Managing your diabetes, making healthy food choices, and finding time to exercise can be challenging when you travel.
I used to travel A LOT for work. I would be away from home 3-4 days every week, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, and working long hours. These days I have a few work-related travels, but still travel for vacations.
In the beginning, I struggled a lot with managing my health and diabetes when traveling. However, I eventually developed a very structured approach to staying healthy and taking care of my diabetes when traveling.
How to prepare for the trip
Make a plan – Decide in advance how many workouts you want to do and create a program for each workout. You are much more likely to get your workout done if you have a plan.
If you are going on vacation, that plan might be to not work out and take a week off. That’s ok! If it’s a work trip and you know there won’t be time for or access to a gym, you can plan a few quick but intense workouts in your hotel room. You can find great hotel room workouts in my workout video library.
Bring a lot of your own food – If staying with family or friends, you can stock up on healthy foods when you get there, but if you are staying in a hotel, you need to plan ahead.
If you can, get a hotel room with a kitchen or a small fridge. Most hotels will put a fridge in your room if you ask (some may charge a small fee). If you can’t get a fridge, bring a good roomy cooler and put a fresh bag of ice cubes in it every morning to keep your food cool. I use a FITMARK travel bag and it works perfectly. It’s easy to carry, holds a ton of food, keeps cool, fits in the overhead compartment, and looks really cute 😀
Find a gym – Do your research in advance. Look up if the hotel gym has the equipment you need or find a local gym nearby (most will sell you day passes for $5-$30).
If you’re traveling nationally, you have the option of packing all of your food and bringing it along. I have managed to do that for week-long business trips, so it’s definitely doable. I simply cook all my meals in advance, pack them in my FITMARK bag, and just reheat the food when needed (or eat it cold). If you decide to do this, I suggest you create a menu of food that doesn’t take up too much space (no big salads) and is tasty cold or at room temperature.
You can also choose to only bring the food that needs to be prepared in advance (like cooked chicken breast) and buy fresh produce when you get to your destination. I did that on my last trip to the US East coast. However, that does require that you bring along a few extra items:
- Small food scale (I found one on Amazon for $15)
- Pocket knife
- Plastic utensils and plates
- Small Ziploc bags (e.g. for portion sized veggies)
- Spices (salt, pepper, cinnamon)
If you’re traveling abroad, most countries won’t allow you to bring any fresh produce or meat through customs, so that can be a little tricky. However, you can have almost anything in your checked luggage and I haven’t yet been to a country that didn’t sell chicken.
I usually travel with at least a few basics: Oats, canned tuna, cooked chicken or turkey breast, Quest protein bars, etc. I bring enough that I have a healthy option for every meal.
Even if you just bring a few healthy snacks, it will save you a lot of headaches (and unnecessary calories) when you find yourself stuck in some meeting where they only serve sodas, cake, and candy.
If you don’t want to bring your food, most hotels and restaurants do have reasonably healthy options. They might not be ideal, but we have to work with what is available. I suggest ordering a lean protein (chicken or fish), veggies, and a good carb (sweet potato, brown rice, etc.). Just decline the butter, heavy dressings, and white bread.
Let’s say that you did your research and the hotel claims to have a great gym. Hurrah! So after you check in at the hotel, you go to the hotel gym, all fired up and ready to go, and what do you see? Five small dumbbells and an exercise bike. There are no other gyms nearby (you already checked), so this is what you have to work with. Not ideal, but you can make it work if you are well prepared.
What I do is have three variations of my workouts ready. One that is mainly bodyweight exercises, one that assumes the availability of basic dumbbells, and one that uses all the equipment a regular gym has to offer. That way I am always prepared and can have a good workout, regardless of what the hotel gym looks like.
I always try to stick to my workout schedule, even when on the road. I find that I’m way more productive and in a better mood when I work out.
If you need inspiration for your workout program, you can take a look at my post about How to Design a Resistance Training Program.
Traveling with diabetes
Traveling with diabetes brings a few extra challenges. My insulin sensitivity always changes when traveling and jet lag can play tricks on my blood sugar.
To learn more about managing your diabetes when traveling, you can read my post about Travel and Diabetes Management.
Getting enough sleep
Finally, PLEASE remember to listen to your body and get the sleep you need. I freely admit that this is not something I am good at. I have skipped sleep before in order to get to the gym, and it has backfired completely.
If you get to you hotel at 10 pm, don’t go to the gym. Go to bed instead, get up the next morning, and get your workout in. Get your 7-8 hours of sleep (or however much you know you need). It’s as important as working out and eating right.
I really need my sleep and, if at all possible, I try to plan my flights so that I don’t get in too late in the evening (and I avoid red-eye flights at all costs). I know that if I am too tired, my sugars will be all over the place, my willpower disappears, and I am much less likely to make healthy choices.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
If you don’t travel all the time, there is nothing wrong with relaxing a little and just enjoying a break from your workout and diet. Traveling is supposed to be fun, after all! If you miss a few workouts or have a few ice creams, it’s not the end of the world.
I like to keep a strict program when I travel for work because I used to do it so often, but when I am on vacation, I don’t get up in the morning to work out or eat cold chicken out of a ziplock bag.
Suggested next post: Travel and diabetes management