April 06, 2015

Packing for Healthy Travel Adventures

photo: pixabay

By Crabby McSlacker

So yeah, I'm lucky enough to be married to a globe-trotting corporate go-getter. Since I'm a flexible semi-employed slacker, and an enthusiastic tagalong/leech, I get to travel a lot. Awesome, right?

But for those of us who are somewhat neurotic about health and fitness, travel comes with a few challenges.  In particular, there is often tension between two competing agendas:

On the one hand: life is short!  I want to dive headfirst into all the exciting and delicious and possibly excessive experiences that traveling to a novel destination may provide. Because who knows when I will ever be back? Live for the moment! Savor! Wallow!

On the other hand: I travel too often to go into full WTF mode every time I leave home.

Art: Harold Anderson via James Vaughan

Not only would it be dangerous for my long term health; I can't even enjoy myself if I don't keep to at least a semblance of a healthy routine. Feeling too gluttonous, slothful, and guilty can put a damper on any potential peak life experience.

Plus, even without decadent travel temptations, maintaining some sort of healthy balance requires a fair amount of extra effort on the road. Advance planning has to make up for lack of access to one's usual "go-to" resources.

As it happens, I'm packing up today for another adventure. We leave tomorrow! And as I get ready for our trip, I realize that a huge percentage of the items I'm tossing into the suitcase bear at least some relation to health and fitness.

Wanna see some of the stuff I'm taking along?

Gym gear:

Is this too goofy? Do normal people do this?

No matter where we travel, I try to make sure we're staying somewhere I can get to a fitness center at least a couple times a week, either in our hotel or somewhere nearby. (And unfortunately"fitness center" sometimes means a shitty little closet-sized room with a rusty set of barbells and a stuttering rickety treadmill and a circa 1980 exercise bike. But whatever).

Sometimes, it just isn't practical to get to a gym, but on this trip, we're good. Both hotels have fitness centers.

(And why yes, pictured above are the very same blue shorts I've been working out in since I started the blog in 2007! I love them; they have ample pockets and are made of titanium or something; they never wear out. Check back in 2047; I'll probably still be wearing them, at least if I can still get 'em on around my Depends).

Any guesses?

Well, here's a hint:

Yep, we're talking back injuries.  The blue thing is a inflatable travel lumbar pillow.

And the yellow orb?

Well, I'm not sporty enough to be bringing it it along in case I get the opportunity for an impromptu game of lacrosse.

But just ask your physical therapist: lacrosse balls are one of the cheapest, most effective and portable massage tools for attacking knots and spasms you can find. Lie down on 'em or lean against a wall and wiggle.  You'll look like an ass, but what the hell, you'll feel better.

Emergency Snacks

It is not hard to find refined carbs, sugar, and greasy treats when traveling.  But quick convenient sources of protein, good fats, fiber, phytonutrients etc? They can be hard to find in transit until you get everything figured out.  I always like to know I've got a stash of tasty snacks that aren't too evil.

Pool Gear

Often hotels have swimming pools, and I always bring stuff which will allow me to do a few laps.  I hate swimming for exercise--but for some reason always hate it less when I'm in a hotel pool.

Sleep Aids

Accck, time zones differences!

But sleep is important to health and mental sanity so you gotta give it your best shot.


Long flights mean a risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis, at least if you have hypochondriacal tendencies. I try to remember to bring compression socks and get up out of my seat and stretch in the aisles and make a total nuisance of myself on a frequent basis:

Beach Gear and Sun Protection

One of the great things about travel is that you get the chance to try activities that you don't get to do in Real Life. Sometimes these involve oceans or warm weather that may not be typical for your particular latitude. And just to review: it is not healthy to sunburn the bejeezus out of yourself!

So I was excited when I realized that our itinerary meant I might be able to justify buying a "rash guard" (the blue thing). 

What is a rash guard?

Well, it's a snug-fitting shirt made of high SPF fabric designed to keep you from chafing under a wetsuit, or from frying if you are out on the water all day.  It's something surfers apparently wear, and surfers are cool, right?

Of course though there is NO F--CKING CHANCE IN HELL I am going surfing.  (I am quite sensibly scared of big waves, and would not seek them out voluntarily). However, I like to snorkel.

The thought of trying to keep my back sufficiently slathered in sunscreen all day, especially given the degree of difficulty in working around bathing suit straps, makes the idea of donning a cheerful blue protective garment very appealing.

Note: further research suggests that what I bought might a swim shirt, not a rash guard. But whatever.


Half of these I can't even remember why I'm taking.  Nonetheless, I've got a handy pill container which always gets the TSA people so excited they feel the need to sprinkle the contents all around to show me just how seriously they take their jobs. The note actually seems to help in airports where the security folks speak English as their native language. Which means I will probably be picking up a crapload of pills strewn around my suitcase when I arrive at both our destinations.


Nothing says "vacation" like a bad case of diarrhea, hepatitis, malaria or diptheria right? Not to mention plain garden variety mosquito bites.

(Note: the Cipro was unused last year in Africa and only just expired a few days ago. I figure what the hell.)

Health-Related Things Not Pictured Due to Laziness

Active Wear: Virtually all my clothes--except for a cocktail dress required for a gala dinner (I'll even be wearing, god forbid, high heels!)--are designed to facilitate lots of urban rambling, beach wandering, trail hiking etc. Being a fashion-challenged middle-aged soft-butch don't-give-a-crap-what's-trendy crankbucket makes it easier: my shirts are comfy, my shoes are sensible, my pants and shorts all have handy pockets, my windbreaker actually keeps me dry when it rains even if it is not a style featured on the Paris runways etc.

OTC Remedies:
As I discovered in Budapest last summer, something as simple as a few Ibuprofen for a spazzing-out back can sometimes be complicated to obtain abroad.  So yeah, I'll be toting some advil, dramamine, allergy pills, band-aids and neosporin and who knows what else I may think of today.

Health Related Things That Are Pictured But I'm NOT Bringing

If we didn't have fitness centers along the way, I'd totally bring small packable fitness thingies:

And I'd totally be bringing an activity tracker if mine weren't broken!  Foreign destinations=mega-steps=major smugness.  Damn!

So Where the Heck are We Going?

You'll see!

For some reason, possibly just to be obnoxious, I'm feeling coy about revealing our two destinations just yet.

I'm even thinking if I can get my act together, it might be fun to post a couple of ambiguous but partially revealing pictures and drop some hints here and there, and turn it into a guessing game. Or not! But either way, be forewarned, there will likely be a massive photo dump when I return.

Note: if you are Facebook friends with either my personal page or my wife's, it is possible she might let the cat out of the bag prematurely, so please refrain from guessing at the location of future pictures if you have obtained Inside Info.

Stay tuned!

So, what do you guys try to remember to pack when traveling to make it a healthier experience?


  1. Crabby, looks like you are set and ready for adventure. All I bring for a healthy travel experience is Vitamin C.

  2. We are leaving for an overseas vacation next weekend so this is a timely topic! Generally I am in favor of always packing workout gear, but I've reached the point that when my husband and I travel for recreation (like we are next week) I just know it's a waste of space.

    On the plus side, when he and I travel, we usually travel to places where we cover most of our ground on foot. All that walking means that even when we went to Italy and literally had gelato every single day (and wine, and other awesome stuff) my weight didn't fluctuate.

    When we travel to family for holidays, I definitely bring my gear, and usually do pretty well at getting in some sort of exercise most days.

    And while we're on travel chat, I'll share a bit about medical care in other countries. Two years ago we visited our friends in Hamburg. I had a cold before we left, and by the time we got to Germany, it was developing into a hellish sinus infection. I knew I needed to see somebody about it. Thankfully our friends had a doctor in town, and I was able to get a same day appointment. Within the span of about ninety minutes, we were in and out of the doctor's office and had walked down the street and filled two prescriptions. I obviously had to pay cash for it all, and I was concerned - total for everything was less than $75. It was pretty fantastic. (Incidentally, we are visiting those same friends in their new city! Hoping to stay healthy this time though.)

  3. Yup - order of importance for my packing when we travel: running clothes, knitting, high fiber cereal, actual clothes. Have fun! -Mary

  4. And I thought I over-packed! hahaha, just kidding...have fun! Looks like you are prepared for most everything and anything!
    I don't really travel, so I can't answer that last question...unless you count bringing along sandwiches made here at home. We only travel to do a show on a weekend (outdoor festivals) and often bring our own food and drink in order to cut down on expenses. Boring....OH, but yes, I bring sunscreen! YAY, I AM healthy minded! hahahahaha

  5. Wherever you're going, I hope you have a great trip!

  6. Please, please post a picture in your formal dress and heels!!!
    I always pack as much workout wear as anything else - and bands and stuff are always in my suitcase!
    Have a super trip!

  7. HOLY CRAP - you are so prepared!!!!!!!!!!!! Of course I am jealous & I don't even know where you are going! :) Have fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Guessing games are fun! And i just pack whatever i need to wear to walk a lot, no matter where i go. It's the nutritious snacks i worry about.

  9. Death Ride GrandmaApril 6, 2015 at 5:08 PM

    It's a lot of pictures, but really, all you describe takes up very little space. I carried a small foam roller (the kind that's varied textures of foam around a hard plastic cylinder) stuffed with socks, underwear, and yes, a lacrosse ball all the way across the US when we rode our bikes from Seattle to Boston. It was second only to the sunscreen, insect repellent, and Beljum Budder (look it up if you must) in importance in my little panniers. When I have the luxury of actual suitcase space, my packing list looks a lot like yours. Only I tend to think of travel as an opportunity to focus on the high protein content of a Snickers bar. I'm not so good about healthy snacks.

    Have a great mystery trip - can't wait to see the pictures!

    1. DRG, I don't think I've ever flown without having a Snickers at some point in the trip. I'm glad it's not just me. :-D

  10. You know, a lot of those aren't what I thought you meant when you said health-related, but then, choosing to wear a seatbelt is by technicality health-related is it not? You've made me re-think what I bring along when I travel, and how I ought to treat the TSA next time around. Last time the entire front zippered pouch of the suitcase had been torn off at the seams, and it was available for pickup at the "oops we broke your stuff" desk, where all the other poor misbegotten luggage goes. My stuff that was in it was in a black garbage sack, and the pouch was casually thrown on top. The lady behind the desk offered an obligatory "We're sorry for the inconvenience." and offered to credit $75 on my next flight with their airline. What about replacing my bag? It puts a crimp in wanting to travel more often, but it's just another associated cost. You're bringing along very smart choices and coy or bratty or both for not telling us, I can't wait to hear where you're headed.

  11. Oooh! Given your packing list, I can't wait to see the photo dump from this trip. :-D And that swim shirt is boss.

    Do you have room in your carry-on to take your supplements/meds with you in the cabin? I always have a laptop with me when I fly, so I've got the available pocket space in that bag and can avoid getting grubby TSA fingers all over my meds. This strategy also ensures that I have everything necessary when the airline loses my luggage, hehe. It's worth trying out if you have room. :-)

  12. Happy travels!

    I always pack moleskin. Even the best shoes can become torture devices after 10 hours on my feet. This I learned one summer in Florence after a pair of the "best" walking sandals rubbed a nightmare blister on the bottom of one foot (2 inches long and 1 inch wide!) that oozed for the rest of the trip. I was not happy. So moleskin! Always in the suitcase!

    I also pack daytime/nighttime cold medicine. The Husband came down with one helluva cold one trip.

    If I think I can't translate it to a foreign pharmacist, I pack it! Thus, the moleskin and daytime/nighttime cold meds :)

    My only “fitness” gear when I travel is on my feet. We walk so much I don’t worry about cardio (I'm with you, Out Smart the Fat). I do some Pilates, planks and push-ups in the room to keep some of the other stuff in line.

  13. My healthy packing starts with my medications (which nowadays is mostly not prescription, since allergy pharmaceuticals have apparently given up on research now and have gone OTC) and goes on to food that will keep well so I know I have something I'm not allergic to for at least a few meals. I don't pack anything special for exercise, since walking is my favorite exercise, and I don't own any clothes I can't do yoga in--a few that I can't do yoga in in front of people who care about modesty, but none that I can't DO yoga in--so I'm good.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  14. P.S. Looking forward--in a train wreck sort of way--to pictures of you in heels.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  15. Hi Crabby!
    I've got to hand it to you, that's a massive list! :) Given certain gear, maybe an exotic locale is in the offing! :)

    I was that guy once. At one point I was bringing my adjustable kettlebell and some plates. It was so heavy, I could only do that because we were driving, not planing. I probably had more stuff, too, even a fitness book or two, and one of those foam rollers.

    I began to whittle that down, and was down to just handy Bodylastics thingies.

    Nowadays, it's different. I bring.... nothing. :) 90% of my training involves no equipment anyway, so travel almost doesn't matter. It's bodyweight exercise, and I remember what exercises and sets I want to do. A tremendous amount of work can be done that way. Oh, yes... sweatpants and sneakers. Pretty high tech.

    I'm off any supplements, too, although I used to do creatine, protein powder, and stuff like that. But like you, ibuprofen is de rigeur.

    Definitely look forward to finding out about your destination, and I'll vote for heels, too!

    Best, Dave


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