Wellness on the Road: How to Maintain Healthy Habits when You Leave Your Comfort Zone (and Your Time Zone) Behind

As a rule, I try to incorporate healthy diet and exercise habits into my daily routine. However, I have found that these habits can fly right out the window while traveling for work. I have been on three weeklong work trips in the past two months, and I found it surprisingly difficult to stick to the healthy habits I had spent months developing. I went into my first trip with a great plan for how I was going to execute the “business” part of my business trip, but no plan for my diet or exercise over the course of the week.

During our first meeting of the trip, which was an early morning after a long day of travel the previous day, I went straight for the donuts and pastries – an unusual indulgence for me – instead of sticking to the fruit I had brought with me. Over the course of the day it became easier to say “yes” to another donut in the morning, a fourth (yes, fourth!) coffee in the late afternoon to give me an extra burst of caffeine, and dessert after a larger-than-normal dinner. Right off the bat, I was setting myself up for a bad night’s sleep due to the sugar and caffeine, which made our next three days of marathon meetings and flights all the more difficult. And the cherry on top (of the sweets and coffee, that is) was that in the mornings I was too exhausted to wake up early and exercise before my meetings. The lack of exercise made me feel even more sluggish and, quite frankly, not myself.

So, why do I wish I had stuck to my normal routine while traveling? If I had been more conscientious about my eating and exercise, I would likely have slept better, felt better, and been better prepared for the surprises that are an inevitable part of business travel. After sometimes succeeding and sometimes falling a little short on my next few trips, here are some tips for keeping up a healthy lifestyle while traveling for work:

 1. Do what you can.

When you have back-to-back meetings or are traveling to a different location every day, as I was, it can be very difficult to find time to exercise without sacrificing time to network with colleagues, catch up on emails, or sleep. So, don’t beat yourself up if you just can’t do it. However, try to do what you can. Consider taking 5-10 minutes in the morning to stretch or do a few body-weight exercises. There are some great resources online that show you moves you can easily do in a hotel room. Or, if there are lunch locations in walking distance and you are free to choose where you eat, try walking instead of driving. A midday walk can do wonders for your morale, and your physical health. If you only have 15-20 minutes in the evening at the hotel, try a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout to save time. It’s amazing how 15 minutes on a treadmill in a hotel gym can give you a burst of energy that is better than caffeine. Speaking of caffeine...

2. Don’t over-caffeinate.

I can’t emphasize this one enough. Sometimes when you’re traveling for work, in back-to-back meetings from sunup to sundown, or are even in a different time zone, the temptation to over-caffeinate is huge. I definitely fell into the afternoon coffee trap on my first work trip, and I definitely regretted it. Normally, I will get a coffee in the afternoon once a week or so. However, on this occasion I took it to a bit of an extreme and as a result was jittery all afternoon, which certainly affected my ability to concentrate.

 3. Have an accountability partner, if you are traveling with someone (and even if you’re not).

If you’re traveling with colleagues, inquire as to whether any of them have plans to exercise during the trip (if you feel comfortable doing so). Sometimes, just stating my plans out loud to someone else is enough to keep me accountable. You may also find exercising with colleagues to be a bonding experience. Whether you do laps at the pool or a light jog on the treadmill, activity boosts your endorphins, which could make for a more collegial, and enjoyable, environment on your business trip. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your colleagues, tell someone back home about your plans and ask him or her to follow up with you.

 4. Write down reminders for yourself if you feel like you will struggle with eating well.

If you are a visual person like me, you are more successful when you can visualize your goals for the day. Most hotel rooms have notepads and pens or even sticky notes in the room when you arrive. Leave notes for yourself in your briefcase, on your bedside table, or even in your wallet to remind yourself when you go to pay for that sugary coffee, soda, or snack.

What tips to you have for being healthy on the road?


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