by Carol Milano

"Sometimes my clients panic before a trip, for fear of losing what they've gained in their regular flexibility and strength training," confides Joan Welsch, a certified fitness instructor to disabled adults in New York City.

For a vacation, business trip, or even weekend visit to relatives, it's hard to pack special equipment. But while you're away, you can maintain mobility and confidence, with some easy daily activities.


  • Do isometric exercises -- totally portable, as they use only your own body. "Work different muscle groups by contracting and holding as long as you can, counting to 10 or 20. Relax, then do the opposite muscle group," explains Ray Cooper, OTR, Coordinator of Outpatient Rehabilitation Services at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "To work legs, you can lean and push against a wall, or push against a seat."
  • For good isotonic exercise, pack lightweight resistance SportBands or Dynabands. Available in different strengths for varying ability, they allow a full upper and lower body workout, comparable to free weights. Loop a band around a chair leg and your ankle, to get resistance for leg-straightening. Welsch suggests Bicep and Tricep extensions or curls, which can be done seated or standing.
  • To stretch, use compact, lightweight nylon ropes. They work especially well for for hamstring and quadriceps, whether you sit or stand. If you forgot your stretch ropes, use a bath towel to create a sling for your foot to facilitate a stretch.


  • Use typical guest room fixtures to stretch, tone and strengthen. If you can't do floor exercises, tie a nylon double loop (SportBand Door Attachment) "to a dresser or doorknob -- anything at waist level. For lateral pulldowns, hang the loop over a sturdy overhead pole, like a closet rod or shower. Check the rod's strength first!" warns Welsch.
  • Walk around the nearest mall. "They're flat and level, with good climate control and benches at intervals. Walk fast enough to raise your heart rate, for about 30 minutes," advises Cooper. Tailor your walk to your individual endurance and ability.
  • Create your own Stairmaster. "Choose a flight of steps with a railing, in case you need a safeguard. Don't use the rail to propel yourself -- hover your hand over it. Step straight up. Using thigh and gluteal muscles, keep your upper body straight. It's an aerobic workout, with regular breathing and a slightly accelerated heart rate," says Welsch. Do as many flights as you can without exhausting yourself.
  • Do resistance exercise. Did you pack one-pound weights? Cooper's alternative -- especially when visiting family or staying at a B&B -- is soup cans, weighing about 16 ounces.
  • Use a hotel's fitness facilities. "If your grasp's limited, ask your OT or PT for a cuff so you can hold a Universal Machine grabbar, barbell, or other equipment," Cooper recommends. Light, packable flexion mitts, made of soft vinyl with a thumb opening, take about a week to order. If you don't have one, wrap an Ace bandage thickly around your hand.


In July, Welsch's client, Janice Greer, attended a convention at a Philadelphia hotel with a gym. "I have balance problems, being deaf in one ear and blind in one eye. Joan told me I could avoid Treadmill Vertigo by using the lowest setting," reports Greer. She'd never been on a treadmill before, but lasted 15 minutes. "It was a very weird experience. At 6am, there was no one to ask for help. Next time I go to a place with exercise equipment, I'll find out how to use it before I leave," she declares.

Greer discovered the final tip: plan ahead. First, find out if your destination has equipment. "If not, what can you reasonably carry -- don't pack too much! Bands are the lightest gear, but isometric exercise requires nothing extra. Learn those stretches before you go," Cooper urges savvy travelers.

NOTE: Before starting any new exercise program, check with your doctor.


To find a Registered Occupational Therapist:
American Occupational Therapy Association (

To find a certified fitness trainer:
International Dance & Exercise Association (
or American Council on Exercise (

Carol Milano, a New York-based health writer, is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of three books.

Many of these articles appear on the publication's website, which are often password-protected or members-only. For your convenience, I've gathered them on my own website.