The Best Travel Equipment to Stay Fit on the Road

Getting a workout on the road with just your bodyweight is possible and very easy, but having the right travel workout equipment steps things up – allowing you to train for strength, muscle, and performance anywhere, in a way that you can’t with just bodyweight exercises. 

However, sifting through the thousands of trendy (and sometimes worthless) pieces of fitness gear can make it hard to find equipment genuinely good for working out during travel.  ABA will fix that.  In this list, discover the best travel fitness equipment to stay fit, strong, fast, and ready for adventure.

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MY 9 FAVORITE PIECES OF TRAVEL FITNESS EQUIPMENT


1. PORTABLE SUSPENSION TRAINERS: THE POCKET MONKII

The Pocket Monkii is an ultra-portable suspension trainer that literally fits in your pocket and allows you to do a slew of resistance training exercises anywhere.  These essential suspension training exercises make up the bulk of my fitness routine on the road to maintain strength and stay ready for whatever fun comes next.

Click Learn more about the Pocket Monkii at Monkii


2. RESISTANCE BANDS WITH HANDLES

Getting in a good lower body workout with resistance can be difficult without weights and while traveling.  Fortunately, adding handles to heavy duty resistance bands makes for a portable deadlifting and squatting option, to maintain leg and lower back strength while traveling

Resistance Bands Squats using the Rogue Monster Bands and Monkii Bars 2 Suspension Trainer

Read this article to learn more about doing deadlifts and squats using resistance bands


3. DIY GYMNASTIC RINGS WITH VERSATILE ANCHOR

A variation on the suspension trainer, these DIY gymnastics rings anchor nearly anywhere and can be used to as both a suspension trainer or gymnastics rings – allowing for pull ups, dips, presses, muscle ups, and more.  It can be anchored from trees, poles, pull up bars, doors, and more, making for another nearly perfect travel workout option.

DIY TRX and TRX Door Anchor
The Minimus is the best compact suspension trainer simple enough to make at home. A DIY TRX or homemade Monkii Bars for a fraction of the price and all of the fnctionality

The DIY gymnastics rings/suspension trainer (which I call the Optimus) only costs about $30 to make, and takes about 15 minutes.  Click here for the full DIY suspension trainer tutorial


4. GORUCK RUCKER: WEIGHTED BACKPACK FOR WORKOUTS

Using a backpack for your travels that doubles as a gym is an excellent way to get in a workout on the road by either using it as weight for calisthenics, suspension trainer exercises, or Rucking

The GORUCK Rucker is an uber-tough backpack built to carry 400lbs+, so it will survive heavy abuse.  Heavy duty handles on the top, bottom, and sides, allow you to use the bag as a weight for improvised workouts and rucking workouts.  If you don’t want the complexity of a workout, just put some weight in your backpack and walk (aka rucking) for a great legs and core workout.

For weight, I recommend purchasing two collapsible sandbells for your travels.  These can easily be filled with sand (~20lbs each) or water to use as weights for your ruck, collapse easily, and double as useful drybags.

I highly recommend these sandbells that are available on Amazon


5. SAND BELLS

Kettlebells are one of the best, most functional pieces of workout equipment.  The handle and ability to pull and move the kettlebell in odd directions – with swings, presses, get-ups, and more – makes you workout muscles you didn’t even know you had.

But carrying around a kettlebell isn’t practical at all.  However, a collapsible and portable sandbell is very practical.

A Sandbell is essentially a heavy duty, specially made roll-top dry bag with a padded handle.  The bag can be filled with sand or water at will, then emptied and collapsed when finished.

These sandbells make great weights for rucks, or are excellent for workouts on their own.  If you don’t know where to start with sandbell/kettlebell workouts, I highly recommend the workout Kettlehell which has been my favorite kettlebell workout for over a decade.

Click here to see available sandbell sizes on Amazon


6. MINIMALIST RUNNING SHOES

If all else fails just get out and run…or even walk.  A great pair of minimalist running shoes pack down small in your luggage but also work the lower leg (ankles and calves) in a way that its difficult to hit with resistance training.  The result, when done right, leads to healthier knees and feet, along with more endurance on your feet.

Minimalist footwear has the added benefit of not taking up much space and doubling as hiking shoes and comfy footwear – and doing so many jobs is great for sticking to a minimalist packing list.

For a little inspiration, read the entertaining book Born to Run

My go to minimalist running shoes are the New Balance Minimus for the city and light trail, and the Merrel Trail Glove for heavy trail.

Be sure to do a hefty amount of research on minimalist and barefoot running, especially on midfoot and forefoot striking, before getting out there and start with short distances.


7. RUNNING SANDALS

Similar to minimalist running shoes except more minimalist, a pair of running sandals are an awesome travel fitness addition.  After adapting to minimalist running, these running kicks are great for use in places with hot weather that leave your feet stifled in shoes.  I’ve logged more miles running in sandals during my time in Southeast Asia than I have with shoes.

The Xero Z-Trail - The Best Travel Sandals for Men
The Xero Z-Trail – A highly capable sandal designed for running, but ready for hiking, adventuring, and even relaxing

Which sandals should you get?

I own and love the Xero Z-Trails (you can read all about it in this Xero Z-trail review) and highly recommend them.

However, if you prefer a “between the toes” sandal, check out the reliable and well review Lunas Sandals.


8. BONUS: LACROSSE BALLS FOR SELF MASSAGE AND MOBILITY

“Myofascial release” is the technical name for massaging yourself with a Lacrosse ball in a way that loosens tightened muscles and stiff tissue much more effectively than stretching can. 

Once you understand the technique of myofascial release and self-massaging with a lacrosse ball, fixing anything from a stiff back to painful shoulders is a cinch and can be done within 2 to 5 minutes.  That’s a pretty great return for a $3 ball and 5 minutes of time.  I’ve been able to improve my mobility beyond what it was in my 20’s while staying injury-free for a decade-plus thanks to this technique.

VIDEO: HOW TO PUT YOUR MASSAGE THERAPIST OUT OF BUSINESS WITH A LACROSSE BALL

Bottom Line: If you get nothing else from this list, get a Lacrosse ball on Amazon for a few dollars.

Step 1: Buy 3 Lacrosse Balls

Step 2: Google “Myofascial Release with Lacrosse Ball” or look up the Mobility WOD videos on Youtube, and go from there.

The video above does a great job of sharing how to use a lacrosse ball for self massage

WHY FITNESS IS IMPORTANT WHILE TRAVELING

Whereas many people traveling and vacations as a way to take a break, I see traveling as no reason to stop doing things that benefit your life.  Exercise, and maintaining fitness, is a major, positive habit that I think everyone should continue especially while traveling.

Having a fit, healthy body not only makes us feel better but also empowers us to take on more adventurous travel, safely, and enjoyably.

But how does exercise make traveling better?  Here are 8 great reasons to maintain a fitness routine…especially on the road:

  1. Higher energy levels
  2. Balanced Hormone Levels and Positive Hormone Boosts  
  3. Self sufficiency 
  4. Injury resistance 
  5. Allows you to adventure further and do more 
  6. Balance, grounding, and stress reduction 
  7. Allows us to do more…despite our age   
  8. Working out helps prevents you from getting sick
  9. Better health and fitness always creates better quality of life 

1. HIGHER ENERGY LEVELS

The rigors of travel can leave you feeling beaten down – from the jetlag of switched time zones, to the wearing feeling of being on the go constantly – but a fit body is better equipped to make it through everything and still function at it’s peak than an unconditioned body.

A combination of benefits from exercise, from the increase metabolism, to the balancing and boosting of positive hormones (that also improve mood), regular exercise naturally boosts energy levels. 

A scientific study on jetlag and exercise showed that hamsters that exercised adjusted to a new time zone in a day and a half, while hamsters that didn’t took more than eight days to get back to “normal”.  Until you’re back to that “normal” other studies show a significant reduction in strength, stamina, and alertness during the “jet lag” phase – which, if you’re traveling adventurously, significantly affects

More energy translates to a more lively and enjoyable experience…all through a little exercise


2. BALANCED HORMONE LEVELS AND POSITIVE HORMONE BOOSTS  

From higher and balanced testosterone levels to lower cortisone (stress hormones) and mood-boosting endorphins and serotonin, a good workout can set your body back on track, without the aid (or headache) of drugs.


3. SELF SUFFICIENCY IN ADVENTURES

Having the strength, stamina, and general conditioning is extremely valuable during travel as it allows you to venture alone a little bit more safely.  Whether that means making the hike you can’t find anyone to go with you on, surfing a new spot without friends, or even taking on a motorbike experience down unknown roads – the self-sufficiency, and confidence that you have the strength and endurance to get out of sketchy situations is invaluable.

In my own experience, I don’t think I would have been as comfortable trekking to Everest Base Camp solo or paddling into oversized waves as a beginner surfer if I didn’t think I was in shape to get myself out of bad situations that could have easily come up.

If you rely on the safety of the herd, then you’ll never experience those adventures that lie beyond it.  When traveling adventurously, fitness is its own form of insurance that empowers you to wander solo, and more safely.


4. INJURY RESISTANCE

Most usage injuries, or “old folks injuries” as I like to call them, result from the “natural” degradation of the body.  This usually comes as loss in strength or loss in mobility and flexibility.

You know that lower back pain that everyone complains about in their mid 30’s.  For most, it comes from two things – 1) A weakened core (lower back and abs) and 2) tight muscles in the butt and back of the legs.  Those two factors add up to an injury-prone back that gets thrown out by simply picking up a bag of groceries, and could be easily avoided with some light stretching and a solid, balanced, exercise routine**.  When traveling, that kind of neglect puts you at risk of injury on the canyoning excursion or carrying that backpack over months.

More common in Southeast Asia, those motorbike accidents (not the ones that come from being drunk and not wearing a helmet – that’s just Darwinism in action) will be a lot less disastrous if you have the strength and fitness to control the bike as it goes down, or the mobility and speed to ditch it – saving you an entire vacation waiting for that “Thai Tattoo” to heal.

Do yourself a favor and maintain and strengthen your body to give yourself a little edge when the worst actually does hit.  You may not come out completely unscathed, but trust me, you’ll definitely fare a lot better.


5. ALLOWS YOU TO ADVENTURE FURTHER AND DO MORE

The self-sufficiency definitely allows you to venture beyond the pack, but the stamina and endurance that come with a good exercise routine help you adventure longer, further, and more.

When the rest of the pack calls it quits for the night because the walking tour was too much for them, you’ll still have energy in the tank to continue exploring.

Here on Bali, when I first arrived I made it a point to surf every day for two hours to learn my new passion. 

Normally, when people start surfing, two hours in the water paddling around struggling for a wave translates to passing out early – not for me and my friends.  Thanks to the surf workout I did well beforehand, two hours of surfing was easily followed by a workout at the gym (to push my strength and endurance further) and spending the afternoon exploring the rest of Bali – riding 45 minutes to see Balinese Hindu temple complexes floating on the ocean, finding beaches with literally no one but me, and finding villages that had never seen a brotha before (seriously) – all while the rest of the beginner surfers were sleeping, too smoked out to move.

So, by investing 45 minutes into a fitness routine, you get extra hours of experience that the rest of the world misses out on while they’re recovering and sleeping.


6. BALANCE, GROUNDING, AND STRESS REDUCTION

Ask anyone who has traveled for over a year what the hardest parts are and you’ll likely hear “missing family and friends”, “finding (X) food while abroad”, and something along the lines of “not having grounding/ a routine”.

When you’re on the road long enough, not having a home or stability does wear on you – but it doesn’t have to.  Building in healthy, empowering routines, like connecting with family and friends on a routine, scheduled day and giving yourself rest days to chill and veg out on Netflix can make your travels more enjoyable in the long run if you’re wandering long term.  Working out regularly is one of those positive, grounding habits.

By setting that routine every day to run, do yoga, and grab your suspension trainer and do a workout, you’re scheduling in a reliable reset that includes a positive boost of hormones along with the reliability and predictability that can ground you during travel. 

This  “stability” when you’re on the go will improve the quality of your wandering much more than you expect


7. ALLOWS US TO DO MORE…DESPITE OUR AGE

Physically, what is so different between our bodies at the ages of 20, 30, 40, and so on? 

If we boil it down simply, strength, endurance, mobility, and how quickly recover starts to degrade.  The good news – all of these areas improve drastically with exercise, helping you literally fight the aging process.

You won’t gain strength and endurance as easily as you could at a younger age, but with diligence you can maintain that “spryness”, keeping you mobile and moving well despite your age.


8. WORKING OUT HELPS PREVENTS YOU FROM GETTING SICK

Exercise boosts the immune system and spurns recovery in a way that actually helps prevent you from getting sick.  Though the list of ways this happens and the benefits is nearly endless, here are the highlights

  • Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness
  • Working out positively changes your body’s antibodies and white blood cells – which detect and fight illness and disease.
  • The temperature changes in your body, before, during, and after workouts, can prevent and kill bacteria – similar to how a fever functions – helping you avoid getting sick.
  • Workouts reduce the presence of stress hormones and boost the presence of positive hormones, helping stave off illness and increase positive effects in your body.

So, if you want to spend less time on the road sick, then invest in that workout routine.

(Source: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm – Study on Exercise and Immunity)


9. BETTER HEALTH AND FITNESS ALWAYS CREATES BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE

When was the last time you heard someone say “Oh man, my health is too good. I shouldn’t have done that extra workout?” Yeah…my neither.

Better health, mobility, stamina, and functional strength are things that increase how good your life is the more that you gain them, regardless of how much you have.

With a world full of things that are “good in moderation”, aiming to develop things in your life that are good even in excess is invaluable. 

Note: Exercise in excess isn’t necessarily good.  Health, mobility, stamina, and functional strength are good no matter how much you have.  Please head the difference.


10. BEING SEXY ALWAYS FEELS GOOD (…AM I RIGHT?!?!?!)

Let’s be honest…everyone likes looking good, and the better you look, the better you feel.  This isn’t via botox, injections, surgery, dying your hair, or any other way people try to look “better”. 

That sexiness that comes from being in good health is a positive change from the inside out, that benefits your body as much as it does your confidence and ultimately improves your overall well being – physically and mentally. 

THE FITNESS THAT I RECOMMEND KEEPING TOP OF MIND

Though fitness magazines may try to convince you that a certain look is what you need to be “fit”, I highly disagree.  For me, and my travels, fitness involves feeling good and being able to safely adventure, comfortably, and independently as my #1 goal.  Looking good comes secondary, and naturally, after this goal.

This kind of “travel-ready fitness” can be divided into 3 categories, each of which is just as important as the others.  When setting your fitness goals and dividing your time accordingly to achieve them, be sure to balance equally between these three areas.


CARDIOVASCULAR FITNESS AND STAMINA

One of the easiest elements of fitness to train, cardiovascular fitness, which affects how good are stamina and endurance are, is all about “keeping up” with whatever we have going on.  In terms of travels, whether we’re walking quickly around the airport with bags, spending the entire day on our feet during a tour, or making a short trek up a long hill without huffing and puffing, cardio fitness is useful.

Beyond not being out of breath, good heart health is an investment in your future and will lead to higher energy levels now, making your life more enjoyable now and in the future.

To train cardio, aim to do one of the cardio workouts listed in our travel workouts at least 3 times a week (optimally 4 to 5 times).  Some of the workouts are as short as 5 minutes and can be done as a “smoker” after a normal workout.  Beyond workouts, just aim to get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes with some activity.

Your target heart rate should be 180 minus your age.  For me, my target minimum heart rate for a good cardio workout is 180 – 35 = 145 beats per minute.  Anything that gets my heart pumping like that – surfing, running, rucking, you name it.  It’s all good


FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH

When most people think of “strength”, they think of strongmen and Crossfit workouts, but this doesn’t capture the whole picture.  Functional strength simply means having the strength to easily navigate your daily life.  On the light side, this could be carrying grocery bags or lifting a heavy backpack, or hiking with a heavy backpack.  An even more practical case is having the back strength to walk in old age with good, comfortable posture.  All of these activities require functional strength and maintaining it.

On the more extreme side, it could be having the strength to lift your own body (or a friend’s body) after an accident, controlling a surfboard, or lifting a motorbike that’s fallen while motorbiking Southeast Asia. 

Last, functional strength makes you more injury-proof.  Whether this comes in the form of the strength to safely catch yourself after a fall,

Whatever your daily life consists of, a certain level of functional strength will make it easier.

To maintain functional strength, calisthenics, high-intensity calisthenics, or resistance training is key.

For men and women alike, I highly recommend these workouts and resources:


MOBILITY

Mobility is one of the most essential, yet overlooked, aspects of fitness.  The ability to move freely, without pain, and with strength through the entire movement. 

Though many of us take this youthfulness for granted, it degrades more over time if not maintained, and especially quickly if we work out.

Mobility and flexible muscles aren’t just essential for feeling good, they’re essential for healthy movement and reduced risk of injury, when adventuring and in daily life.  From tight hamstrings in glutes that pull on the lower back, leading to many injuries, to the bad posture and shoulder pains that come from crouching over a computer all day – these stiff muscles inhibit movement at best and put us for higher risk of injury at worst.  We can counter this risk with a good stretching and mobility routine.

My go-to stretching routine consists of hitting every muscle group with a single, long, slow stretch for at least a minute, and 2-4 minutes if I’m feeling pain or excessive tightness in that “chain”.

To maintain your mobility, I recommend adopting this **ultimate stretching routine.


Now that we know why fitness is important to adventurous travel and what elements of fitness we need to include, let’s look at some of the best and most convenient workouts to do while traveling – to maintain our fitness goals.

MY FAVORITE WORKOUTS FOR TRAVEL


TRAVEL READY WORKOUTS THAT REQUIRE MINIMAL EQUIPMENT AND NO GYM


MY STAPLE GYM WORKOUTS


So you have a ready list of workouts to do, at home or on the road.  How are you going to do them?

Read on for the best travel fitness equipment I’ve discovered and used for years that allows me to stay fit, anywhere.


Did you know...

  • Women travel 2x as much as men?
  • 76% Travelers wander specifically for food and the outdoors?
  • 95% of travelers have visited Europe, but Asia is the most recommended, France is the most visited, every traveler recommends "just go!"

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