Exercise during long-term travel: The ultimate guide

exercise during long-term travel

You are packing your bags ready to travel the world. You leave most of your stuff behind. Along with stuff, you leave your friends, family, and…your gym membership. At least for a while. You put on your backpack, check you have your airplane tickets with you, and shut the door behind you.

There is one thing you haven’t quite figured out yet. What will you do to exercise during your long-term travel? You certainly don’t want to stop exercising. But how will you pull this through?

Sure you will be walking a lot, exploring different towns, yet even though walking counts, you want something more than moving. You want to work your muscles.

exercise during long-term travel
You are ready to explore new worlds, but what will you do about exercise?

Exercising when you live at home is different than exercising when you are on the go. When you are at home it’s relatively easy to stick to a routine. You go to the gym 4 times a week and have a specific plan for each day. Or, you go to your favorite yoga studio 2 times a week. However, when you are traveling there is no routine for you. Your gym and yoga studio are not available, and you cannot depend on finding a gym or yoga studio in your destination. Even if you try to create a routine…it will be hard as where you stay, and your timezone…keep changing.

What you need is a workout plan that you can do anywhere. Making it short and efficient only adds to your flexibility.

Let’s make this work!

1. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is the first tool in your travel exercise kit. HIIT involves alternating between short intense bursts of exercise and low intensity exercise (or breaks):

  • Sprinting as fast as you can for 30 sec, walking for 60 sec.
  • Doing as many push-ups as you can for 50 sec, rest for 10 sec.
HIIT is an efficient way to exercise and let’s you get a full body workout in just 16 minutes….or less. Aim for 70-85% of your heart rate. Read more on why HIIT works in Wikipedia.

Sample Workout 1:

  • Run as fast as you can for 30 sec, walk for 60 sec.
  • Repeat until you reach 10 min.

Sample Workout 2:

  • Do as many pushups as you can for 50 sec. Rest for 10 sec.
  • Do as many lunges as you can for 50 sec. Rest for 10 sec.
  • Do as many snowboarder’s jumps as you can for 50 sec. Rest for 10 sec.
  • Hold a plank for 50 sec. Rest for 10 sec.
Did that? Intense right? That was 4 min. Now repeat this sequence another 3 times to reach a total of 16 min.
You will need a timer to do HIIT. You can download a “tabata timer” or “HIIT timer” to your phone (check the app store), or you can go here if you have internet access.
If you want to get more workout ideas with HIIT, then go to maxcapacitytraining.com . I cannot recommend Samy’s book “Max Capacity Training” more. His website is a great resource for people who care about efficient exercising. See a sample workout here.

Sample Workout 3:

Repeat the following 3-min routine another 3 times for an effective 12 min workout.

2. Bodyweight exercises.

If you are used to going to a gym, then you need to teach yourself new exercises…that don’t need weights. You see, carrying weights with you is not…recommended during travel. You need to learn new ways to work your body.

Believe it or not, you can exercise with the same intensity using your own’s body weight even without weights. Listen to this bodyweight vs. weight training debate between bodyweight expert Mark Lauren and weights expert Vic Magary to learn more about the differences between the two. Mark Lauren is the author of You are your own gym, a great book to expand your options on bodyweight exercises.

Take a piece of paper, or your smartphone, and jot down a few exercises. To get you started, here are a few ideas…:

  • Burpees
  • Push-ups
  • Planks, Side planks
  • Squats, Jumping squats
  • Lunges
  • Supermans
  • Downward dog
Keep in mind that bodyweight exercises tend to work various muscles of your body at the same time. This makes them harder than most machine exercises at the gym. Take a look at burpees for example:

3. Make your own equipment.

If you are really used to going to the gym, you will naturally want to do exercises with weights. You can still do it: Make your own equipment!

  • Use your backpack as a weight.
Biceps curls with a backpack
Make your backpack as heavy as you want…
  • Or, bottles of water.
Bottles of water as exercise equipment
Tricep Kickbacks with bottles of water
  • Or, use furniture in your hotel room.
A table is not just for your computer to sit on....
A table is not just for your computer to sit on….


Side planks with a chair. Lift your leg and feel the burn 🙂
Sofa push-ups
Crushing on a friend’s sofa? Take your push-ups to the next level.

4. Take an exercise band with you.

Just in case you are inclined to forget about your workout while you travel…Hey, I didn’t say it will happen to you. Just in case…I strongly recommend you take something with you that is light to carry yet shouts “exercise” at you.

An example could be an exercise band.

Every time you see the band…Boom, visual cue to do your exercise. The more visual cues you have, and the better prepared you are (i.e., have a list of exercises done before you actually feel like you want to exercise), the more likely you are to actually follow through with exercising. That’s the power of triggers.

Don’t know what to do with an exercise band?

Chest pulls with an exercise band
Chest pulls is an example. Click on this image for more exercise band ideas.

 5. Run.

You can always go outside and run. If you like running and the weather is ok, then go out and run. Use HIIT to mix it up if you want.

6. Get your heart beating.

You want to do cardio exercise, yet running outside is not for you. You have  3 options:

  • Do HIIT. HIIT makes your heart beat fast. It does not only work your muscles but your cardiovascular system too.
  • Do Jumping Jacks. Look at Steve’s video for Jumping Jack Inspiration:

  • Do Step ups. You cannot just space out with step-ups like you do when you are on the elliptical machine. You need to take care you don’t fall. Focus.
Home cardio: Step ups with a chair
Get your heart beating…

7. What about warming up?

Warming-up does not need to be a separate activity. Just do the activity that you plan to do in a lower intensity:

  • If you plan to go out running, then start by walking for 2-5 minutes.
  • If you want to do squats, start with a set of squats where you don’t really go low.

8. Don’t forget to stretch.

Stretching is a heavenly sent tool of wellbeing…Particularly useful when flying…Watch the video for airport and airplane stretch ideas.

8. Remove your barriers: It’s ok to just do 5 min.

We are used to thinking of exercise as an activity that needs at least 30 min. Well, it does not have to be like that.

Studies show that each minute counts. For example, dividing a 30 min workout in three 10-min chunks during a day, is as effective as doing 30 min in a straight segment. Read Gretchen Reynold’s “The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer” to get more on the science behind how much we actually need to do.

So if you wake up, and have a few spare minutes, then why not do a set of abs? Later on during the day you might find you have a few more minutes. Why not do a set of squats?

Don’t limit yourself with what you think you have to do. You know that exercise is good for you. You might even feel the urge to stretch and move. Then, don’t be afraid to take advantage of it. Every minute counts.

9. Revolutionize your workouts like Charles Atlas.

exercise during long-term travel
Charles Atlas secret: Creating his own resistance.

Charles Atlas got pumped…in the 1930s. No protein shakes or other supplements. No weight lifting at the gym. How did he do it? By using bodyweight exercises along with one more method…

He created his own resistance.

Think about it. When you exercise, regardless of whether you are doing bodyweight exercises or weight lifting, you are using external resistance to make your muscles work.

However, you don’t actually need to do that.

You can just make your muscles contract on their own, without using external resistance.

For instance, lift your arms up and down as if you wanted to do shoulder press. Did that? Now contract your upper back, shoulders, and arm muscles. Keep contracting for 20 sec while you do the movement. Feel the burn?

So yes, you could technically hold on to dumbbells and just press up and down.

However, you can actually do this movement, while you are resisting the movement on your own.

It may sound confusing, but it works. And the best part is that it is quite safe, esp. for your joints.

If you want to explore this method more, then read “The Miracle 7“. Or go to the author’s website and check out the exercises for yourself.

You are set! Make a list of do-anywhere exercises, put an exercise band in your suitcase, and possibly download one of the books above to your Kindle or Nook. They will be a great resource during your long-term travel.

Or just, visit the Fitness Reloaded Workout Routines archive. All workouts are short and can be done anywhere. No equipment needed.

Photo credits: charlesatlas.com ;  ???@??

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  1. Hi Maria, this is an awesome article! I am a huge fan of HIIT training…it can give you such great results…I also combine this with weight training & it’s worked wonders for me…great tips & videos! Frank

  2. Hi Maria. Great article, thanks. Yoga can be done without any equipment and without a studio. You can use a blanket or towel instead of the mat. It will be a great compliment to the exercises you have mentioned.

  3. Hey Maria, great write up!

    I’m finding that some gyms do offer some sort of drop-in or short term membership, but you’re right – it’s hard to find these places.

    I’m working on a site called Gymlisted that you and your readers might find interesting. The goal is to help people find gyms near them and not miss a workout.

    Would love to know your thoughts!