I believe that we are meant to live physical lives, which is why I love training, weightlifting, and athletic competition. But, I also believe that we are meant to explore the world around us, which is why I love adventure, photography, and travel.
I’m still learning and experimenting with different ideas, but here are some strategies I’ve been using to stay fit while traveling. (Plus, the new approach that I’m taking this year).
1. Do what you can, when you can.
I think the simplest approach is to fit training in whenever you can. When all else fails, you can always resort to this strategy.
Example 1: After 14 hours of flying and a 9-hour time change, I landed in Russia and made it to my hotel late at night. I was exhausted, but decided to do a 10-minute pushup workout before melting into the pillow. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.
Example 2: When I was on the road in the Midwest, I spent 20 minutes doing sprints in the parking lot of an apartment complex. (And a particularly interested inhabitant came out on his balcony and cheered me on.) Again, not much, but I think it was worth it.
You get the idea.
I think the most important part of this strategy is learning to not care what other people think about you. When travel restricts your options, sometimes you have to train in strange places. If you can learn to not care what you look like, then you can always find a way to do some pushups in your hotel room, toss in a set of pullups on a nearby tree branch, or go for a short run in the parking lot.
2. Train with the locals.
It doesn’t always work, but if you have friends or friends-of-friends in the place you are visiting, then this can be a perfect solution. They can take you as a guest to their gym or you can meet up for a training session. As an added bonus, you get to hang out with a friend.
3. Make hard choices.
Last year, I spent a week exploring Italy (photos here) before heading to the fantastic St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland. By the end of the week, I was itching for some exercise. But I also needed to catch up on sleep and there was a speaker I wanted to hear leading a session at the symposium the next morning.
Something had to give.
I decided to sleep, exercise in the morning, and go to the symposium an hour late. I missed a great speaker, but after the workout and some rest I was in better spirits for the rest of symposium. It was a hard choice, but I don’t regret it at all.
There are constraints and limitations that happen every day of our lives, but they seem to be especially apparent while traveling. Training on the road isn’t magically going to be easy. Your time and options are limited, so sometimes you have to make a hard choice and miss out on something else.
4. Schedule your travel during an “off week” for training.
This is my latest and greatest approach and I’ll be trying it out for the next 12 months. Essentially, I’m scheduling my travel to happen during a planned “off week” in my training. My thought is that if I travel for 6 weeks of the year, but train consistently for the other 46 weeks, then I'll be able to have the best of both worlds.
Currently I’m training on cycles that are approximately 8 to 10 weeks. After each cycle, I’m planning to take an off week from training that usually lasts 5 to 10 days. During this time, I’m giving myself a free pass on lifting while I spend a few days diving into travel, adventure, and photography.
I realize that many people don’t have this kind of flexibility with their travel plans. In fact, I didn’t have this much flexibility myself until very recently. Creating freedom in my life has been one of the main drivers of my entrepreneurial career and now I'm fortunate enough to have it.
Here's what this strategy looks like in practice…
My latest training cycle started after Thanksgiving of last year. I trained for nine weeks from the beginning of December through the end of January, and then I spent my off week traveling through Morocco (See the photo essay here).
During this “off week,” I did a lot of walking, hiking, and exploring around different cities to take photos, so it was definitely a week of active rest. But, I didn’t touch any weights, do any pushups, or run any sprints. I just walked, and ate, and took thousands of photos. It was a great creative break and I’m hoping that it will be a good physical break as well that sets me up for the next phase of training.
Note: In my 2013 Annual Review, I mentioned that photography was one of the areas where I wanted to improve in 2014. The “8 weeks on, 1 week off” strategy helps me fit more photography into my lifestyle while offering enough consistency in the gym to still make progress. At least, that’s the idea. We’ll see how well it actually works over the course of a year.
The only real answer is the one that works for you.
Obviously, these strategies aren’t the absolute answer. I’ve said many times before that I don’t have it all figured out. I’m just experimenting with ideas and seeing what works for me.
As an entrepreneur, my schedule is more flexible than usual. And as a photographer, my mission when I travel (to capture the essence of a place) is different from what many people have in mind when they travel. In other words, these strategies work for me, but they may not be a perfect fit for your lifestyle or your mission. That’s fine. Take the ideas that work and leave the rest.
But no matter what you do, keep training and keep exploring.