How to Stay Fit While Traveling: Secrets Revealed by Michelle Bridges

On my last trip to Europe, I packed on a good (or rather, awful) 10 pounds. Between scrounging for meals as a vegetarian (hello, carb overload), to sippin' pina coladas on the Adriatic Sea, somehow the I won't be back for a while, I should indulge now motto gained up on me -- in fat.
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Let's get a little personal. On my last trip to Europe, I packed on a good (or rather, awful) 10 pounds. Between scrounging for meals as a vegetarian (hello, carb overload), to sippin' pina coladas on the Adriatic Sea, somehow the I won't be back for a while, I should indulge now motto gained up on me -- in fat.

YOLO? Not.

I didn't intend on becoming a travel writer and assumed I'd return to Los Angeles, dive into corporate work, and see my next vacation in three years. This carefree attitude toward my travels was an excuse to drink, eat, and be merry. But that's just it -- it was an excuse.

We're all adults here, and when it comes to health and fitness, it's a lifestyle choice. Too much work, on vacation, it's too cold, it's too hot -- label it however you want, it's an excuse tearing you away from the responsibility of eating and exercising as a sustainable means to prevent disease.

I returned home more unhealthy than ever, and thought to myself: I never want to be like this again. I spent the next couple of months at group fitness classes, in the weight room, on walks with grandma, and hiking outdoors. I signed up for the 12-Week Body Transformation Program and got into better shape than I was before I started traveling!

However, as I've made the commitment to travel full time for spring and summer 2014, there's a fear in me that I'll subdue myself to an unhealthy lifestyle on-the-go. I reached out to Michelle Bridges, Australia's No. 1 health and fitness expert, and asked her for her secrets to staying fit while traveling. She'd been a huge inspiration when I lived in Sydney, and made her debut in the States just shortly before my return. As she tours the States to promote her new book, I knew she must be dealing with jet lag, hotels, and the lack of a kitchen.

Although I've come to realize, that with a background as a professional dancer, and years worth of trainers and coaches -- reality check -- I know what I should be doing to stay fit. Most of us do! But something about that Aussie voice and motivational humor pumps me up. We know these things, but hearing them from a pro just reinforces that extra push to help us go the extra mile (or kilometer in Australia -- whatever!).


Fortunately, Bridges was willing to share personal stories to help me stay focused on my fitness while traveling. A look at what she said:

Staying fit while traveling can be difficult, but traveling doesn't seem to be an excuse for you and your goals; what tips do you use to commit to fitness despite being on the go?

First of all, I make time in my schedule, day to day. I slot in my training session in the morning, before the day begins. Once the day starts pulling me around, it's easy to blow off a training session. I have to take into account whether there's a gym. If I don't have equipment, I throw in a DVD in my hotel room.

The other thing that goes hand in hand with traveling is making sure that you aren't stuck at the breakfast buffet, where you can turn into Homer Simpson. What I'll normally do is order my egg white omelette (spinach, mushroom) to come to my room at, say, 7:30. I'll go and do my training session at 6 a.m. I shower, and by the time I'm ready, my breakfast has turned up. I'm streamlined and staying away from the buffet breakfast.

Being on the road makes it more difficult to cook for yourself, and trying local cuisine is a part of experiencing a culture or city. What's your fix to dealing with calorie-packed foreign foods?

You just gotta be smart! You have to out-maneuver your weaknesses! If you know that you turn yourself into over-eaters anonymous when you get to a Mexican restaurant, then don't go to Mexican! Another great idea: Have a look at the restaurant's menu online, and in an adult fashion, make the decision on the choices you're going to make from the menu before you even get there. I try to avoid drinking alcohol. You know with a couple of drinks under your belt, your resolve can dissolve. I try to avoid anything that's obvious -- fried food, battered -- keep it clean and raw.

While traveling, finding a local gym can be challenging. What are your top five exercises for cardio and body-weight based training? Any other suggestions to working out or staying active while traveling?

First of all, I always take my fitness DVDs with me. I use them all the time because it saves time; I roll out of bed and work out. I've built them so that you don't need much space. You don't have to have a gym to get a work out. Five exercises: squats, push ups, crunches, burpies, and shuttle runs. I'm going to do each for one minute. Run to the park, do each exercise for a minute, have a breather, do it again, breather, repeat. Run yourself home. Done! Or run to the beach, take yourself for a swim, run home. Done!

You don't have to have a gym. That being said, I do try to book a hotel with a gym or to at least book a hotel that's near a great place to go running.

Jet lag is every traveler's worst enemy! How do you deal with fatigue and re-boost, so that you have that energy to work out, do business, and see the town?

I try to sleep on the plane. Once upon a time, I used to watch every movie I could get my hands on, and I'd get off the plane looking like hell.

Now I sleep on that plane as long as I can. I drink plenty of water. I get out into the sunshine when I arrive -- get into the groove. Believe it or not, I actually try to get into a workout when I arrive. I don't go into a gut-busting workout. It might just be an hour's power-walk. Normally, I'd do an hour's run. But it's just about getting off into a start to alleviate the jet-lag.

Why should you stay on track during your vacation or business travels, and not take a "break" from fitness?

Particularly, when you're on a vacation, this is the ultimate time to bump up your fitness and your health! Why? The No. 1 reason that everyone bangs on why you can't exercise, is time. What's the one thing you have bags of when you're on vacation? That's right... time! Funny that! The ultimate obvious opportunity when you can be getting in some great exercise. As always, I'm a big advocate for getting the exercise done and dusted first thing in the morning. Get the monkey off our back. Maybe while the kids are still having a snooze.

With vacations, I choose my meal. If we're going for a slap of a breakfast, so be it, but lunch and dinner are going to be smaller. We're all going out for a big lunch, breakfast, and dinner are going to be smaller. Don't eat like there isn't going to be another meal until the end of the universe. That's how most people eat on holiday! You're eating like it's the last supper every single meal every single day. I choose my meal that I'm going to enjoy, and make the other two light.

When it's business travel, it's a little different. Work it in your favor. Order your meal the night before.

Any personal experiences that illustrate how you've dealt with these situations?

Absolutely! There's been an instance when I used the hotel fire stairs because there was no gym and the pollution outside was hideous, so I ran up and down the fire stairs! My hotel room was actually that small that I couldn't do anything in it, so the fire stairs it was! I've had business meeting where instead of going to lunch, I actually got my colleagues to come for a power walk along the beach. There's ways around it -- you just have to be a lateral thinker.

Any last thoughts or advice?

It's all about forward thinking, forward planning, and making sure that I'm taking care of myself. I've been down the path where I've been pushed around, "book this in and book that in and don't worry about your training, Michelle, we really need this meeting" -- that was for me a very unhappy place. Now, I'm adamant that my training must be booked in. We are going to make that time. It has to happen!

One way to see a city is going for a run. I love getting out and seeing the city I'm traveling in -- it gives me a lay on the land. If I can make it that my hotel is near a scenic running track. I can get my fix of the city that I'm in and relate it back to my running. I make sure that my fitness equipment is packed, I have my GPS on my phone, and make sure that I'm forward thinking to where I book my hotels. Just because I'm traveling doesn't mean that my fitness has to slide, or my nutrition has to slide. I stay motivated to want to keep that on a roll.


Photos courtesy of Michelle Bridges.

An original TRAVELBREAK post, for more tips on traveling and interviews with fellow travelers, check out

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