Exercise has only been part of my life for a few years now, but it has already become my main source of self-care. As I mentioned here, it’s important to maintain routine while abroad to keep that travel spark alive. After testing a lot of workout programs and apps, I’ve discovered my favorite ways to workout while traveling.
My Workout Story
The first time I went to a gym was the summer before college. A friend was preparing to join Navy ROTC, so I decided to workout with her a few times a week. I had no idea what I was doing. I would run one mile as fast as I possibly could and then sit on the sofa all day without stretching. When we went to the gym, I’d perform a few reps on every machine without understanding what muscle groups I was working or if I was performing the exercise correctly. This confusion followed me throughout my entire freshman year, but I didn’t realize I was confused.
During my sophomore year, I ended up with a serious diagnosis of shin splints after deciding to run every day and pushing myself too hard physically. I didn’t know the difference between muscle soreness and the pain of an injury. A mentor educated me about exercise and advised me to start with calisthenics (bodyweight movements). I still felt lost at the gym, but I at least realized there was a lot for me to learn.
During my junior year, I started to experiment with workouts on Instagram and designing my own (which is soo hard) in an effort to take my health seriously. Although I didn’t workout consistently, I learned a lot about health and fitness by following fitness Instagrammers and Youtubers. Two of the most influential trainers for me were Kayla Itsines and Natacha Oceane.
I finally felt knowledgable in the gym my senior year of college. This gave me a lot of confidence to try new things, get stronger, and be consistent at working out. I finally financially invested in my health by subscribing to the Sweat app. For the most part, I religiously followed Kayla Itsines’ BBG 1.0 during my first semester and Chontel Duncan’s Fierce 1.0 during my second semester. I lost a few pounds, built muscle, dropped a pant size, and gained self-confidence! Quite frankly, I became a happier person.
Last summer (the summer after I graduated), I completed Kelsey Wells’ PWR 1.0. I traveled a lot during those fifteen weeks, so I did workouts from Sarah’s Day Sweat It to Shred It eBook. This was the first time I consistently would workout while traveling and realized how much better I felt on my travels when I exercised. Exercise became a key component of my travels.
When I first arrived in Belarus, I struggled to find a gym I liked, so I worked out in my small studio apartment with the programs below. I still workout while traveling around Belarus and other adventures. I’ve experimented with a lot of programs over the last few months to find what works best for me and the variety of scenarios travelers may find themselves in. These are the best programs to help you workout while traveling.
But I Walk A Lot While Abroad…
Travelers walk a lot, and many consider all that walking exercise.
For me personally, walking isn’t enough.
A lot of steps doesn’t mean you increased your heart rate for a long period of time, though. Fitness and health depends on increasing your heart capacity.
Americans aren’t used to walking a lot because we drive everywhere. When I’m in the States, it’s hard for me to get 5,000 steps a day. When I live abroad, I walk at least 10,000 steps daily. While traveling, I almost always hit 15,000 steps.
I prefer to workout in the mornings while on the road because I never know where the day will take me. I know myself, and I never workout in the afternoon (even if I tell myself I will and schedule it). Some days I’ll opt for a short 10-minute workout, relaxing stretch session, or even no exercise at all. This depends on how my body is feeling, and differentiating that feeling from how I’m feeling.
It’s important for you to listen to your body and learn what makes you fit and, most importantly, happy. This balance is different for everyone. However, I strongly encourage you to analyze how walking impacts your heart health and overall fitness. If you rely on step count as your form of exercise while traveling, but still feel sluggish during the day, it may be time to consider a workout routine.
If You Want A Quick and Effective Workout while Traveling: HIIT Guide by Natacha Oceane
As I mentioned earlier, Natacha Oceane was one of the main figures in my workout story. I love her YouTube channel because she makes academically and scientifically-backed videos about fitness trends, workouts, and more. All her guides are designed to make you an athlete (a more true form of fitness) and designed with science.
Her HIIT guide includes 40 HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts ranging from 15-24 minutes. The majority of the workouts don’t require equipment, but the equipment required in a few of the workouts are easily replaceable. For example, you can replace a box with a chair or a bench at a park.
The guide is inside the Aflete app. It works fairly well on slow internet, but access isn’t always a guarantee depending on how rural of an area you’re in. You may not be able to view some of the videos demonstrating the exercises, which could disrupt the workout since Natacha uses a lot of non-traditional exercises. These unique and compound exercises are exactly what make her program so fun and engaging, though! Even when I’m not traveling, I’ll include one of her HIIT workouts when I’m feeling bored with my regular routine.
This guide is not a workout program, though, meaning it’s not designed to get you “body progress.” This means it doesn’t include a balance of strength or mobility training alongside the cardio-based HIIT workouts. Natacha even tells people who buy this guide to only perform a HIIT workout up to three times per week, or put yourself at risk for injury. If you’re traveling for several weeks and seeking optimal results, I recommend you add one strength or mobility workout for every HIIT workout you perform as well as 1-2 stretching sessions per week.
HIIT, but especially Natacha’s HIIT workouts, are highly effective…if you push yourself. I burned over 200 calories in 20 minutes and my muscles were sore for two days after one workout. While Natacha doesn’t claim this is a workout program, I think most people (aka, not fitness freaks) will find increased muscle definition, decreased body fat, and increased endurance if they perform three HIIT workouts per week and maintain a balanced diet.
As of now, HIIT is my go-to workout guide while traveling. I like to pair it with one booty burner workout (usually 5-10 minutes long) in the free guide given to every customer of B_ND resistance bands.
The Aflete app is free to download and the HIIT guide is $39, which includes a PDF describing how to use the workouts.
If You Want to Workout without Technology while Traveling: Sweat It to Shred It by Sarah’s Day
I’ve watched Sarah’s YouTube videos for a couple of years now. Her saying “act confident and no one will question you” has become a life-mantra for me! Sarah, also known as Sezzy, is a high-spirited and honest fitness influencer. Anytime I dread going to the gym, her excitement for life fills me with motivation!
Her eBook ‘Sweat It to Shred It’ is an 8-week workout program, meaning it encompasses bodyweight strength-building exercises and cardio. It starts out gradually for beginners and increases in intensity and number of workouts per week as the plan continues. Most of the workouts take about 40 minutes to complete, which I find is sometimes difficult to squeeze into a traveler’s schedule. However, the program doesn’t require any equipment. It’s also a flexible program, leaving room for and even encouraging you to experiment with local workout classes, take a walk with friends, and more. This makes exercise seem less like a chore.
You can download the guide to your phone or print it out, meaning you can easily access it anywhere in the world without internet. Unfortunately, the timer app designed specifically for her guides is an additional purchase of $1.99. Instead, I use the free app “Tabata Timer.”
A lot of Sarah’s workouts include running, so if that’s not your thing or you can’t access safe running routes, then you may lose a little value in the eBook. When I can, I replace the running with stair sprints since I can almost always find stairs inside my hotel or hostel.
While eBooks are fantastic in terms of usability for travelers, these guides only provide three small photos to demonstrate how each exercise is performed. I’ve been confused on several occasions on how to perform an exercise.
I find it frustrating that Sarah claims this is exactly how she exercises when I know it’s not from following her on Instagram and YouTube. She followed her first program exactly as prescribed before its release for marketing, but she hasn’t followed it exactly since. Sarah boxes with her boyfriend, participates in her gym’s team training events, and other training that’s not in her eBooks. She should obviously do whatever keeps her active and motivated, but it’s frustrating that she advertises her programs as exactly how she trains when it’s obviously not. Sarah also doesn’t post a lot of transformation photos or reviews of her guide, so it’s hard to tell if people have seen real results (mental or physical).
If you’re interested in her guides, I suggest you watch a few videos of her performing sample workouts, such as this one. I purchased the bundle, which includes her first and second eBooks. The second eBook requires dumbbells, which are easily replaceable.
Her eBooks cost $69.99 AUD and, if you buy the bundle, you can get both for $119.99 AUD. Honestly, I feel like this is expensive for the quality of the guides. Sarah doesn’t have training in physical training or exercise science, the eBooks aren’t science-based, and the programs are 8-weeks instead of 12-weeks (like most programs in this price range are and is recommended to see progress).
Don’t get me wrong–I still use these guides while traveling and sometimes to mix up my regular training. But, I don’t know if I still use them because I enjoy them or because I’ve already spent the money.
If You Want A Complete Program and transform Your Body: BBG by Kayla Itsines
As I mentioned, Kayla Itsines played a major role in my fitness story. She–and the Sweat community–made me feel like fitness was possible for me. I love that she focuses on educating her community about nutrition and health, stressing the importance of safety during exercise, and creating a workout routine that is sustainable for your lifestyle. Kayla is also not afraid of saying she’s not qualified to answer some of her community’s questions instead of misinforming them.
So, when I decided to finally invest in my fitness, I purchased Kayla’s first BBG guide. I completed the four beginner BBG weeks and BBG 1.0 inside the Sweat app and her eBook (I own both).
When I turn on the app, I can turn off my brain for the duration of the workout. I love being able to zone out. A siren goes off when you’re done with a set, Kayla performs the exercises with you in real-time, and there’s an in-depth description of every exercise if you need an explanation of how to safely perform the exercise. The app even includes a warm-up and cool-down. It seriously does everything for you. Since it is an app, though, it sometimes struggles to load for me when I’m on slower cell service and not connected to wifi.
Kayla claims the workouts take only 28 minutes, but with breaks and stretching it takes closer to 40 minutes. It is a 12-week program, with three workouts per week as the “28-minute” bodyweight resistance workouts. These workouts include equipment, but you can easily do without or use some of the suggested replacements at the bottom of this post. The last three workouts of the week are supposed to be some form of cardio. You can run, walk, yoga, bike…whatever you want to get your heart rate up and be active.
I religiously followed the plan for 12 weeks and saw fantastic results. I was also training for a half-marathon at this time, so most of my cardio sessions lasted an hour or more. This obviously had a huge impact on my body composition, but BBG really whipped me in shape, too. You can see Kayla’s Instagram page for thousands of other positive reviews and stories of physical and mental progress.
If you’re a traveler looking for a program to consistently maintain on the road, BBG is perfect for you. You can purchase the eBook for $69.97 AUD (discounts available for students, military, and first responders) or subscribe to the Sweat app for one year for $119.94. I prefer the Sweat app for its ease of use. There are seven additional levels of BBG inside the app, however these require more equipment that can technically be substituted, but shouldn’t be for optimal sweat.
If You Like to Run: Nike Training Club App
Ah, running. I hate running, except when I’m good at it…which, of course, requires staying consistent at running while you suck at it. Do you see my conundrum?
Running is a fantastic workout for travelers because you don’t need a lot of time to burn calories and build muscle. Plus, running requires zero equipment. I ran a lot while traveling in London because my hostel was close to a beautiful park.
Some cultures, though, think running is odd. I ran a few times outside in Russia, but I was stared at by strangers the whole time. My host even said running was only for serious athletes, such as Olympians. If you want to run in such countries, I suggest waking up early because you’ll less likely face crowds and judgement.
I recommend the Nike run app for runners because of its flexibility and easy design. It often works for me when I have bad cell connection. The app includes custom running plans and coached running sessions. Coach Bennett always gets me running faster without feeling like I’m working hard.
If you’re new to running, ensure you invest in good running shoes. Nike, Under Armour, and other big companies make terrible running shoes (plus they don’t treat their workers well). My shin splint injury was partially because I was running on bad shoes. Visit a running-specific store near you and ask for a running shoe consultation. They are experts.
Running is a fantastic workout, but it should be paired with some strength and mobility workouts for a more complete training routine and to make you a better runner. Nike also has the Nike training club app and most workouts on this app are made for runners. Yoga and weight-training are the best additions to running, but bodyweight training is also good.
Currently, I’m adding running to my workout routine again. My goal is to run 70 minutes per week, or a 1 to 2 mile run three times a week and a 15-minute sprints interval before my strength workouts. I may even attempt another half marathon….
If You Want to Try New Things: Join Local Gyms and Adventures
I enjoy exploring the local fitness scene in new countries and cities. It’s a great way to stay fit and meet locals!
If you want to explore the local fitness scene, do three things.
First, look at Facebook events. That’s how I learned about the Minsk Half Marathon, which was an incredible experience (it’s the only time in the year the city shuts down the main street to traffic). Yoga in the park seems to be a common event around the world, too.
Second, research gym recommendations and fitness events on the local tourism board’s website. It often lists ways travelers can participate in the local fitness community.
Finally, research local gyms and see which ones offer a free entry for newbies. Or simply ask if it’s not advertised online!
The class pass is becoming more popular in the U.S. and around the world. I haven’t used it, but have heard only good things about the pass. Basically, the class pass partners with gyms and studios to offer class pass holders a wide-range of fitness classes such boxing, yoga, and more. You purchase a certain number of workout classes and then you can use your pass at any one of the class pass partners for one of their group classes.
My favorite part of travel are active and outdoor adventures. Hiking, kayaking, bike tours, trampoline parks…there are so many ways to make your travels active and fun! These are especially useful if you have a jam-packed day or can’t imagine another minute inside on a beautiful day.
Recommended Equipment to Workout While Traveling
Many of the workouts I’ve explained above require no equipment, but if you’re looking for extra intensity or more variety in your workouts, then I recommend bringing 1-2 of these along.
- Short resistance bands. I love B_ND (previously known as Grace Fit UK). They’re vegan, durably made, and priced well for such high quality. I’ve used mine regularly for over a year now and they’re still in fantastic condition. I have the gray medium, green heavy, and the black extra heavy bands. One band is $19, but you can buy a bundle of 2 for $33.93. The B_ND instagram account posts a lot of free workouts only using their bands. Resistance bands are the most versatile addition to any workout and are the first piece of equipment I recommend any traveler or gym newbie.
- Jump rope. Jumping rope is a fun and quick way to burn calories fast. Any jump rope would do. I purchased mine from Wal-Mart several years ago, but I suggest you look for a secondhand jump rope first to fuse sustainability into your workout routine.
- TRX Band. A TRX band may not always be possible, depending on the space you have available to hang them and how much luggage space you have, but TRX bands are an awesome addition to any workout. A TRX band adds so many variations and intensity levels to any basic exercise movement. You can hang them off door hooks, bring a door hook with you, or purchase the strip they sell. I recommend following their @TRXtraining Instagram account for workouts and ideas of exercise variations.
- Ab roller. This takes up more space, but is another excellent piece of equipment to increase core and stability exercises. There’s not as much variety in exercises you can do with an ab roller, though, unlike the TRX band or resistance bands, but it’s still a good addition if you’re looking for something different.
If your workouts require dumbbells, or you’re looking to intensify your exercises some, these are some alternatives perfect for a workout while traveling:
- water bottles
- packets of rice or beans
- canned goods
- bag or suitcase
There are plenty of other alternatives, but those are the things I could think of that most travelers might have readily available and I’ve used.
Are You New to Fitness? Read This.
Fitness is hard, especially when you’re trying to do it on a budget, with limited time and equipment, and while traveling. I get it, because I’ve been there.
First, give yourself grace. You’re going to make mistakes. This doesn’t mean you should give up. You’re going to not feel like it many days, especially while you’re still developing it as a habit. Don’t put yourself down. Forgive yourself, then remember every day, minute, and hour is another opportunity to chase your physical and mental health goals. Constantly remind yourself WHY you’re doing what you’re doing. For me, I want to respect and love myself; the best way to do this is to treat my body and mind right so I can continue making the most of every opportunity in my life and chasing my personal goals.
Second, take it one step at a time. Health and fitness is hard. People spend years studying nutrition or physical training or sports health. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself if you expect yourself to be an expert at it all. Pick one new habit you want to implement in your life, then start small. Here are a few ideas:
- try one new veggie per week
- workout once per week
- buy running shoes this week
Third, find help. As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot to learn in fitness. You’ll feel more confident if you don’t attempt this new journey alone. If you can afford a personal trainer and/or nutritionist, great! I couldn’t when I started, so I sought inspiration and free information from fitness influencers on Instagram. I also found friends to support me through my journey and who often joined me for healthy meals or workouts. Something as simple as a text from a friend asking if I had completed a workout while traveling helps me on days I feel unmotivated.
A fitness tracker may also be helpful. I bought my FitBit off Facebook Marketplace a couple of years ago and wear it 24/7. I tend to overestimate how many calories I burn throughout the day, so my FitBit helps me eat right. Diet is so important for staying fit abroad! I also find it motivating to see how many calories I’ve burned during a workout and how many steps I’ve walked. If you’re new to working out, this could be the piece of tech you need to workout while traveling and stay consistent.
Do you workout while traveling? I’d love to hear your best tips and favorite programs!