Road Warriors

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The idea of traveling—whether to visit family, vacation with the one you love or seal a business deal—is enough to make the average fitness-conscious woman sweat. We often ask ourselves, how will I resist the temptation to go hard on my favorite raspberry Caipirinha cocktail at the client happy hour? Where will I find the motivation to get my workout in after devouring my uncle’s insane baby back ribs and playing spades with my cousins until 3am? What will stop me from losing complete control after tasting that first bite of my grandma’s Arroz con pollo at the family reunion?

Failing to plan ahead often means self-sabotage is at the top of the agenda but many women tell us there are other culprits that derail their ‘fit & fabulous’ game when they leave the comfort of home: “It’s too difficult to fit my workout in.” “A gym isn’t available at my hotel.” “My family isn’t into working out so it’s next to impossible to stay in track when I visit.” “I’m not in a good head space when I’m away from home so I just go with the flow and I’ll get back on track…tomorrow.”  Sound familiar? We’ve all played the blame game and made excuses for not taking care of business on the road, but there are valuable lessons to be learned about staying motivated and prioritizing while you’re away. These lessons include planning, not beating ourselves up.

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“Women are creatures of habit,” says Jacquelyn Jackson, CSCS, CPT, fitness expert and owner of Chicago-based lifestyle fitness company, Triple Fit. “We have a hard time adjusting our workouts and food choices when we travel. Somehow leaving home, even for a weekend, gives us carte blanche to order anything on the menu, consume high calorie drinks and run ourselves ragged without mapping out a plan to put ourselves and our long-term fitness goals first.” Jackson admits that some of her clients come back from a week of traveling barely able to look her in the eye. Others have a false sense of pride for having making seemingly healthy food choices. “At the start of a workout, one client told me how proud she was that she ate salad every day while away at a conference. When we discussed what the salads consisted of, she was shocked to discover that these large restaurant chain salads are sometimes more than 1,500 calories each,” Jackson said. 
We all make mistakes and some of us make assumptions that we’re doing the right thing. That’s okay, but prioritizing our nutrition and fitness routines and staying focused are not as difficult as some may think. It’s about removing psychological barriers and the ‘I’ll indulge like crazy today and work out hard tomorrow’ mentality. Being honest with ourselves and having some level of accountability are key.
— Jacquelyn Jackson, CSCS, CPT, fitness expert and owner of Triple Fit

Culprit: Convincing Yourself That You Have More Important Priorities Than Working Out

Carol Johnson Green, a talent producer who works with high-profile celebrities and journalists, knows the challenge that travel poses to her fitness game. Yet Green, a svelte 40-something wife and mother of 18 year old, Samantha and 14 year old Spencer, almost never misses a work out when business travel takes her far from her Fairfield, Connecticut home.

“For me, working out has never been about looking good. It’s about the feeling I get after an hour of cardio followed by a sculpting class or a session with my trainer,” Green says. “When I first started to travel a lot, it was tough to include fitness into my schedule. I would sometimes travel for television shoots where I had to arrive on set or scout locations at 3:30 am. My colleagues know that my workouts are absolutely non-negotiable, they are just as important as brushing my teeth or breathing, so when I have a hectic schedule, I workout at 9 pm the night before, get up ridiculously early for the assignment, then try to get another easy workout in before I go to bed that evening.” Planning her workouts allowed Green to remove her most difficult stumbling block—finding time. To make sure nothing throws off her fitness routine when she travels, Green calls ahead to confirm that the hotel property has a gym and even requests a room on the same floor to make it as convenient as possible. If the hotel doesn’t have a gym, it has to have a relationship with a gym in the neighborhood where hotel guests can workout. “Wherever I go, even if it’s to see my in-laws or my mother, there has to be a gym close by because fitness is truly my passion and I always, always fit it into my schedule and my life,” Green says.

Culprit: Planning & Accountability to Ourselves & Others

Just as Green prioritizes and schedules her workout around her healthy lifestyle, no matter what city she wakes up in, so too has eighteen-time marathon runner and tri-athlete Nellie Gayle, a 41 year old Chicago natives who commutes to Iowa City, Iowa four days a week for her job as an IT executive.

Gayle says that early on she struggled to find her fitness groove when she first took the Iowa-based assignment. She was accustomed to setting her alarm for 4:45 am and running on a Chicago lakefront path with her running of eight years. Now, living in a hotel in Iowa for a good part of the week means Gayle can no longer be on autopilot with her marathon training runs. She holds herself accountable by mapping out her running routes on a path near her hotel and has figured out how to best bring the discipline she has at home with her on the road. She borrowed a secret weapon used by military personnel and generals: strategic planning. Now she doesn’t just plan her work out, she coordinates it with precision.

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Gayle rises at 5:30 am for an outdoor run or a workout in the hotel gym before heading to her client’s office. She also added another ironclad weapon against the doldrums of working out on the road: Gayle has on occasion recruited a workout buddy, which is one way of holding ourselves accountable. Many women who participate in fitness or running groups know that planning ahead to to meet up with a friend or a group decreases the likelihood that we’ll blow off our workouts.

Gayle made friends with hotel staff and has run with a hotel concierge, a fellow runner, who accompanies her on long marathon training runs of twelve miles or more. She is equally disciplined when on vacation. ”I have a vacation coming up with several girlfriends and they already know that we’ll be doing some kind of workout each day. Whether it’s hot yoga or power walking, we always have a fun workout before we shower, get fabulous and discover what the day will bring.”

Culprit: Family Fun & Food Fests

If not being able to incorporate your regular workouts into a hectic travel schedule, not being able to commit to finding a gym or running path, or not having the comforts of home in your hotel room put a damper on your healthy practice, the most challenging of all are family trips where the whole point is to relax and indulge. Face it; the food fests that usually accompany family get togethers for women of color are usually not centered around healthy kale salads with grilled salmon. Our families typically engage in many things nutritionists say we should not eat or do? Hello fried foods and couch potatoes!

For Carmen Bowman, 35, a technology consulting firm executive who lives in Los Angeles, knows all too well how her close family ties put a glitch in her routine. Bowman hits the road often, driving two hours, depending on traffic, for family gatherings in San Diego that include arguably some of the best barbecue and soul food on the West Coast.

“My uncle Ronnie can throw down on the grill,” Bowman says. “Eating, drinking and having a good time have become a family ritual, but my family knows that I am about this business when it comes to my morning runs.” This hasn’t always been the case for Bowman. There have been times when the temptation to eat high calorie foods and hang with her cousins until the wee hours of the morning won out over her fitness priorities. Today she makes the choice to push away from the table and has even introduced her family to healthy dishes like autumn salad, flavorful green beans and baked instead of fried chicken. She also encourages her loved ones to drink more water and less sweet drinks like soda and fruit juice. Now when she visits San Diego, Bowman, a running group leader and marathoner, eats a little healthier and faithfully makes her way to Rohr Park early Saturday mornings when she’s in town. She runs solo for the first three miles, then meets up with her aunt, who has gotten the fitness bug from Bowman, to run/walk together. “My aunt and cousins have really gotten on board and I am happy to be a source of motivation for them,” Bowman says. “The older I get the more I realize that if you’re going to enjoy great meals in moderation, you have to stay true to a healthy lifestyle.”

Culprit: Break Bad Habits/Make Your Hotel Room Feel a Little Like Home

Another damper is not feeling at home, period. But record executive Wanda Coriano has cracked the code. Whether it’s Atlanta, LA or Ireland, whatever time zone she’s in, the 44 yr old (are we including her age?) brings candles, oils and incense to her hotel room, recreating the familiar feel and the calming scents of her NYC home.

“Bringing some of my favorite things makes traveling so much nicer. If you’re used to certain familiar smells, it just puts you in the right space,” Coriano says. “Aromatherapy is a big part of how I like to live.” She even buys tulips or daisies at neighborhood markets close to her hotel just to brighten her room and give her a sense of calm. 

Coriano also figures out creative ways to work out when a gym is not available. She recently honeymooned in Hawaii with her long-time love turned husband, Hector Colon. Staying in a breathtaking condo instead of a hotel meant they had no access to a gym. Instead, they took Pilates classes high atop a mountain overlooking the beautiful island of Kauai.

 “I travel with an open mind and tell myself that I have to make it a good day for myself and others,” Coriano says. Often her daily schedule is demanding while on the road. She never lets that stop her from spending at least 30 minutes on the treadmill in the hotel gym or at a nearby Pilates studio for a class because working out keeps her in a good place. When she can’t carry her favorite healthy snacks, she mails them ahead to her hotel. 

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Bottom Line:

With planning and positivity, we can get rid of the culprits that prevent us from adopting a healthy lifestyle when we travel, even if we’ve struggled in the past. We can also avoid eating the wrong foods or blowing off our workouts, a sure fire way to send our healthy lifestyles into a downward spiral. Think carefully about your food choices, plan your workouts ahead of time and bring a little something from home as a reminder that the love you show yourself in familiar surroundings should be carried with you wherever you go. 

“All women should develop a plan for their own success, especially when they travel and can’t stick to the routines they’ve developed at home,” says fitness expert, Jacquelyn Jackson. “Don’t beat yourself up for past behavior. Instead, plan ahead and even create some type of mantra for the occasions when you know you’ve going to slip up: ‘I’m going to enjoy this cheesecake or this cocktail, but I will spend 20 minutes doing a light workout in my hotel room and I’ll get right back on my routine when I get home.’ We have to hold ourselves accountable and to a great degree, it has to come from within.”  

Are You Ready to Hit the Road? These tips will help keep you on track:

  • No gym available? Grab a hotel towel, lay it on the floor and do a quick set of 20 tricep dips, squats, lunges, abdominal crunches and push-ups. 
  • If the hotel does not have a gym onsite, it usually has a relationship with a nearby gym. Call ahead to confirm the hours and make special arrangements.
  • Research yoga or spin classes native to that city or a legendary fitness instructor that you’ve read about and are dying to check out. Planning ahead will keep you on track and deepen your appreciation for putting fitness first.
  • Plan fun group workout sessions for your girlfriend getaway like hot yoga classes or a 30-minute sunrise walk on the beach. Or connect with friends in the area to find a local workout buddy.
  • Mail yourself a care package of healthy snacks if retailers in the city where you are traveling do not carry them.
  • When staying with family members who are couch potatoes, junk and fried food addicts, don’t judge. Bring ingredients of a healthy dish and cook a delicious and nutritious meal. Sharing new healthy practices —from fitness to nutritious food—will rub off on the ones you love! 
  • Exercise moderation, embrace compromise...If you decide you don’t want to maintain an intense workout schedule while traveling, make smart nutrition choices like eating a hamburger without the bun or sipping a white wine spritzer instead of a full glass of wine or switch to a skinny cocktails which often has half the calories of a regular cocktail.

 Written by Leslie Gordon

This article originally appeared in Heart & Soul Magazine