How can you stay in shape on the road when you won’t have regular access to a gym, bicycle, pool, even a jogging trail?

ONCE, AFTER RETURNING on a transpacific flight from a Christmas vacation, I planned to stay in Tokyo for two days.

I arrived on December 30th and stayed out all night for New Year’s, checked out of the hotel after stumbling back in the morning, and then continued to be awake all day until an express 8-hour midnight train to Kyoto to look at some temples.

Unfortunately, I was so exhausted after that train ride that I slept for the duration of my stay in a youth hostel near the train station, slurping ramen and watching DVDs in my few waking hours.

The moral of the story? Don’t travel too hard.

This is advisable for any number of reasons, including the danger of getting drained and unable to function at an optimum physical level.

By forcing myself through all-nights and an unreasonable travel schedule, I not only ensured I would be unable to complete my itinerary, I also drained myself of the ability to do anything spontaneous along the way.

But how to stay in shape on the road when you won’t have regular access to a gym, bicycle, pool, even a jogging trail? Here are 5 tips for keeping fit on the road.

1. Run

Although there may not be a trail, there’s always some place to run if you know where to look. Large lakes are your best bet for a paved, level path, but feel free to speed through the countryside at 5 mpm (minutes per mile, you rookies) and startle those just leaving the house.

A useful website (better than Google maps, I think) can help you chart as-the-crow-flies distances across the globe: Gmaps Pedometer.

Incidentally, if you don’t have room to pack a pair of running shoes and live near open fields, barefoot running is better for your bones and form. Just watch out for sharp objects.

2. Play Ultimate Frisbee

For some reason, ultimate clubs seem to be a global standard for expats. Naturally, there are other choices available to you, but none quite as widespread (probably because it’s a simple team sport requiring the least massive equipment).

Reach out to your local expat community to inquire about meeting times.

3. Find Fitness Centers

Photo by Vanz

Gyms can be expensive no matter where you are, and chances are you don’t want to be tied to a six-or twelve-month membership.

See if your area has a YMCA. If you’re in a small town, try to negotiate a decent per diem rate; better yet, make friends with the owner.

Otherwise, it’s a better idea to save your money and effort: instead of bench presses, have someone sit on your back while you do pushups; bring a small hand weight with you for arm workouts; take advantage of your environment by rock climbing, kayaking, or doing martial arts…you get the idea.

4. Sample Local Flavor

Cubicle life might be stable and comfortable, but now that you’ve chosen to travel, to break the mold, so should it be with how you decide to keep fit every day. Open your body to new possibilities.

Tai Chi in the parks of Peking. Caber tossing in Scotland. Climbing the steps of Aztec temples and Egyptian pyramids (if you care to bribe the authorities).

No one is saying you can’t return to a regular 90 minutes on the weight, 30 minutes of aquajogging, and 17.5 minutes of stretching – just seize what is available to you on the road.

5. Stay Away From McDonalds

Just before I arrived in Japan, I weighed 200 lbs (in a good way… and yeah, a little fat too) and went to the gym regularly. Within a few months, I dropped down to 180 lbs and developed more lean muscle.

Why? The Japanese diet is one of the healthiest in the world. If you’re passing through Narita Airport at some point during your Asian travels, take a moment to just look around. Notice anything unusual?

There are hardly any obese people in Japan. This is in sharp contrast in many American airports. I believe the healthy Japanese diet is due to two differences in cuisine: smaller portion size and less butter and grease.

With fewer familiar western-style dishes in Japan, I experimented with a variety of healthier foods and came to love the local cuisine.

Bottom line

Keep track of your pace while on the road. For anyone who lives an active lifestyle, traveling for long periods of time isn’t always ideal.

Once you’ve had a taste of what it means to be in shape and reach your physical peak – strength, high metabolism, stamina, speed, agility – you start to wonder how you could have lived any other way.

What are your ideas for staying in shape while traveling? Share your thoughts in the comments!