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3 Simple Rules for Staying Healthy While Traveling

Travel is one of the greatest things you can do for your soul. Seeing other countries and experiencing other cultures is an enriching experience, and one that I heavily prioritize. I also prioritize my health, which shouldn’t come as a shock. This is the Paleo f(x)™ blog, after all. As great as travel is, it’s not always easy to be healthy out on the road, even for a pretty well-versed traveler like myself. My girlfriend and I recently spent two weeks traveling around Europe; we had a great time, and I remembered how difficult it can be to stay healthy while traveling.

  • Healthy food isn’t always accessible. We were staying in a lot of places without kitchens, so we had to resort to dining out, which meant a lot of suboptimal food choices – more grain, dairy, and starch than I’m used to. It didn’t leave me feeling great.
  • Good sleep can be hard to find. Constant, early, international flights, often jumping between time zones meant my circadian rhythm was all sorts of messed up. Many days left me with a “travel hangover,” making me cranky and unpleasant.
  • Exercise is all but out the window. Because we wanted to focus on being in the action and seeing all we could, we weren’t left with much time for exercise, which is hard for a self-admitted training addict. At the end of the trip, I was feeling a little skinny and soft.

Sound familiar? This is the situation for most of us on the road. You have two choices: you can throw caution to the wind and forget about your health for the sake of convenience, then start taking care of yourself again when you get home.

But why throw all of your progress out the window? Why not mitigate the damage now and have less to worry about later?

After a brief adjustment period, I started making better choices by following a few simple rules; rules I wish I had remembered before I had set out! Each rule is broken down into three categories: food, sleep, and exercise, because these three factors so largely influence our health.

Rules of the Road

1. Plan ahead.

This is the fundamental rule. We all read it on posters in middle school gym class: “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” If you don’t plan where you’ll go when you’re traveling, you’ll likely wind up wandering around aimlessly and you won’t have a very good experience.

That level of planning should not stop at which landmarks you’re going to see. If you fail to plan where and what you’ll eat, a sleep schedule, and when you’ll exercise, you’ll wind up really not accomplishing much.

Traveling takes a lot out of a human body, and inherently leaves us with less mental energy. That means less energy to make good decisions. Get the decision-making out of the way before you even arrive, rather than relying on what little decision-making power you have when you get to your destination. That way, you can just turn on autopilot and enjoy yourself!

Food

  • Plan where you’ll eat based on what sites you’ll be seeing. Find restaurants that have healthy options, and mark them on your map so you know how to get there.
  • Reserve AirBNBs, hotels, or hostels with kitchens. This will give you more control over your options.
  • Research nearby grocery stores so you can stock up on good stuff when you touch down. Make a shopping list early, too – one less decision to make when you arrive!
  • If you have food allergies, know how to address them in the language of whatever country you’re visiting.

Sleep

  • Make room in your luggage for your blueblockers, ear plugs, sleep masks, Sleep Remedy, whatever you need to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Exercise 

  • Plan your workouts ahead of time. Write up a travel program that can be done anywhere, and write it into your schedule. If you need some inspiration, here’s a list of CrossFit metcons that require little-to-no equipment.
  • Find a park near where you’re staying and try some bodyweight exercises. Your body is a great training tool that you take everywhere with you. Find a park near you to do some calisthenics.
  • Find a gym. If you absolutely NEED to pump iron, research gyms in your area before you touch down. Find a CrossFit box, YMCA, or anywhere else that looks cool. Finding local gyms is a great way to explore a culture – you might be surprised to see some of the equipment!
  • Determine what time of day you’ll train. For a lot of people it’ll be first thing in the morning, so it doesn’t intrude on a day of discovery. Others discover through training, like taking a long hike or having a beach workout. Find what works for you.

2. Prioritize

We can’t perfect when we’re on the road. We simply can’t. You won’t have access to all of the amenities that you’re used to, and that’s okay! It’s a great opportunity to get creative with what you have.

It’s important to not let perfect be the enemy of good. I decided that following one rule for each aspect of health was easier than trying to be perfect, and far less stressful.

Decide what your ultimate priority is in each category (it’ll be different for everyone), and consider sticking to that rule a win.

Food:

  • Determine your “must eats.” I prioritized getting veggies with 2 out of 3 meals each day. I know that if I eat my veggies, and lots of them, I feel better and am less likely to eat a bunch of crap that I shouldn’t. Your rule might look different. Some people will prioritize getting plenty of protein while others will prioritize things portion sizes. It all comes down to you.
  • Determine your “must NOT eat.” Maybe you need to avoid grains, no matter what. Or maybe, you’re okay with certain grains, but you NEED to avoid sugar at all costs. Melissa Hartwig’s Food Freedom Forever is a great resource for figuring out your musts and must-nots.

Sleep

  • Set a minimum. My rule for sleep was to get 7 hours every night, minimum. No, it’s not perfect. It’s far from perfect, actually. But it’s at least some level of constraint. I could have easily stayed out until 3 AM drinking and partying, getting up at 7 AM and keeping on the move, but I knew in the long run that that would be detrimental and ruin my experience. 7 hours felt like a good compromise to me: even if we were asleep by midnight, we could get up at 7 AM and keep moving.
  • Set a bedtime. Yes, like an eight year old. Set a time that you need to be in bed each night in order to optimize sleep.
  • Change your environment. You might prioritize sleeping in a pitch black room, or make a rule that you MUST wear your blue blockers after the sun goes down. Small environmental changes like this can go a really, really long way.

Exercise:

  • Pick ONE Modality. Maybe you commit to working on your mobility goals every single day, or maybe you’re going to prioritize strength, or cardio. Pick one thing and do awesome at it for the duration of your trip.
  • Get even more specific: pick one movement. This one was inspired by Dan John. When traveling, I decided that if I could do ONE movement every day, that would be a win for me. I picked several movements for which I need no equipment: Hollow Body Holds, Planche Progressions, Push-Ups, Handstands, and Bodyweight Squats. I did ONE each day movement each day, which didn’t eat into time spent exploring, and was certainly better than nothing.

3. Don’t stress.

Chronic stress is just important of a health issue as shitty food and poor sleep. If you can’t be perfect, at least try not to stress yourself out about it. Travel is a stressor in itself, and a lot of the choices that we have to make wind up being stressors as well. Stressing about your stressors will just make you feel, well…stressed!

To the best of your ability, sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself.

How do you stay healthy while traveling? What do you prioritize? Let us know in the comments!

Map photo licensed under the Creative Commons.

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Benjamin Nutt

Benjamin is a fitness enthusiast with a passion for human health and happiness. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado with a BA in Anthropology. He’s been implementing and experimenting with Ancestral diet and lifestyle protocols since 2010, driven by a passion to optimize his health and lifestyle. Benjamin is thrilled to join […]

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