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Workout Exercises for Travel Part 1

How to Exercise/ Work Out/ Lift Weights While Traveling This entry about working out and exercising when traveling was first published in January, 2009. My exercise routine has since expanded and changed, as part 2 of this entry will show, but the work outs outlined below are still recommended. Sometimes in travel you get into [...]

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How to Exercise/ Work Out/ Lift Weights While Traveling

This entry about working out and exercising when traveling was first published in January, 2009. My exercise routine has since expanded and changed, as part 2 of this entry will show, but the work outs outlined below are still recommended.

Sometimes in travel you get into spurts where you push yourself to the limits of your physical prowess daily, as you hike up mountains, swim in lakes, kayak, and walk across entire cities; and sometimes you find that you are lazy as a slug, as you spend entire days just sitting on buses, trains, airplanes, lazing in hostels, eating, and drinking to excess. Sometimes in the life of the modern human, one’s energy output does not equal ones caloric input; sometimes in traveling, you find that you just want to exercise.

So how to you implement an exercise routine while on the Road? How do you keep yourself from letting the long bus rides and train journeys take their slothful toll?

What follows are the exercises that I do almost daily while traveling.

Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
January 10, 2009

I have always enjoyed doing strength building exercises all throughout my life, so when I began traveling I was caught in a sort of chasm: how could I bring my weightlifting routine on the Road? I knew that I could not carry weights with me, and I also knew that the amount of time that I usually stay in places would be inadequate for a gym membership. So I developed a simple way to build weight resistance: water or other heavy implements placed securely in my backpack.

I began filling up water bottles – preferable two gallon or 10 liter gallon jugs – up with water and putting them in my empty rucksack. From here I could use the handles on the bag to do a variety of strength and endurance exercises.

Warning: Make sure you bag is empty before putting water bottles in it!

Once you have a bag that is full of an adequate amount of weight, you can begin doing the following exercises:

Bicep curls

First, pick up your backpack by the top handle with one hand and then, with your arm fully extended towards the ground, pick the bag up without moving your elbow so that your bicep is flexed. Look at the above photos.

Muscles worked: biceps

Standing rows

To do standing rows with a backpack simple grasp it evenly from the top handle with both hands and lift it up to your chin. Make sure you allow the bag to go all the way down until your arms are fully extended before lifting it back up to your chin. Try to use your back and shoulders rather than your biceps when you do this exercise.  Repeat this movement 8 to 12 times, and add weight if you can do it more than this.

Muscles worked: shoulders and trapezius

One handed rows

To do one handed rows just grab the backpack by the top handle with one hand and, with your body bent down early parallel with the floor, lift it as far as you can. You should try to work your back as much as possible. Repeat this exercise 8 to 12 times and then switch arms.

Muscles worked: back, biceps

Tricep extensions

Grab the bag by the top handle and lift it straight up over your head and then bring it all the way down until your elbow is completely bent. When in the down position your wrist should be touching your shoulder. Do one arm 8 to 12 times and then do the other the same.

Muscles worked: triceps, shoulders, back.


Put the weighted backpack on your shoulders while in a standing position and then kneel down all the way, keeping your back straight and at a 90degree angle to the floor, and then stand back up. Do this as many times are you can. This is a good exercise for building up your leg muscles for hiking or mountain climbing trips.

Muscles worked: legs


This is a variation of the squat exercise. But instead of kneeling all they way down you just put the weighted backpack on your shoulders while standing and push up with your ankles until you are on your tip-toes. Simple go back and forth between standing flat and being on your tip-toes. This is also a good exercise to prepare for hiking or walking long distances.

Muscles worked: calves, ankles

Weighted pushups

Put your fully weighted backpack evenly upon your back – make sure that the straps are pulled tight and the pack sits upon the upper part of the back rather than the bottom. With the backpack on just do normal pushups. Do not arch your back. This is my favorite exercise.

Muscles worked: chest, triceps, shoulders, back

Pull ups

Find a secure ledge, bar, step (or something) that is above your head but within reaching distance. Grab onto it with both hands and pull yourself up until your chin is level with your hands. Do as many as you can.

Muscles worked: biceps, back, forearms

Sit ups or abdominal crunches

I feel as if sit ups are self explanatory. I usually do as many sit ups or crunches as I can, take a short break, and then do more until exhaustion.

Muscles worked: abdominals


This is just a sample of the exercise that I do when traveling. Sometimes I exercise more than others, sometimes I do not do all of these exercises, and sometimes I do more. I usually do each exercise tree to four times, alternating between exercises like a cycle. I normal do this strength building routine while in the place where I sleep before I go to sleep or in a public park during the day. If I am camping on the sly, I usually just do some push ups and sit ups before turning in.

I have found that traveling is no excuse for giving up the exercise routine that you have at home. It is my impression that you can find ways to do almost any exercise while in travel.


As always, take this travel tip and follow it, or laugh at my silly suggestion of exercising while traveling and finish drinking your beer.

Reader Comments

1/15/2009 10:45:56 tommy t says . . .

To save time focus more on compound excercises. You do list squats, pushups and pullups. But deadlifts are probably the best of all closely followed by olympic lifts. Olympic lifts really work your heart and muscles. They’ll make you gasp for air. Curls and rows are more for vanity muscles. Make the arms look nice but they waste a lot of time and don’t work the major muscles like legs and back. tommy t

Wade says . . .

Thanks Tommy T, you are correct here. Some of these exercises do not really work out muscles that are needed for travel. I mostly just do these exercises for fun. I should have added squat thrusts, as they are great for the whole body and do not require a lot of space.

Thanks for the comment!

Walk Slow,


5/6/2009 18:06:47 Joelifting workout says . . .

i was overtraining myself by going to the gym every day. Wasn’t letting my muscles fully heal. The guys at live forever at http://letslivelonger.blogspot.com/2009/04/lift-weights-to-lose-weight.html told me to cut back to 3 days a week. Much better. I am wasting less of my time and gaining more muscle from the times I do a work out. Good to have some days just for cardio too. Thanks guy

Filed under: Exercise, Health

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3704 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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7 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Nathan April 14, 2011, 3:16 pm

    I hope you are working in some 12 ounce weighlifting for the playoffs! Thanks for sending the shirt back with Erik buddy!

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 14, 2011, 4:00 pm

      No problem, Nate, I totally thought I gave you the shirt last time. My mistake, sorry about that.

      For sure, I lifting the 12 ouncers — it is playoff time!

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  • JSkarv April 15, 2011, 2:40 pm

    Hey awesome repost.
    One tip that can definately be of use:
    When you cannot find a chinnup-able ledge or beam you can improvise using a TOWEL and a firm DOOR + FRAME. You simply tie a know in the towel, close the door on it and leave the rest of the towel hanging out on your side of the door. Now you have an easily grabbed pullup handle!
    On my not-so-extensive travels I’ve found after a few days I get the itch to move around as well. These types of workouts not only actually do some good, but they satisfy my pyschological need as well, which, in the end, keeps me from going crazy.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 16, 2011, 8:42 am

      Good call about the psychological aspects of having a daily exercise routine. The benefits to feeling good and in shape go far beyond simply being stronger, more flexible, or more agile, it also can make a person feel better, have more confidence, be more psychologically balanced — which can have other positive impacts.

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  • Matt | ExpertVagabond April 24, 2011, 4:17 pm

    Great tips about the backpack! Never though of using it for squats or pushups.

    I’ve also found empty playgrounds are a great place to work out in the morning.

    You can also do Kettlebell Swings with a loaded backpack or dry bag filled with water. Excellent workout!

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  • mmafan3 . April 16, 2014, 3:54 pm

    Nice and simple but effective. That’s what i’s all about!

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  • Ben October 17, 2018, 7:12 am

    I did not know that a backpack has an extra use until now. Thanks for sharing this. Now all I need to do is to put this workout exercise tips into action.

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