How Do You Stay Fit When You’re Traveling?

Ask Rolf: Vagabonding traveler Rolf Potts answers your questions about travel

05.20.08 | 2:13 PM ET

Rolf Potts

Dear Rolf,

How do you keep fit on the road?

—Chris

Dear Chris,

Believe it or not, travel itself keeps me fairly fit, since walking (sometimes with a backpack on my back) is my favorite way to experience a destination. For simple reasons of fitness, I advise all travelers to take advantage of walking, even when a bus or metro is an option. Not only will it make you fitter, it will show you parts of the city (or countryside) that you’d never see if you were always taking public transport.

For cardio reasons, I also go running when I can—though I find that I rarely run more than three days a week on a journey. This is largely because I walk so much when I travel, but also because running takes a heavy toll on my laundry (that is, I don’t always have time to wash my running clothes two or three times a week). I am slightly lazy with laundry though, so if a given traveler doesn’t mind washing his or her running clothes in the sink every day or two, I’d say do it as much as you want. Just be aware of cultural norms, and try not to go running in places where bare legs and sweaty torsos will offend local mores or draw too much negative attention.

Finally, when I’m traveling, I try to do the equivalent of a muscular strength or weight workout—usually a combination of push-ups, crunches and other simple exercises. For the past three years I’ve been traveling with a resistance band, which is a big rubber tube with handles on the ends. Resistance bands can be bought for about $12, and are easy to pack. There are many different kinds, but I just use the basic kind with handles on both ends. There’s a picture of one here—it’s the one called “Fit-Tube.”  You can find it, or a similar band, at any sporting goods store.

Here is my travel workout for six days a week (resting the seventh), alternating A-days and B-days.

* A-Days: First, I combine push-ups, crunches and obliques—usually alternating three sets of crunches, three sets of left obliques and three sets of right obliques inside 10 sets of push-ups. Second, I do a set that combines shoulder and back work. Shoulders I work using the resistance band by standing in the middle of the band with my hands at my sides. Then I slowly raise my arms to shoulder-level against the resistance band. I do five sets of shoulder flys, alternating with four sets of back-raises (where I lie on my stomach, put my arms on my head, and lift my chest off the floor). Thirdly on A-days, I go for a run.

* B-Days: Since I don’t run on B-Days, I do a little leg work first—squats and calf-raises. I typically don’t worry about weights—I just do a couple sets of very slow “air” squats (use the same body position as when you have weights; it still burns the thighs) alternated with a couple sets of slow calf-raises. Second, I do five sets of bicep curls and tricep work using the resistance band. Third, I do sets of on-my-back leg lifts, holding each for 10 seconds.

That system works pretty well for me—even if I’m sometimes too tired or busy to be fully consistent on a day-to-day basis.

I’d recommend these simple exercises—or a variant thereof—to anyone who is interested in basic fitness on the road.

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Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


11 Comments for How Do You Stay Fit When You’re Traveling?

John M. Edwards 05.21.08 | 12:08 PM ET

Hi Rolf:

Traveling (or groveling)  itself is the world’s best exercize, and the intellect’s most dangerous game. . . .

John M. Edwards (“The Pathfinder”)

Sara 05.21.08 | 12:39 PM ET

I run a sprint to my connecting flight in the airport, no matter how much time I have before boarding.  Gets my heartrate up on days when i’m spending most of my time sitting.

Turner 05.27.08 | 10:35 AM ET

Where wouldn’t it be appropriate to sport running clothes?  I’m headed to Thailand soon and heard clothing is typically more conservative, but once a runner, always a runner.

Lee Ann 06.02.08 | 12:37 PM ET

I love YogaDownload.com - you can subscribe to their podcast for free , 20 Minute Yoga Sessions.” I use it to keep my butt from en-flabbening too much when I am on the road. Best part is, there are a bunch of different classes with specific targets. I like “Morning Flow #1.” My second fave is ‘Yoga for Cyclists.”

Claudine 06.05.08 | 4:59 PM ET

My biggest problem is eating rich foods that I know that I should avoid! It would take weeks work off the calories from just one meal.

Mikeachim 06.12.08 | 7:29 AM ET

The best workout I had last year was walking through Athens with a fully laden backpack to get to the bus station - just over an hour in 35 degrees Celsius. And bottles and bottles of water.

AzurAlive 06.14.08 | 5:38 AM ET

Totally agree about walking as a great way to experience a place. It forces you to slow down and notice what’s going on. You meet local folks going about their lives. And, it helps to keep you healthy & in shape.
I’m in southern France and the number of great walking trails here are amazing.
Walk on!
AzurAlive.com

Nickie Gaul 08.19.08 | 5:20 PM ET

Hi Rolf,
I want to get the train from Moscow to beijing and the down through Vhina,Vietnam andand thiland to singapore.
I would like to catch one of these freighters across to Aus and overland it from Perth to Sydney.
Than a freighter to USA wet coast, overland to east coast and freighter back to europe.
Do you think its possible and am I to old at 62 (I mean would I look stupid and out of place at my age)

Nickie

Pascua Lagos 09.26.08 | 8:04 PM ET

Dear Rolf,
As many people, I think the best excercise in the world is travelling.  Every time that I can take my backpack, I know for sure I will do a little of yoga, cardio excercises, running, footing, etc.  To travel gives you the perfect ocasion to discover and relaxing your body, however at the same time, I love to walk through different places.  My last trip was to discover once again Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile (I live in Chile), so you can image that I enjoyed to stay there, walk through the National Park, admiring the landscape, full of rivers, mountains and lakes.
So if I can suggest or ad something, I would take your first sentence: “Believe it or not, travel itself keeps me fairly fit”.

Really thanks for this article!!

Torah 10.04.08 | 5:20 PM ET

I’m actually currently on vacation right now. I do a lot of walking, but for me that isn’t enough. Before vacation I’d either go running or play pick-up basketball games every day at the park. Cardio is a really big problem, and special time needs to be alloted to keep that up.

Non-cardio, on the other hand, is a piece of cake. As soon as you get up every morning, just drop and do pushups and crunches. A personal favorite routine I do is called “8 minute abs”. Just look it up on youtube. I do that and pushups every morning, and it keeps up my strength just fine.

As soon as I figure out exactly what I want to do with my cardio work, I’ll be back to normal.

irysya13 10.31.08 | 5:21 PM ET

Bodily exercises are very useful to an organism of the person. For improvement of the organism it is necessary every morning and to be engaged every evening in jog, to do bodily exercises. For maintenance of the sports form it is necessary to go in for sports for 40-50 minutes in day. There are many special kinds of the bodily exercises for maintenance of health. They need to be carried out every day.

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