Jet lag, too much good food, nowhere to exercise – there are lots of barriers to staying healthy when you travel, and it’s all too common to arrive home tired, achy, and ready to pull out your “fat jeans.” So how do you avoid health setbacks when you travel?

Every time I speak at a travel conference I’m asked for tips on staying fit and eating right while traveling, so I’ve spent some time thinking about all my favorite tricks. Here they are; feel free to steal!

1. Sleep on the flight, no matter what it takes. No excuses. No “I can’t sleep on planes,” no “the inflight movie was one I’ve wanted to see forever.” Need a pillow? Buy an inflatable neck pillow and let it live in your carry on. Get cold? Stick a pashmina and some warm socks in there too. Me, I take Benadryl or Tylenol PM to knock me out, just for good measure.

2. Eat something healthy and filling before you fly. This is the secret to number 1 above, because if you’re hungry a) you won’t sleep as well and b) you’ll need to wake up just to eat crummy airline food. (Unless you’re flying Singapore, Thai, or Air France, which is a different story.) My pick in a pinch is a Starbucks yogurt, fruit and granola parfait. You can find it in just about any airport and it will also keep you from snacking on salty peanuts and snacks. (Remember, salt contributes to bloat, already a problem while flying.)

3. Pack exercise bands. No, you can’t bring your weights, but I never go anywhere without my stretchies, which work pretty well for basic strength training. I also bring a light plastic jump rope to have handy on the beach, or even in the hotel room if it seems like I won’t bother my neighbors. 

4. Take melatonin your first evening. It resets the internal clock, helping you fall asleep — and stay asleep through the night — even if overnight flights and time differences are throwing your circadian rhythms out of whack.

5. Let yoga gear double as PJs. I’m the queen of packing light, and never ever check luggage. So I leave the pajamas behind and bring yoga clothes instead; they’re just as comfy to sleep in and I’m ready to take advantage of a hotel yoga class when offered.

6. Never, ever leave home without walking shoes or a bathing suit.
Last fall I was in Arizona for a conference, equipped only with “professional” clothes. One night everyone made plans for a sunrise hike to the top of Camelback; I enthusiastically chimed in, only to realize with chagrin that I  – Miss “@healthy_travel” (my twitter ID) — hadn’t packed a single pair of shoes that could get me up the rocky trail. Never again. Ditto a bathing suit. Believe me, once you’ve gazed out at a gorgeous jacuzzi that was off limits because you forgot your suit, you’ll make sure it never happens again.

7. Enjoy that first glass of wine – then switch to water. This one’s not going to be popular, but it’s absolutely key for me. Two glasses of wine and I’m fuzzy-headed and sluggish the next day, not to mention at risk for a headache. One and I’m fine. So I sip and savor that first glass, or if I’m enjoying a wine pairing dinner, I just have a few sips of each varietal on offer. As for that nightcap at the outdoor bar? I’ve learned to love fizzy fruity tonic-based drinks. An added benefit? Go to bed hydrated and you stave off the morning-after headache.