Long days around a conference table or staffing a convention booth; evening cocktail receptions followed by boozy dinners; trying to sleep in an unfamiliar bed; then getting up the next day and doing it all over again.
Let’s face it—business travel can be hard on your health.
Here are some tips on how to get some exercise, make better food choices, and incorporate sleep hacks to minimize the damage.
At home, your daily workout may be as routine as brushing your teeth, but it can all fly out the window when you’re traveling. It doesn’t have to. Maggie McLain McDonnell, a research associate and wellness professional, notes that thinking about your exercise before you leave is a big part of actually doing it on the trip.
Packing is the first step. Make sure to take comfortable workout clothing. “Comfortable running shoes are the most important. If I’m really pressed for time, a short run or walk may be all I can fit in,” says McDonnell. “Pack for the weather and include a light rain jacket so the weather doesn’t derail you.”
McDonnell uses a fitness counter to keep her motivated on the road. “I aim for 10,000 steps a day, which is roughly equivalent to four to five miles,” she says. “This motivates me to take even short walks or climb stairs.”
Tossing a couple of resistance bands into your suitcase can also help you stay fit—and they don’t take up valuable space in your luggage.
Hotels with gyms can be a lifesaver for the business traveler. And the concierge or hotel front desk should be able to provide you with maps for planning a running route. For in-room workouts, McDonnell also recommends using a favorite app or YouTube video series. She likes the workouts at barre3.com.
Exercise impacts your life in more ways than just the physical. “Exercise is crucial for me to keep up my energy level, beat stress, and lift my mood. If I’m not active, I can quickly become crabby and feel more fatigued as well,” says McDonnell.
Healthy eating on a business trip may seem like a big hassle. We can always get back to our regular diet when we get back home, right? But wouldn’t it be nice to come home and not dread hopping on the scale? Skipping the bacon mac and cheese at lunch can also help us stay alert in afternoon meetings.
Start by packing some healthy snacks. If you’re traveling by car, consider bringing a cooler full of fresh fruits and vegetables. A bag of apples, some baby carrots, and a few bananas will all hold up for a week or longer. Pack protein bars and nuts for your briefcase or purse so that when the urge hits, you have something healthy to fall back on.
Take advantage of the hotel’s free breakfast. Whole-grain cereals, fruit, yogurt, and peanut butter will give you a good start to your day.
Ultimately the key to eating right while traveling is the same as it is when eating in restaurants at home: make better choices. Avoid menu items with descriptions containing words such as “fried,” “creamy,” and “rich.” Choose salads and other vegetable dishes often. Choose fish over red meats and protein over carbs.
If you know in advance what restaurant you’re going to, take a moment to look up its menu online. That way you can decide what you’ll be eating before you hit the restaurant starving (when it’s harder to make healthy choices).
A note about alcohol: In some industries, the culture still calls for booze-soaked dinners that last long into the night. If you can’t avoid alcohol entirely, pace yourself. Nurse your beer or glass of wine as long as possible. Avoid sweet cocktails that go down easy and get you hammered fast. Check the alcohol content on craft beers—some can have twice as much alcohol as conventional beers (look for ABVs of 5 percent or below). Go retro and order a wine spritzer! And, above all, drink a full glass of water (or more) in between each alcoholic drink you consume.
Getting a good night’s sleep can make a lot of difference in everything from your ability to excel on the job to your ambition to exercise.
If you’re a poor sleeper, consider doing some research before you even make your reservations: ask for a quiet room far from the banquet floors, the swimming pool, the elevators, and any construction that might be going on.
Download a white noise–generating app to your phone, or find a white noise website to play on your laptop at night.
For the ultimate in hominess, tuck one of your pillowcases into your suitcase and use it on one of the hotel's pillows Then just make sure housekeeping doesn't take it, or that you don't forget it when you leave! The familiar scent of home and feel of the pillowcase will help lull you into dreamland.
Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter. Research assistance for this article provided by Bridghid O’Loughlin.