What if I told you not to stress about working out while you travel? You probably feel somewhat like I did just writing the sentence - a bit of a weight being lifted and the relaxation opportunity being lifted. This isn't because working out isn't part of my life that I love - believe me, I own a gym, I LOVE to workout - it's just that I already know the environment won't be right for making working out my number one priority. Rather than stressing about fitness strategies for travel, think about using your vacation as a true opportunity to do what you're meant to do while traveling: relax.
I'll begin by stating that if you are traveling for work, and part of your day to day routine at home is exercising, you should absolutely keep that habit while on the road. It improves your cognitive function (aka it helps you to think good and do other stuff good too) and keeping with routine is always the number one key for performance - physical or mental.
However, if you're on vacation, you're going to relax and unwind. We all deal with countless stresses throughout the day: deadlines at work, errands to run for the family, chores around the house, cooking dinner, etc. Guess what? As positive a stress as it is, working out is still an added stressor on your body. It increases cortisol levels, and while you're working out, you actually are becoming less fit. That's why the last set of squats typically feels a lot heavier than the first. You actually improve your fitness when you rest and fully recover. Rest doesn't mean sitting at home on your coach not moving - but it does mean giving your body the time and space to go through what is known as supercompensation and rebuilding itself to a stronger state than it was in before you worked out. This is why companies like NormaTec and Theragun are making such a killing in the world now: people capital-S-SUCK at recovering. We love to workout hard. We hate to recover
I'll put my hand in the air and say I'm one of the worst people I know at implementing recovery techniques. Sure, I stretch and foam roll after a workout and sometimes before bed, but if I'm at home and around my gym I want to train, and I want to train hard. Mentally I feel much better, and I am just happier when I'm working out and pushing my limits. I bet you are too. It is fulfilling to know you just made yourself better. But, we all have to remember than without recovery there is no supercompensation and therefore we're only getting marginally more fit day to day. Enter: the vacation. You leave your environment, don't have access to your usual community, equipment, and gym - so how about instead of trying to make some resort gym workout that basically is just meant to burn calories so you can go eat and drink more later, you think about vacation as your set recovery period?
This is where you can fall down the slipperiest of slopes. For many of us, myself included, working out is the lead domino in our healthy habits. If I workout, I remember to eat well in order to fuel the next workout. If I know I have a 6:00 am workout the next day, I have to go to bed early enough to actually get up for my alarm. You get the picture. When workouts are removed, it becomes really easy to forget about the importance of eating well, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep. This is the key: relaxing on vacation does not mean eating and drinking everything you want. It is an opportunity to prioritize other areas of your health you almost certainly are putting on the back burner. Namely: mental health (mindset), sleep, and mobility.
Many people have wonderful morning routines involving meditation, journaling, reading, and a host of other chill activities to start their days. Others have approximately five or ten minutes to rapidly get out the door to make it to their morning workout class. Others are running around corralling kids and making breakfasts and basically doing a full time job before their full time job starts. The point is, for many people having space in the day to really focus on mindset is simply not going to begin during the normal hustle of every day life. This is a habit which has to be cultivated during a period of rest. A period like vacation.
Begin by simply not making morning plans for your vacation days. If you're a coffee drinker, enjoy a cup instead of guzzling it down as you run to work. Simply sit and be with your thoughts for a bit. Allow silence to become a normal experience, and when you're feeling ready for something more, add in some journaling, reading time, and meditation - but start with just one and if you're liking it plan a way to implement it when you come home. It will still take adjustment, but at least you'll know it's worth the effort and that's a huge part.
Going back to our overly-haggard, running-too-hard culture, most of us live in a land of slight sleep depravation. We don't get seven, let alone the eight to nine hours, recommended per day. During vacation, you can change that. Without all of the other strains, you can focus on relaxing and unwinding before bed, and not stress about what is to come the next day. Doing this for a few days - especially without the alarm to wake you - can help you appreciate just how good you feel when you sleep enough and be the impetus for putting your phone down ten minutes earlier, turning off the TV, and getting all your hours when you come home.
I can hear the little voice in my head saying it now, "you're not going to really not workout at all on vacation are you? You'll feel terrible," and it's not wrong. I enjoy working up a sweat and feeling accomplished from movement. So I will workout while on vacation - but they'll look a lot different from my normal workouts.
Instead of burpees, back squats, and barbells try prioritizing mobility and simple movements, instead. If you're headed to a beach, go for a jog on the sand. The shifting ground will force different muscles to get involved than usual and frankly the new scenery is always great. Your goal is basically to get a sweat going, and then spend whatever time is remaining doing mobility - stretching and other mobilizing techniques you know. If you're very fortunate, hop into a yoga class at your resort or near your Air BnB. Look up some simply animal / movement flows on YouTube or Instagram. Do something, anything, different than your usual routine. And this is the biggest thing: you should end every workout you do feeling better than when you started. This is how you know you recovered rather than simply dug an even deeper hole.
Instead of falling for the trap of indulgence and hangovers on your next vacation, take it as an opportunity to prioritize other aspects of your health like mindset, sleep, and recovery. Have a drink with your friends and family, and enjoy the local ice cream spot. But, for once, get on the plane to come home feeling refreshed and ready to crush your daily life - rather than needing a vacation from your vacation.