Fellow Traveler: How to Be (Moderately) Healthy on the Road

Dear Fellow Traveler,

I’m entering into the conference season at my job, which is very exciting. It’s really great to connect with industry peers. It provides plenty of time to network, which is important.  However, “networking” usually translates to “late nights at a hotel bar.” Sometimes, being at these conferences can make you feel like you’re back in college–lots of late nights networking followed by early morning plenary sessions, a full day of conferences, working lunches, afternoon planning sessions, company dinners, and then back to “networking.” All of these things are important; they’re the reason I go to the conference!

That said, I try to live pretty healthily day-to-day. I like to go to the gym, but I find the hotel gyms to be a bit depressing. I have to manage my weight, and being at a conference means that I have a lot less choice over what I have to eat. (I generally can’t even order for myself!) It’s not like this is just for a couple days, either: in October, I will be spending twenty days among two conferences. That’s twenty days of hotel gyms, banquet hall food, lots of alcohol, and not cooking my own meals. How do you manage a diet/exercise routine when you travel?

Wondering in Walla-Walla

Dear Wondering,

You can try all the usual tricks—drinking vodka-sodas over beer or wine while “networking;” asking for the vegetarian option at meals (which at most banquet facilities means “Triple up on the cheese order for next week, Chef”); resisting the afternoon snack tray and morning pastry platter (good fucking luck doing that with a “networking” hangover)—but the thing is, you don’t “manage a diet/exercise routine” at away games. Not really. You can’t, and the idea that you can is flawed right from the outset.

Your schedule, and much of your intake, is going to be out of your hands for those twenty days. Conference schedulers are interested in their priorities, not yours, so the time you spend in the Wichita Convention Center is going to focus around what the organizers want, which is for you to spend every possible waking second discussing the nuances of, advances in, and strategies for maximizing revenue from the packaging and marketing of gluten-free organic dog food. (Or whatever it is you do.) You aren’t going to be able to touch all the career-bases expected of you and still manage to eat healthily three times a day plus find a couple hours to squeeze in some meaningful exercise. You’re just not. If you think you can, you’re just setting yourself up to be pissed at yourself for failing.

What you can do is prepare for those twenty days in October in advance.

During the conferences, treat the events like the non-fun vacation they kinda are. Don’t go berserk on the treats. Try to be good. Do what you can. But cut yourself a little slack. The odds are stacked against you.

The good news is that you will have some room to fail, because you will have spent the previous month getting ready.

First, figure out what you will miss if you get no exercise for those twenty days beyond dithering over whether or not to leave your wedding ring in the room safe for the duration of the conference. Then, up your exercise load for September accordingly. Take one extra spin class a week and add a mile to each of your triweekly three-mile runs, or hit the elliptical for an hour on the days you’d normally take off. If that seems burdensome, remember, you are not upping your routine forever; you are getting the exercise you will miss out on in Wichita before you go. Lose five pounds, too, knowing they will come back when you give in to the doughnut tray during the morning sessions on advances in determining canine flavor preference. You need to see your goal in a larger context than those twenty days: You aren’t out to hit a peak of fitness on Day Nineteen. You just want to look the same in your Slutty Chris Christie Halloween costume as you would have if Halloween parties had been held on September 1.

Career success, like physical fitness, requires sacrifice. Sacrifice September for October. Then when you get back, make up anything you missed. Because the holidays are coming, and the same strategy applies to those.