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I don’t know about you, but traveling tends to throw my body off completely. After a long flight or time zone change, I can be tired, headachy, and gastrointestinally challenged for a week. There are only a few things that help — sleeping, staying hydrated, and keeping up with my exercise regimen if I can. (I try not to treat my body like hot garbage while vacationing, but indulging in good food and drinks is something I refuse to give up.)
However, it can be a challenge to exercise because there isn’t always a gym accessible at any given destination. There are luggage size and weight requirements, either because of the airline you use, car trunk space, or just the limitations of your upper body strength. There’s only so much you can do with bodyweight alone if you can’t or don’t want to bring all of your exercise equipment with you.
According to a survey by Expedia, 53% of Americans (including myself) find it “very or somewhat important” to exercise while traveling. That may look different for everyone but can require supplies. While I like to walk as much as I can, walking alone doesn’t always cut it for me.
“I really do love that concept of 10,000 steps a day, and I really do think that is worth something,” said Holly Perkins, a certified strength and conditioning expert and author of Lift to Get Lean. “Now, here’s the thing. It’s really kind of a low intensity activity. You’re not really getting your heart rate up, you’re not really taxing your musculoskeletal system. So I don’t consider it a workout, but I do think that it has a value in terms of your general health. And anytime that I do that I find I just feel better when I come back from time away.”
If you’re lucky enough to be on a beach, walking or jogging in the sand will get you more bang for your buck from a fitness perspective, though Perkins isn’t the biggest fan of running barefoot. She recommends more of an interval walk/jog in those scenarios.
“Let’s say you walk for two minutes, jog for 30 seconds or one minute on the beach,” she said. “That would be suitable.”
How to work out while traveling
Perkins has her travel exercise routine down to a T, and she knows what to do when space is limited.
All you need to do is choose five exercises (like squats, lunges, crunches, mountain climbers, burpees, planks, or something else), do two sets of 10 for each, and then any kind of cardio workout for five minutes. Repeat that two more times, so three rounds total.
“People generally tend to choose their favorite exercises, or the ones that they know the best, but pick any random five exercises,” she said. “And then any kind of cardio application, like the jump rope. It could even be jumping jacks. It could be walking. It could be jogging in a small space.”
She finds that people are more likely to do a workout if it involves exercises that they already know or like, so it won’t feel as intimidating. For the cardio component, while you don’t need any equipment, a jump rope is one of her favorite tools to travel with.
Anything that gets you up and moving on vacation is better than nothing at all, according to Perkins, but this sort of simple routine can challenge your body enough to get your heart rate up and enjoy some real benefits.
There are also plenty of other pieces of exercise equipment that can assist you in bodyweight workouts and are small and light enough to travel with. If you’re looking for that extra bit of help or motivation to stay active while you’re traveling, all of this portable gear is easily packable.
Perkins loves to travel with a jump rope. With just a jump rope, you can get a very effective aerobic cardio workout without needing much space. This one has adjustable length to suit your height, a ball-bearing system to avoid twisting or bending, and ergonomic handles coated with memory foam grips for extra comfort.
Promising review: “I would definitely suggest this to people because of its lightweight construction. It is quite durable as well. Glad I made the purchase!” —Christopher Dunn
What else to consider: Some serious jump ropers prefer actual rope material as opposed to this, which is more of a wired cable, but you can’t beat the price and most reviewers were perfectly satisfied.
Best for: getting in great cardio on the go.
You can buy this jump rope on Amazon for around $9.
Another one of Perkins’ favorites is handled resistance bands. However, she strongly suggests having a door attachment to go with them. “It literally introduces probably 30 more exercises that you can do with a handle resistance band,” she said. It allows you to anchor your band of choice to a door to create more stability and resistance and is just as easy to pack. This set comes with five different resistance options, two soft-cushioned handles to attach, two ankle straps, a door anchor, a carrying bag, and an exercise guide to show you many of the workouts you can do with these bands.
Promising review: “I legit use this daily! The locking in the door thing actually worked! Super impressed.” —YouTube Ryan Matta
What else to consider: Perkins loves handled resistance bands due to their versatility and packability. You can easily take this whole set or just pick your band of choice and desired accessories, if you have access to a door — and who doesn’t, unless maybe you are camping — it opens up even more possibilities.
Best for: a little extra oomph for bodyweight strength training on vacation.
You can buy this Handled Resistance Band Set from Amazon for around $23.
As much as Perkins loves handled bands, she also recommended lower body resistance bands as another useful, portable piece of exercise equipment. They’re great for adding some extra tension for even the most basic glute, hip, or leg workouts. This set doesn’t weigh a lot or take up much space at all, and each band offers a different resistance level.
Promising review: “These are versatile and sturdy resistance bands. Great to add to any kind of workout.” —Arch B.
What else to consider: I personally prefer these wider cloth options to the thin plastic or rubber variety you used to see everywhere. They’re more comfortable to use and won’t roll up or tug at your skin.
Best for: taking lower body workouts up a notch.
You can buy these Te-Rich Lower Body Resistance Bands from Amazon for around $11.
Nobody wants to put their back or hands down directly on a prickly wood or hard cement surface. However, traditional yoga mats aren’t the most packable item. They tend to be bulky and some are also pretty dense, so this thinner folding yoga mat is a helpful alternative. It is only 6 millimeters thick and easily folds into a tidy 10-by-12-inch rectangle. The sticky texture can also help stabilize your footing so you’re not slipping during your yoga flow or push-ups.
Promising review: “Used this for a two week trip where I wanted to make sure I had a mat available. Fit in a carry on suitcase just fine (maybe the size of two pairs of jeans?) It's not as thick as my day-to-day mat but does the job.” —em
What else to consider: Since this is foldable, it likely won't offer the same level of cushioning that roll-up yoga mats will, but it’s much easier to transport and better than nothing for floor workouts, in my opinion.
Best for: a more stable and comfortable surface for floor workouts away from home.
You can buy the Gaiam Folding Travel Fitness & Exercise Mat from Amazon for around $25.
If you’ve ever done a TRX class or used a TRX system at the gym, you know that it’s a pretty low-impact workout tool that you will be feeling hard in your muscles the next day. Though it may seem like a complicated setup, this TRX GO bundle actually makes it easy to take with you and use almost anywhere. It comes with the classic handled rope for suspension training as well as indoor and outdoor anchors and a mesh carrying bag. The whole thing weighs less than a pound and opens up a ton of exercise options wherever you go.
Promising review: “I travel a lot, so I really like the versatility of being able to take it with me. Can literally set it up anywhere (indoors or outside).” —Alice
What else to consider: If you don’t know how to use a TRX system but want to try this for travel workouts, you can download the app for access to over 500 on-demand workout videos. New workouts are added weekly and there are even live classes from trainers.
Best for: a full-body workout kit that’s easy to travel with and won’t be too hard on your joints.
You can buy the TRX GO Suspension Trainer from Amazon for around $129.
These guys may not be as versatile as some other options on this list, but if push-ups are a huge part of your everyday workout regime, they can help elevate your exercise experience. Plus they are small enough to throw into a backpack or duffel. Not only do these rotating handles help reduce joint strain during pushups, but they also help activate more muscles to increase strength and definition. The full rotation aids in natural alignment of the arms and wrists, and the comfortable rubber grips will keep you stable.
Promising review: “Very nice, smooth rotation, feels sturdy, doesn’t slip when using. Solid product.” —Teddy Phillips
What else to consider: Again, if you’re looking for a portable product that you can use in a variety of workouts, this isn’t the way to go. But if you can’t go a day without completing a set of push-ups and want them to be as effective as possible, you’ll appreciate these.
Best for: maximizing your effort and comfort during push-ups no matter where you are.
You can buy Rotating Pushup Handles from Amazon for around $22.
Ab workouts are generally one area of exercise that you can do pretty much anywhere. A comfortable surface (that a foldable yoga mat may offer) can help, but they’re often easy to do on the floor without any tools. For me, core exercises are essential, but can also get a bit boring and quickly feel like less of a challenge. That’s where some core sliders come in handy. They can help engage your core in all kinds of full-body workouts, and also enable you to do a variety of exercises that target your abs. The different materials on either side make them suitable on nearly any surface, and they’re lightweight and compact for easy packing.
Promising review: “They work perfectly well. I have used them for a year and they barely seemed to be used. Good quality and highly functional.” —Ariel Sánchez
What else to consider: As simple as these look, they can definitely take some getting used to and may not be for everyone. Those who enjoy more of a challenge when it comes to balance and stability will probably enjoy them most.
Best for: enhancing your ab workouts without anything bulky, expensive, or extreme.
You can buy Synergee Core Sliders from Amazon for around $10.
Fitness trackers are popular these days, but if you don’t want to invest in one that you wear all the time, you can get something more affordable that you only wear during workouts. Fitbits and Apple Watches may work for some, but if that’s not your vibe, this chest strap is designed to monitor your heart rate while exercising, meaning that no noise, movement, or sweat will interfere. The LED light automatically turns on when the device is connected and worn properly, so you don’t have to wonder whether it’s tracking accurately throughout your exercise.
Promising review: “Works perfectly. Easy to connect bluetooth. Will connect to machines and your phone. Great value for your money. Very comfortable material & fit.” —Marcella L.
What else to consider: This device is sweat-resistant, but it’s not suitable for full water submersion, so it’s not the right option if you swim for exercise. Its main purpose is to track your heart rate to help you maximize your workouts, which is just to say it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that other multifunctional wearable fitness trackers have.
Best for: people who aren’t into full-time fitness trackers but still want to make the most out of their workouts with a less expensive option.
You can buy the Magene H303 Heart Rate Monitor from Amazon for around $23.
I had to include a pair of trendy and functional sneakers on here after a deep dive for my own personal use. I recently went to Italy with only a carry-on bag and wanted comfortable, supportive sneakers that I could walk 10,000+ steps per day in but that were stylish enough with my planned outfits. Hokas have been trending for a while now, and these were the ones I chose that would keep my body moving but also complement my looks. They’re a neutral color, so they go with everything. They’re lightweight with breathable mesh so they don’t weigh you down or cause your feet to overheat, and the durable foam cushioning protects your joints no matter how many steps you take.
Promising review: “These shoes are amazing! It is my first pair of HOKA’s and I am absolutely in love! They are super comfortable for those long shifts at work. Already thinking about my next pair!” —Alex via Hoka
What else to consider: Hokas are definitely not the most affordable sneakers, but they’re built to last and should be worth the price if you’re wearing them regularly.
Best for: stylish yet supported walking as a city tourist or road running on any trip.
You can buy Hoka Clifton L Sneakers from Net-A-Porter for around $150.