Staying Fit on the Road A Guide to Exercise for Travelers

a man and a woman riding on the back of a boat


Throughout my near three months of travel across the United States, my closest allies in staying well-fed and fit have been a cooler stocked with veggies and a makeshift pantry of spices, oils, and grains, a YMCA membership, YouTube, and unabashedly working out on the side of the road.

According to Alexa Nota and Allen Johnson of Travel Well Magazine, making fitness a priority, seeking a balanced lifestyle, and thinking outside the gym are also key to maintaining health and wellness, both on the road and off.

“Fitness isn’t living in the gym 24/7 trying to be a bodybuilder, or being that woman on the elliptical for hours and hours at a time,” said Nota in a Skype interview. “Fitness and general wellness is more about what you enjoy doing.”

“It’s not all or nothing with fitness,” Johnson added. “You don’t have to be kicking your butt seven days a week.”

Like most of us, Johnson and Nota already face the biggest hurdle in fitness–making time for it. As they build out the magazine, Johnson, 30, works as a TRX and ViPR-certified personal trainer, and Nota, 25, runs a graphic design business. Top these professional endeavors with an April 2015 wedding, a three-week honeymoon in Ireland, and planning for a life of full-time travel beginning in June, the duo juggles your typical high-speed American lifestyle.

For Johnson and Nota, living an active and healthy life while traveling is as straightforward as it is for the non-traveler:

“It’s about making that important to you and making that your goal,” Johnson said. “If it’s something that you want to do, then what’s to stop you? Excuses are easy.”

“For me, one of the biggest things for all of life, in general, is balance,” Nota added. “That applies to when you’re traveling, when you’re not traveling, and your daily routine.” This means you won’t just find articles about eating right and working out on Travel Well; you’ll also hear about Johnson’s favorite breweries and recipes that incorporate one of Nota’s favorite foods: Nutella.

Simply put, there’s more to health than exercise and dieting–your state of mind, your happiness, and your stress level are all a part of the picture. And no matter how you’re looking to integrate fitness into your daily routine, one of the most enjoyable and accessible ways to get active can be as easy as putting one foot in front of the other.

Walking, Hiking, & Biking

Not only are walking and hiking effective and low-impact methods of exercise, both offer a means of exploring your surroundings, be it your hometown, a new city, or a national park. Travelers are often sequestered inside cars, vans, trains, and planes, and it’s easy to pass through an area without actually experiencing it when you’re stuck inside a vehicle. A walking tour could lead to the discovery of a favorite shop, park, or hole-in-the-wall restaurant, and treks in the woods are restorative, invigorating, and educational all at once.

One thing I wish I had brought along on my travels is my bicycle. Not only is cycling another great way to explore new places, it’s a fast and efficient form of transportation, and it works in a pinch if your car or van happens to break down. If you’re traveling by foot or by bike, then you’ve got the whole fitness thing more than covered–making sure you stay fueled and rested is your next order of business.

Creative & Efficient Workouts

The more you can think beyond treadmills and weight rooms in terms of fitness, the easier and more sustainable your exercise goals will be. One way I incorporated working out into my travels was to treat long driving days as workout days, building a circuit of about five exercises and pulling over to complete a set every hour or so. In my drive between Dexter, Maine and Burlington, Vermont, I fit in 200 tuck jumps, 100 pushups, and hundreds of different core exercises. Not only was I pretty sore the next day, I gave my body and mind a much-needed break from driving and remained energized and alert throughout the trip. Hourly circuits ares also a great way to increase productivity and incorporate exercise on the job, especially when you work an energy-zapping, sedentary desk job.

There are also ways to exercise while you drive–you can do sets of ab contractions, glute squeezes, and even side crunches without taking off your seatbelt, or your eyes from the road.

“It comes down to making the most of your own body and what you have around you,” said Nota. “If you have nothing around you other than flat ground, you can still do a great workout.”

A Half-Hour or Less

Johnson and Nota are currently in the beta phase with Travel Well Magazine’s 30 x 30 Fitness Program, a subscription service providing a new series of 30-minute workouts each month, nutritional guidelines, and printable PDFs to track your fitness progress. They’re seeking feedback on the program, and anyone is invited to sign up for free via their website and try it out. The 30 x 30 Program is designed to be super-efficient, incorporating warm-up, high-intensity and strength-building exercises, and stretching, all in 30 minutes or less. The equipment-free routines can be done anytime and anywhere, making them ideal for business travelers, students, and busy parents as as well as backpackers and those living on the road – “anyone with an on-the-go lifestyle who wants to fit fitness in wherever and whenever it works best for them,” according to their website.

If 30 minutes is still too much of a demand on your time, Johnson and Nota assure that a little can go a long way, and that everyone’s fitness needs and capabilities are unique. It all comes back to overcoming the all-or-nothing fitness mentality and finding an exercise you enjoy.

“You can work out ten minutes a day and still see improvements,” Johnson said. “If you set up a ten-minute routine and you’ve got your heart rate up the whole time, you’re getting muscle burns and working the endurance, that’s all it takes.”

Even seven minutes of exercise can increase endurance and boost metabolic and cardiovascular health: The New York Times recently published “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout,” which features 12 exercises that require only your body weight, a chair, and a wall, and “The Advanced 7-Minute Workout,” which adds weights and other exercises to the mix. The Times even created an app for the 7-Minute Workout.

a woman balances herself on her head on a yoga mat in the forest, a man pulls himself up via exercise equipment
Alexa and Allen in form.


Hitting the road doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the numerous benefits of a gym membership. I’ve been putting my Connecticut YMCA membership to good use these past few months via the organization’s AWAY(Always Welcome at the Y) program, taking group exercise classes, swimming, and showering at over a dozen locations across the northern part of the country. As long as your home YMCA branch participates in the AWAY program, you have access to any other branch that participates in the program nationwide, and with thousands of YMCA locations in America alone, they are easy to find in most communities. Each YMCA branch sets their own rules as to how many times AWAY members can use their facility–most of the branches I visited offered around 12 visits per calendar year.

Plenty of other gyms also offer nationwide access, including LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Bally’s Total Fitness, and Planet Fitness, to name a few. Many gyms also offer day guest passes for free or at a cost of between $5 and $10, and you can also check to see if your home gym is a member of the International Health, Racquet, and Sports Club Association (IHRSA)–if so, you can enroll in the Association’s Passport Program and earn discounted guest rates at an additional 1,700 participating health clubs worldwide.

Johnson and Nota also recommend choosing lodging based on the fitness facilities available.

“We just stayed at the Nantucket Inn and Resort, and they had the best gym we’e ever seen – ever,” Johnson said. “Just like your meals when traveling, plan ahead.”

YouTube is another great – and free – resource for staying fit on the road. From Pilates to yoga to high-intensity interval training, the site offers thousands of guided videos online, making for endless variety, fitness inspiration, and a bit of structure for those who need it.

Eating Well

I’ve managed to save money and eat well during my travels by keeping a cooler stocked with staples–eggs, spinach, yogurt, chocolate, leftovers–and a pantry of quinoa, rice, beans, cauliflower, peanut butter, bananas, oil, vinegar, spices, and coffee. Instead of going out to eat all the time, I’ve offered to cook dinner for the various friends and Couchsurfing hosts I’ve stayed with, and I’ve also had the means to pull over and throw a healthy meal or snack together on long drives.

According to Nota, drinking plenty of water, eating every few hours, and planning ahead are key components to keeping yourself fueled and hydrated while traveling. This means stocking your travel bags with quality snacks and plenty of water.

“Those two things are so good for your body and for your mind during travel,” she said. “And even generally throughout a busy day, you have to make sure you’re getting the water you need and keeping your metabolism up by eating every two to three hours. Those two habits make such a difference–it is amazing.”

Johnson’s go-to snacks are beef jerky and protein shakes, and in terms of kitchenless food preparation, he says a great skill for travelers to master is the art of assembling a meal with a trip to the grocery store, a bowl, and plastic utensils. In terms of dining out, the Travel Well duo believes in enjoying those once-in-a-lifetime meals and experiences, but diners also shouldn’t be afraid to ask about a dish’s ingredients, pack up half of a meal for lunch the next day, or request something that’s not on the menu.

“Menus are designed to sell food, not to show you what is best for you,” Nota explained. “A lot of people think that any salad is a good salad, but that’s not the case. Sometimes the salads on menus are the most unhealthy things you can choose. Understanding what you’re looking at on menus is huge if you’re not cooking for yourself.

Whether you’re on the road full-time, part-time, or take frequent business trips, staying fit and healthy while traveling can be a challenge. Long stretches of time on airplanes or in the driver’s seat combined with less-than-healthy meals at restaurants can quickly leave you feeling stiff, puffy, and under the weather–but with a bit of planning and creativity, you can keep fitness and good eating a priority no matter where you are in the world.