I lug my layover suitcase down the 5th floor corridor while searching for my hotel room in Melbourne. “Room 511.. 513… 515…” I note as I pass the endless doors. The balls of my feet ache from my high heels and my stomach growls impatiently as I continue down the passageway. After a 13 hour flight I’m never in the best of moods, and this time I’m especially tired. Finally, I locate my room. As soon as I’m through the door I drop my bags with a loud thud and head straight for the room service menu. (My crew decided to prioritize sleep first before meeting up for sightseeing). I wash off all my make up while I wait for my dinner to arrive, and as soon as I’ve eaten I shut the blackout curtains, close my eyes and immediately enter a dreamless sleep... I wake up suddenly, and through half shut eyes I make out the time: 03:30 am. “Ah no,” I sigh and try to go back to sleep. There’s no use. I’m awake. “What can I do to keep busy now?” I wonder. With limited options in a foreign country in the early hours of the morning, I resort to Netflix, but I pull the curtains slightly ajar to capture the first signs of daylight.
Eventually I see streaks of pink as the sky beyond my window changes colour, with the ocean in the distance. The picturesque scene looks so inviting that I decide to go for a morning run along the coast. I take a turn out onto a pier to have a better view of the sun rise. “What a peaceful way to start my day,” I think to myself on the edge of the pier with a light breeze bringing the fresh ocean smell to my attention. After enjoying my time outdoors and feeling refreshed, I run back to the hotel to help myself to breakfast, ready to start an exciting day of sightseeing.
We have all heard the phrase “aviation is a lifestyle.” And some of the most exciting aspects of this lifestyle- such as seeing the world on layovers and having the opportunity to live in different countries- are exactly the things that make it hard to maintain a healthy fitness routine. When I moved to the Middle East a few years ago to start my new job as an internationally flying flight attendant, I had no idea how challenging it is to stay healthy while working in this industry. Over time I figured out some tricks that made it easier. Although I’m not flying internationally anymore, I have moved to two countries since I resigned from my cabin crew life in order to advance my career as a pilot. With my impending move to the UK in January, I decided to share some of my tips as I prepare myself to start the moving process again. After all, getting regular exercise is not only important for aesthetic reasons- as crew we need to keep our medical license and combat things such as jet lag and fatigue. Exercise is therefore one of the most important activities for us.
Pack gym clothes in your layover suitcase
As mentioned in one of my previous articles “how to pack a layover suitcase,” packing gym clothes when preparing for a layover is essential. Most hotels will have gym facilities so you will have to use these them when travelling. Packing gym clothes will also be beneficial if you have ‘boring’ crew or bad weather and you’re stuck at the hotel- instead of being confined to your room you can have a work out. I’ve had several layovers where one of my crew became my gym buddy so it’s also a great way to bond with your colleagues. If you’re in a safe area you can even leave the hotel and have a run outdoors, like I did in Melbourne.
Walking around different cities while sightseeing is a great way to get your body moving without even forcing yourself to do ‘exercise.’ How many of you count your steps everyday to reach the target of 10 000? Well why not get your steps in while ticking items off of your bucket list? Make sure to invest in a good quality pair of comfortable walking shoes and keep them in your layover suitcase. It might take more time to walk instead of catching a bus, but in the long run you could be doing yourself a favor and you might accidentally stumble upon some hidden gems around the world.
Let-go of the idea of routine
If you’re a creature of habit and enjoy doing a certain activity at the same time every day, then you probably won’t enjoy this lifestyle. Flying internationally means you will have a very unpredictable roster without an opportunity to commit to activities fixed at certain times every week. Be flexible and open to trying new things. Who knows, maybe the only gym class you can attend today is actually fantastic but you wouldn’t know because you’ve never tried it? I found that I appreciated my favorite gym classes more and was less likely to skip sessions when I wasn’t able to attend every week due to my job.
Choose a fun physical activity at your home base
Although using the hotel gyms is essential to stay active, I don’t enjoy my time in a regular gym. I prefer to do activities that are fun and that gives me a work out in the process. For example, I would attend kickboxing, spinning or aerobics classes on my days off. I would often go with one of my friends to make it even more entertaining, so it became a social activity and we looked forward to hanging out in these classes together.
Make some ‘work out’ friends
Having workout friends helped me to go exercise on days when I was feeling slightly lazy or simply unmotivated. Especially when you move to a new country and leave your entire support network behind, it can be challenging to find people to surround yourself with. Finding friends that you can gym with too can help deepen friendships or you can even find new friends at the gym to expand your circle.
When I was based in the Middle East I couldn’t do outdoor activities (I lived in a desert). After living in Belgium I realized how beneficial it is to spend time out in nature, so a hike in the forest or a walk in the countryside was the perfect way to spend my day. Spending time in nature also significantly reduces stress levels (which can quickly build up when moving to new countries) and is a great way to get exercise in a beautiful environment. Most of the time I wouldn’t even realize how far I had walked because I was so focused on the beauty of nature. There are many outdoor activities to choose from- go swim in the ocean or snowboard in the mountains. I know I’ll be doing both of those in the future when I live in a city that allows for it. And another great thing about getting busy outdoors is that it’s often free so you can do this even if you’re on a tight budget.
Start yoga to stay grounded
I find that travelling and moving frequently can often be unsettling, even though it is fun and I enjoy the lifestyle. After coming across yoga I found a huge change in my life- other types of exercise often left me ‘hyped up,’ where as yoga helped me to ‘calm down’ while strengthening my body so I could ‘find my breath’ through all the changes in my life. I think yoga is the perfect physical activity to do on days when you need to plan your sleep schedule shortly after working out to properly rest before a flight.
Buy some home workout equipment
Sometimes gyms require yearly memberships, so it’s not always possible to join a gym when you’re based somewhere for only a few weeks. In this case it’s best to invest in a few pieces so you can work out in the comfort of your own home. Keep it simple with small things like a yoga mat, resistance bands and Pilates rings so you can place the focus on body weight exercises. Since these items are small and light, they can be packed into a regular check-in suitcase.
Get sufficient rest
Your body needs rest to repair itself so part of keeping fit while doing this job is managing your sleep. Also, learn to listen to your body- If you’re really too tired, take care of yourself and rest instead. Or skip a heavy workout for light exercise. Over time you’ll learn to recognize the difference between skipping gym because you’re just a little bit tired (or mostly lazy) and missing a session because your body really needs to rest instead.
Getting into the habit of staying fit while travelling might take some time and is definitely going to be a process of trial and error. However, the benefits in the long run make it worth the effort. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to exercise every day to be healthy- 4 times a week is more than enough if you’re quite active and walking a lot on your days away from the gym. Hopefully these tips will give you a foundation to start from when you build your own fitness plan while working. Then, if you’re travelling anywhere soon, you might have a chance to witness a spectacular sunrise in a foreign country, like I did while out on my morning run in Melbourne.
The views presented in this article are solely the author's based on available information at the time of writing. The purpose of this blog is to inform readers, not to provide professional advice. Readers are advised to research further and consult relevant professionals, such as flight training schools. Readers are cautioned when acting on information provided and assume all risk from such actions.