A Burn the Fat Blog Archives Classic. Originally published May 13th, 2009. Updated for 2022.

I like to come back from my business trips, vacations and sometimes even holiday breaks in better shape than when I left: More muscle, less fat, better condition, feeling great.

Some people may be thinking, “Impossible! You can’t even maintain, let alone improve, when you have to deal with airports, airline food, business meetings, all-day seminars, hotels, mini-bars, room service food on speed-dial, restaurants and all that travel stress.” Actually, in most cases, yes you can, if you really want to. In fact, while most people slip back or maintain at best, I’ve discovered a way to accelerate my progress when I travel. I got the original inspiration from pro bodybuilders, and it’s actually quite exhilarating to take this challenge and conquer it…

Fit woman in airport terminal with luggage

Tips To Help You Stay In Shape While Traveling

For most people, there’s more travel and temptation over the holidays, so these tips come in especially handy during the food-filled, festive time of year, but you can use this advice all year round.

If you travel a lot, and you care about health and fitness, these strategies are not only body savers – they’re game changers!

1. Set a goal to come home in better shape than when you left.

This is the key to it all: The next time you travel – a time when most people surrender to stress, fast food and busy schedules – set a goal to come back in better shape than when you left..

That is the Burn the Fat Travel Challenge.

This challenge is not for everyone.  This is for highly motivated bodybuilding and fitness enthusiasts who want to challenge themselves. For many people, a holiday is a time to NOT begin attempts at body composition or fitness change, and there is some psychology research that supports this idea. We all need to take breaks from intense training sometime during each year, and you might want to match your training break time with vacation or holiday time and just relax.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I assure you, for someone rightly motivated, this travel fitness challenge can be done, and won….

Naturally, you’re not going to make huge shifts in body composition over a short trip that lasts a week or even just days, but you might burn a pound or two of fat. You might look visibly better in the mirror when you get back. You might get stronger. You might break a personal record in the gym. Maybe you simply have a string of better-than-usual workouts, so you know you made progress.

Whatever you do, and however you do it, simply improve yourself in some way, any way.  It may not be easy, but that’s the whole idea. A “challenge” is a goal that’s not easy to achieve – it makes you stretch!  That’s good, because those are the goals that make you grow the most, and because simply accepting a challenge  generates energy and enthusiasm that makes you rally.

2. Have a plan and schedule your time tightly.

Biggest mistake ever: “I’ll just wing it when I get there.”

No matter where you are, you must have a meal (food) plan and a training plan – in writing (not just in your head) – and schedule it into your calendar. You schedule every other meeting or appointment in your date book – and  you have to make a travel itinerary anyway – so why not include appointments with the gym and the kitchen?

When you travel, or any time your usual environment or routine changes,  make sure you create a new plan or modify your usual plan to accommodate for the changes:

  • Flying? What will you do for meals at the airports and on the plane?
  • Road trip? What will you bring with you to eat or where will you stop to eat?
  • Out of town? Where will you train?
  • Staying in a hotel? What’s for breakfast?
  • Attending a 12-hour seminar or workshop? What and when will you eat all day long?
  • Business dinner at night? Did you check the restaurant menu online beforehand and commit to your healthy choices, no matter what the rest of the group does?
Right after checking into this hotel (which I made sure had a kitchen), I went food shopping

Right after checking into this hotel (which I made sure had a kitchen), I went food shopping

3. Book a hotel with a kitchen and go food shopping.

For me, this is the king of nutrition strategies on all extended trips: I book a hotel with a kitchen.

I continue to be stunned at how many people complain about how hard it is to eat when traveling. But if you have a kitchen and go food shopping the day you check in, your meal planning and prep is no different than it is when you’re home, right?

(Tip: Remember your shopping list to avoid multiple trips to the store!)

The availability of these hotels keeps expanding and the best part is, they’re often less expensive. I’ve stayed at a Hyatt House, Extended Stay America and Marriott’s Residence Inn among others.

On my last trip, I went a step further; I checked google maps and scoped out one of these hotels located near a supermarket. I found one – with the food market literally across the parking lot. It was actually more convenient and took less time to shop for food than when I was at home.

By the way, it is possible to not even have to meal prep and to eat 100% healthy between restaurants and good hotels. Hitting an 80% or 90% food quality adherence rule is easy-peasy.

I stayed at a small boutique hotel in Toronto a some years ago, and there was no kitchen in my room, but their continental breakfast had steel cut oatmeal, fruit and hard boiled eggs. That’s pretty much the same as usual for me except that I scramble eggs at home.

The rest of the day, it was not difficult to make healthy choices for lunch and dinner in restaurants and I brought protein shakes and snacks for in between breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Another tip: Go food shopping immediately after checking in. The first thing I do after checking in is to make a beeline straight to the local grocery store. I take a shopping list with me because on past trips I found it too easy to forget one or two small items if I didn’t have a written grocery list, plus I like to purchase the exact quantity of food I need for the duration of my stay.

Once you have a fully-stocked refrigerator and kitchen, your meal planning and preparation is no different than it is when you are home. Also, have you seen what hotel restaurant meals cost these days? Buying and cooking your own food can save you a small fortune!

If you’re on a particularly strict nutrition plan, such as a competition diet, I recommend picking up a portable food cooler and some Tupperware and then, provided that you have a kitchen, you can cook and pack anything and keep it fresh during the day. This is what most top bodybuilders and physique athletes do.

You may or may not be able to reheat it if you’re on the go, but I’ve eaten cold chicken breast or turkey – and I like it. Veggies don’t always have to be cooked either – many of them are good raw and crunchy. Naturally, many foods taste better hot (reheated), but I know lots of people who have serious goals (competitors, etc) who will gladly pull a potato out of their cooler and eat it cold.

4.  Cook portable foods and bring meal replacements or healthy snacks for long drives, flights and busy days.

If you’re traveling on business or with a very tight schedule, you’ll need to think ahead and plan for where you’re going to be and what you’re going to eat and when you’re going to eat it. Sometimes, a formal sit down meal is not possible or convenient, but you do have options.

I’ve learned how to make a variety of portable meals, including several different types of “oatmeal protein pancakes,” tuna burgers and healthy sandwiches. Any one of those I can eat in a car, on a plane or even while sitting in a seminar room. Fruit and nuts are available almost everywhere, even in airports and if you pack protein shakes or meal replacements, eating on the go is easy!

Here’s my famous high-protein apple-cinnamon oatmeal pancake that has been my portable travel-meal staple for years: burnthefatinnercircle.com/public/apple-cinnamon-oatmeal-high-protein-pancakes.cfm

Snack and mini-meal ideas:  hard boiled eggs, healthy beef jerkies, foil packs of tuna, salmon or chicken, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, raw vegetables (baby carrots, cauliflower, celery, broccoli, cherry tomatoes), fruit, nuts /seeds,  protein shakes or  meal replacement shakes. Also, if you scrutinize the ingredient lists carefully, you can find decent protein bars made from protein powder and ingredients such as nuts, peanut butter, oats, various fibers or other whole food ingredients.

(Important note: don’t forget to cook before you leave for the airport and pack a meal and snacks in your carry-on bag. You don’t have to eat airline food just because they serve it).

Yes, that is the moon. I hit the gym before sunrise, because I had a busy day at a seminar ahead. Get it done!

Yes, that is the moon. I hit the gym before sunrise, because I had a busy day at a seminar ahead. Get it done

5. If you’ll be eating in restaurants, browse the menus online, and commit in advance to healthy choices when dining out.

Since I usually have a kitchen at my disposal when I travel, most of my meals are just business as usual. I cook them right in my hotel room and bring them along with me wherever I go. However, when traveling, it’s likely that most people will probably be having quite a few restaurant meals.

When I dine while traveling, I make it a habit to scope out the local restaurants in advance and check their websites for the menu. I make a decision in advance whether it will be a regular meal or a more relaxed “free meal.” If it’s a free meal, I enjoy whatever I want, without a twinge of stress or regret (it’s part of the plan), but I always keep portion sizes in mind.

If you walk into a restaurant without having made a decision in advance whether you are committed to staying on your regular meals, you are much more likely to have a “diet accident” and make a poor choice on impulse. This is especially true if you’re influenced by non-healthy-eating companions (don’t under estimate the negative peer pressure factor).

Remember, all it takes is one unplanned cheat meal for things to start going downhill. One meal off the plan can lead to guilt. Then “all or none thinking” sets in and you may tell yourself, “Well, I blew it, so this whole week is shot.” You let loose at the next meal, and then the rest of the week’s meals tumble like dominoes.

6. Scope out local gyms and hotel fitness facilities in advance.

You don’t have to skip a beat in your training when traveling – all it takes is some planning.

Where are you going to train when you arrive at your destination? Naturally, this depends on your personality and favorite training style. I know quite a few people who are willing and able to train anywhere – even in their hotel room – even with no equipment at all. Some people pack resistance bands.

Bodyweight and band training is not my favorite style – I need to, want to and love to pump iron – but band and body weight exercises could be the ticket to help many other people stay fit when traveling (especially if you’re one of those middle-of-nowhere world-traveler types)…

Either way, if you want to stay in shape while traveling, I think everyone should learn how to do at least a handful of challenging body weight resistance exercises including pull ups, inverted rows (you can do them with a suspension trainer or even under a table), push ups, dips, one legged squats, Bulgarian split squats and of course, an assortment of abdominal and core exercises.

Almost all hotels at least have cardio machines in their gyms (if not, stairwells = great cardio). Cardio is also easy to do outdoors, weather permitting.

A little mini-rant: About those hotel “gyms”…  I sometimes want to go back to the concierge, smack him upside the head and say, “You said you had a gym. That’s not a gym, that’s a workout room!” (more like a workout closet!)

What’s most bizarre to me is those workout rooms with one weight training machine… and it’s something like a deltoid lateral raise?  If you only had room for one machine, wouldn’t you get a multi-purpose machine like a cable station or functional trainer that lets you do multiple exercises?

Sometimes you get lucky, like I did during one stay at the Hilton in San Francisco (they had free weights – including plenty of 45 pound plates… Score!)  That was a rare treat, but if you’re counting on the hotel gym, I’d suggest calling and asking what equipment they have, so you know in advance.

My style?  GOLD’S GYM! Why? Because it’s the original body-builder’s gym…

My last trip: I chose my hotel based on: Kitchen, proximity to supermarket, proximity to Gold’s Gym. The gym was a 5 minute drive from the hotel – so close it was even walkable. It took only minutes to scope this out on the internet, and a quick phone call to confirm details.

Of course, I can’t always find a Gold’s, but if not, all I do is look for a gym with a complete free weight area, so my training is always business as usual.

A “proper” meathead gym

7. Learn resistance band and bodyweight resistance training


8. Walk, bike or make physical recreation part of your travel plans.

Brisk walking or hiking, especially up and down hills, certainly might count as “formal cardio”, but I typically put walking in the N.E.A.T. category. However, it never hurts to get some extra activity, and all physical activity burns calories and provides some health benefits.

During one of my trips last year, I spent an entire afternoon hiking in the hills of a beautiful national park. On another trip, I rented a bike and rode for miles along a beach-side bike path. That certainly counts as outdoor cardio. On my recent trip, I spent an entire day walking through museums and then sightseeing (that was more like NEAT, but it can really add up – I walked for hours).

I’ve found that more often than not, when I am on the road, whether for business or pleasure, there are plenty of opportunities to get some physical recreation and see the sights by foot.

9.  Make every travel fitness problem a non-recurring event

Even well laid plans can have a wrench thrown in the works due to unexpected events, ranging from flight delays to seminars or meetings running late. Don’t beat yourself up – it’s not your fault if that happens… once. If it happens twice… then you can look in the mirror at who is to blame for the recurring problem.

Years ago, I learned from Thomas Leonard, who was often credited as founder of the personal-coaching movement, that you should “turn every problem into a non-recurring event.”

Unexpected problems will happen. When they do, you should not only create a contingency plan in case that happens again, but do what Leonard recommended: “Overreact” by taking up to 10 steps to make sure nothing even remotely like that ever happens again. Brilliant! And it works!

My original inspiration for the Burn The Fat travel challenge…

Several years ago, I was talking with my training partner – who is a huge fan of pro bodybuilding – about how the pros not only “stay in shape” with so much international travel, but actually travel from contest to contest on the professional bodybuilding circuits. I didn’t understand how they pulled that off, but they do. That got me thinking….

I used to be one of those guys who dreaded training and eating right while on the road and thought it was too hard to bother…

But if those bodybuilders could peak for international competition while literally hopping from one airplane and hotel to the next, I said to myself, then what’s stopping me from at least maintaining or preferably, improving a little bit? Indeed! That’s what inspired me to stop complaining and start training and eating like a champion, no matter where in the world I found myself.

The Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle “Travel Challenge”

Every time you travel and the thought “How will I stick with my nutrition and training” pops into your head, remember this article and do the travel challenge!

Now you know how to stay in shape while traveling… or even improve yourself while traveling.

Use some of the tips from this article and in the comments below, let us know how it goes, or share some of your own favorite travel fitness tips and how you have successfully stayed on your plan or gotten in better shape when you’ve traveled before.  If you have a tasty portable meal/recipe that’s perfect for travel, share that below as well.

Train hard and Expect Success!
Tom Venuto,
Author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Founder and CEO, Burn the Fat Inner Circle

PS. The Burn the Fat travel challenge is something you can do on your own, all year round. Several times a year, on specific dates, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle sponsors a 12 week body transformation challenge. Thousands of people have entered since we started doing it back in 2009. If you’re a Burn the Fat reader, you are invited to join is for the next challenge. To see the contest calendar visit this page: www.BurnTheFatChallenge.com


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