Fitness programs have a tendency to look easy on paper but fall apart once they get smacked in the mouth by real life. The calendar says a workout and a certain protein level isn't negotiable, but you're in a strange town, with nothing familiar or remotely fit close by.

What are your options? If you're thinking about trying to strap a kettlebell into a kid seat or a barbell onto a ski rack, think again. Instead, prepare for the unexpected by having a few lightweight fitness essentials on hand at all times.

Toss any of these five in your trunk, purse (or man purse), or backpack, and you'll never be left unprepared. Just don't be surprised if your "don't break except in case of emergency" workout quickly becomes one of your favorites!

1. A Jump Rope

You want efficiency? Then you want a jump rope. It works equally well as a warm-up, general cardio, or for density training, where you alternate intervals of strength work and jumping.

Try that last method, and you might gain a new appreciation for just how many muscle groups jumping rope works. Sure, it hits the calf muscles, but it also does wonders for the shoulders, glutes, and lungs. You'll burn more calories than jogging, all while staying in the same place.

If you haven't touched a jump rope since grade school, focus on simple two-footed jumps to start with, building up to 30-60 seconds without missing a rep. Then, start to integrate techniques like alternating skips, single-foot skips, or double-unders.

2. A Timer

If you've got a smart phone, you've got a timer. And if getting in a quick but intense workout is your goal, that timer just might be the best tool at your disposal!

Everybody seems to be talking about how great interval training is these days, and they're right to do so. But it doesn't have to be done on a cardio machine to work! If you're accustomed to doing strength moves for reps, doing them for time will be a shock to your system that will shoot your heart rate through the roof and make you feel worked in no time.

Looking for a place to start? Here's a workout pulled completely out of the air, using nothing more than bodyweight and that jump rope you just packed.

Portable Fitness Essentials Circuit
Perform 3-5 rounds, resting 1 min. between each exercise.
5 sets, AMRAP in 40 sec.
+ 5 more exercises


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  • Quickly read through our step-by-step directions to ensure you're doing each workout correctly the first time, every time.

3. Resistance Bands

Come on, join the band! Resistance bands are a perfect portable option for anyone who wants to maintain strength while on the go. Bands are available in a wide range of different strengths. Once you know the basics, allowing you to get a quick pump, you can take a bodyweight workout up a notch, or just hit those muscles that seem to bear the brunt of all the sitting that goes along with travel.

Want a few ideas about where to start? Duh, curls! OK, that's just the most obvious choice. If you've been sitting on an airplane or in a car all day, a few sets of high-rep rows or rear-delt flies can feel like a lifesaver. Pull-downs, pull-aparts, overhead presses, push-ups—they're all on the table once you've got a little extra resistance.

That's just the upper-body, though. One of the best things you can do with resistance bands, particularly if you're traveling a lot, is to use them for lateral band walks. If your butt is asleep from sitting like most people's, a couple of sets of 15-20 steps in either direction will wake those glutes up and also make you more resilient to back pain. Seriously: If you did these every day for a month, you'd definitely be more bad-ass (so to speak) than you were 30 days earlier!

Maybe the best benefit to these bands is the way they keep constant tension on the muscles as you contract, allowing you to feel the most resistance at the peak and maximize muscular time under tension. No, scratch that: The best benefit is that they're cheap, light, and can be used a million different ways.

4. A High-Quality Protein Bar

When it's time to eat, the road is full of choices...most of them highly questionable. So how do you find the sweet spot between "I've gotta eat something" and "I'm gonna eat everything?" in-house nutritionist Paul Salter offers up a rock-solid approach in his article "How to Have a Fit Vacation and Dessert, Too." Rather than graze or try to keep up an overly ambitious schedule of 4-6 meals per day, try for three squares a day, and make use of a nutritional "bridge" like a protein bar.

Not only does a bar fit easily into your bag, but it jives just as well with your conscience—provided it's not one of those candy bars in disguise that will have you hangry again in half an hour. Choose a bar like FitJoy, which contains 20 grams of protein per bar and 10 grams of fiber. Both are essential for keeping you full and satisfied. Have it after your workout, during a long drive, or in your bag in case of emergency!

5. A Yoga Mat

Sure, you can make do with a towel or (ugh) the in-house mystery mat from a hotel gym. But why be a hero, when a real yoga mat—or even just a lightweight travel mat—offers better grip and none of the cooties? No need to answer. Just bring your mat!

Even if it's not in a class setting, a few minutes of the fundamental yoga poses can have a magical ability to melt away the stress and tension of travel. Feel like you really need a teacher? There are thousands of free or cheap classes online. Toss your mat on the ground at a park, the beach, in the airport, or out on your hotel balcony.

Your busy lifestyle can and will throw challenges in front of you. But letting them stop you entirely shouldn't be an option! Pack one or more of these tools, and you'll feel good and stay active no matter where the road leads you.

Show the world how you stay fit on the move and share your own favorite travel tips by tagging your posts #fitjoymoment on social media!

About the Author

Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark

Shannon Clark is a freelance health and fitness writer located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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