I am a firm believer in the notion that travel is good for the soul. Unfortunately, it isn’t always good for the body. You’ve got disrupted sleep patterns, you dine out nearly every meal, and you’re seated for long periods during transit. And depending on your destination, it can be very difficult to find a way to exercise when you get there. Case in point: Hanoi, Vietnam — where Whitney and I have been living between trips for the past few months — is a city of inexpensive but delicious food, prevalent motorbike transportation, stifling summer heat and humidity, and $15-a-day gyms. That’s basically the recipe for an inertia cocktail. Circumstances like these require a person to find creative ways to tone up while traveling. So let’s explore a few, shall we?
Shoulders — Certain movements become mindless mechanics to seasoned travelers, and it’s easy to forget that these movements, as part of a dedicated travel-fitness regimen, are gateway exercises to a more chiseled figure. Take stowing your carry-on luggage in the overhead bin, for example. This simple action, which you’ve no doubt performed in countless boarding rituals, is your key to deltoid deliverance. Perform repetitions until fatigue sets in, or until the person exhaling audibly in the aisle behind you moves to punch you in the kidney.
Back – Marathon travels by plane, train, and automobile can provide more than just a pain in the neck. Throw the weight-equivalent of a labradoodle across your shoulders, and your back will surely join in with some barking of its own. If you’re like me, a summer trip to a tropical locale is the perfect occasion to stretch and strengthen your lower back with some forward hip bends. There’s nothing quite like the constant threat of malaria, dengue fever, or encephalitis to motivate you to keep slapping away the mosquitoes that refuse to quit your lower extremities.
Arms — I’ve found that in nearly any major city, the optimal time to work out your arms is during rush hour on the subway. Awkwardly sardined amid a mass of strangers, you’ll find that your tenuous handhold is the only thing keeping your body from succumbing to gravity or the throng’s crush as the train stops and starts. Switching arms every few minutes will help to stave off fatigue, improve your muscle symmetry, and give you an excuse to throw an elbow or two to clear out some space around you.
Legs – Long before there were stairmasters, humans ascended actual stairs. And when they mastered them, they really went places, by Jove! In fact you can still find them around today, rendered moot by youthful escalators and elevators, and lying silently in wait behind emergency exit doors, hoping for a power outage or wastebasket fire to set off the alarms. They now have a certain ‘ghost town’ feel, blanketed in eerie silence and skittering dust bunnies, but I assure you, they still work. When was the last time you heard an Incan fat joke? Exactly.
Abs – Although trotting along on horseback or churning up road on the back of a motorbike a seems like a pretty sedentary activity, merely trying not to spill off the back turns out to be a pretty good abdominal workout. Give yourself extra credit for staying upright with the added resistance of a backpack strapped on. Don’t forget: That next-morning agony you’re bound to wake up to is something to be savored, not lamented! That’s the secret to getting back on the horse.
Cardio – Travel affords no dearth of heart-quickening situations. A panicked sprint through an airport terminal to make a departing connection; a speed-and-weave cab ride through the avenidas of Buenos Aires; finding yourself lost on an unfamiliar mountain trail near sundown; liaising with drab olive military police to discuss a plastic baggy you swear you’ve never seen before. Many experts recommend that you get 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week. But I think it’s best to deprioritize this one until you get back home.