you can do, however, and something I really like doing when I land somewhere new, is ask some of the locals if you can join in. Whether it’s soccer, basketball or beach volleyball, I find this is the best way to get my sports fix in and meet local people.
I’ve played soccer under highway overpasses and in Mexico and on street courts in Colombia, pickup basketball in Albania and beach volleyball in Spain with complete strangers. It can be a bit awkward if you don’t speak the language, but if you actually know what you’re doing with a ball, the locals are usually happy to have you.
Don’t Forget About Your Posture
Chiropractors have reported a huge uptick in business (i.e., back problems) over the past couple of years as millions of people have switched to working from home. This is because a lot of this working from home takes place in bed, on sofas, and at kitchen tables, which is terrible for your musculoskeletal system.
It is an especially pressing consideration for digital nomads like me who have spent years working in positions that I know are unhealthy. Now that I’m in my thirties, I can definitely feel the years of poor posture catching up to me, so I have started to incorporate a lot more posture exercises into my exercise routine.
If you are sitting for hours a day, and especially if you are sitting in or on things that don’t do any favors for your back, you should consider looking after your posture an essential part of working out while traveling.
Don’t Let Your Diet Get Away From You
As a Canadian, paying a lot of money for mediocre food (especially produce) and a ridiculous amount for alcohol was always normal. Anyone who grows up in a post-industrial northern country likely experienced the same.
Which is why it can be so easy to let your diet get away from you when you go somewhere and there is delicious, cheap food at every turn and beer costs less than water.
The quickest way to kill your gains and motivation to keep working out is to start eating poorly when you arrive somewhere. By all means enjoy the local cuisine, but you don’t need to have tacos and beer 5 days a week in Mexico because you’re no longer in Sydney or Brooklyn and tacos no longer cost 80 dollars.
Another way to make working out while traveling so much more difficult is to drink (and smoke) like the locals when you go somewhere new. As a North American who likes wine and beer, it was hard not to start having a glass of wine or a pint of beer with lunch while living in Spain, because that’s what everyone else does and it’s so affordable. What I found, however, was that the days when I did, exercising that evening was such a chore.
Don’t Be Afraid To Improvise
When there is no gym to be found, you can work out while traveling by improvising with what’s on hand.
I’ve stayed in shape with nothing but a desk chair and a 20L bottle of water. Even a pillowcase filled with clothes can be used as a free weight.
When I was locked down in my apartment in Santa Marta, Colombia for the first half of 2020, only able to leave my apartment once a week to buy groceries, I would run up and down the stairs of my building every day.
Yes, the people living in the building avoided making eye contact with me, but I managed to keep my cardio up and my sanity. With that said, another great way to work out while traveling is to take the stairs whenever you can.
Whether it’s in the airport, a shopping mall or in your apartment building, you burn around 5 calories per minute walking slowly up the stairs–which you definitely would not burn riding the elevator.
Working Out While Traveling 101: Walk Everywhere
Any time you touch down in a new city, the best way to get a lay of the land is to walk your neighbourhood and as much of the city as possible.
Of course in a place like Bogota, Cairo or Mexico City, you could walk for days and only ever see a small fraction of the city, and you also need to keep in mind how safe it is to walk certain places anytime you are in an unfamiliar place. But if you commit to walking and resist the urge to take cabs and Ubers in places where they are dirt cheap, you will burn calories every day that you otherwise would not.
Walking around is also the best way to find and make note of restaurants, cafes, barbers and hair salons, markets, places to get a passport photo taken if need be, bars, etc.
Nature Travel is Healthy Travel
A great way to always be working out while traveling is to make nature travel and wildlife tourism the focus of your travels.
This is almost always how I travel, which means my travel plans are usually structured around things like hiking and snorkeling. There have been very few places I have gone in the world where the intention is not to spend every (or every other day) in the wilderness, which invariably means exerting yourself to get to the places where there are animals to be found.
Invest in Some Travel Workout Equipment
Another thing that makes working out while traveling so much easier is packing lightweight exercise gear. You might want to check out our travel workout equipment guides for some idea of whats out there and the costs.
When going to the gym is not an option, things like travel weights, grip strengtheners, yoga mats, paralettes and calisthenic equipment can fit easily into your checked luggage. Being able to workout from wherever you are, whether it’s an apartment, a hotel room or a beach bungalow means you really don’t have an excuse not to stay fit while on the road.
Bring a Jump Rope Everywhere You Go
I started jumping rope just prior to the pandemic. I had taken up boxing and before the start of each class the instructor would have us warm up with the rope. I hadn’t jumped rope in forever and I was really bad, especially compared to some of the more experienced people in the class.
Once I got over the initial frustration of whipping myself in the back or smacking my shoe every 20 seconds, and started to get a little better, I really liked it. Then the gym shut down, classes ended and my boxing dreams were crushed.
I still wanted to get better at jumping rope, though, so I started to search more on YouTube and discovered that there is a whole subculture and niche dedicated to jumping rope. This video in particular inspired me to buy my own rope, clear all the furniture out of my living room and jump every night.
While jumping rope and running burn a similar amount of calories over a given amount of time, I find jumping rope to be a lot more stimulating. Once you start incorporating crossovers and other manoeuvres into your routine, it becomes almost like a dance.
The sound of the rope rhythmically hitting the floor allows you to get into a good flow-state and time flies by. It was therapeutic for me. Now I pack my rope with me wherever I go. Even if you don’t have space in a house or apartment, there is always an area in a local beach, park or parking lot to set up and jump.
Another very effective and completely free way to ensure you are always working out while traveling is to incorporate bodyweight exercises into your routine.
Depending on what the end goal of your workout routine is, bodyweight exercises are really all you need to build and maintain muscle. You probably aren’t going to be winning any powerlifting competitions with bodyweight exercises alone, but you can absolutely maintain a great physique (men and women) just using gravity.
I’ve built a pretty solid upper and lower body routine using YouTube bodyweight exercise videos. You can search “best bodyweight exercises for shoulders,” for example, and pages of videos will appear. Do the same with any other muscle group you want to target.
Even if you don’t want to get super fancy, pushups and bodyweight squats are enough to look presentable while traveling.
You Can Absolutely Stay Fit on the Road
The biggest hurdle to working out while traveling is willpower. When you are somewhere new and exciting, and especially if you have been on the road for a while, restarting an exercise routine requires fighting some serious psychological battles. It is so easy to talk yourself out of a gym session, a run or a bodyweight workout in your hotel room.
But if I can do it, anyone can. Keep the above tips in mind and make working out while traveling something you do as a matter of course, every time you touch down somewhere new–whether it’s a new city or the middle of nowhere.