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I have always been a disciplined person and I enjoy routine. Increasingly, I have found that making considered lifestyle choices around sleep, diet and exercise tends to give me the best chance of successfully tackling anything I put my mind to.
There has, though, always been one unavoidable duty that threatens to interfere with my hard-wired routine: business travel.
With up to 10 trips a year, including long haul to the US and Asia, feeling “below par” during a stay abroad — and even after I return — at one point seemed inevitable.
But no longer. One experimental trip to New York cracked it for me, and changed the way I choose to travel for work.
My goal was to see if I could use a work trip to hit the “reset” button: to eat only plant-based foods, cut out sugar and alcohol, exercise regularly and get a good amount of sleep — a winning combination to avoid exhaustion, sluggishness and the affliction I generally describe as “foggy travel brain”.
Could I ruthlessly manage this regime and my business schedule? New York seemed as good a place as any to try — it is, after all, a city obsessed with fitness, clean eating and wellness.
Here’s a healthy travel formula that works for me.
Start at take-off
Reset begins at the airport, where — thanks to the growing number of plant-based dishes at departure-lounge eateries — it is quick and easy to switch into “clean” mode. When flying from London, head to Yo! Sushi at Gatwick, Wagamama or Itsu at Heathrow, or Pret A Manger at either location.
I generally don’t eat anything on the plane, and stick to water. When I arrive in New York, I adjust to the local time and eat and sleep accordingly.
Location, location, location
Success in this endeavour relies on everything you need being easily accessible, and so where you stay is crucial. I find SoHo the best area for exercise studios, plant-based eating and outdoor space within walking distance.
Stay at NoMo hotel for exactly that reason. There are several yoga and Pilates studios just minutes away, and a number of vegan food options close by. The hotel has its own gym, which is small but well equipped.
Request a corner room on the 18th floor or above and you will have absolute quiet and 180-degree views. Watching the sun rise over the city from this vantage point is breathtaking.
Jog through the jet lag
If you wake early, get yourself up and moving right away instead of tossing and turning, and join the ranks of runners pounding the pavement at 4.30am.
My favourite route heads west from SoHo to pick up the Hudson River Greenway, with its views of the New Jersey skyline — though the most spectacular section is south, towards Lower Manhattan, with glimpses of the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
On days when you feel less energetic, one of my favourite treats is candlelit yoga at Y7 Studio. The first class of the morning, “WeFlowHard” vinyasa, starts as early as 6am and is open to all levels. The studio is heated to 26-32C using infrared technology, encouraging a detoxifying sweat to stimulate circulation and increase flexibility.
Despite the name, it is a calming way to ease into the day. The New Client package can be purchased for $45; this covers three classes and includes the use of a mat and towel, so you don’t have to worry about packing your own.
To feel the burn from a Pilates session, head to Solidcore, SLT or Physique57. If you like HIIT, try 30/60/90, created by instructor Kristi Molinaro, who started her own studio based on the success and cult-like following of this one class: 30/60/90 is nonstop HIIT with short timed intervals of 30, 60 or 90 seconds. You’ll leave feeling invigorated and on a post-workout high.
Eat lean and clean
Being disciplined around the food and drink you consume has a profound effect on general wellbeing. We all know that healthy food is good for us physically, and there is research that suggests “eating clean” benefits mental health as well.
Broadly, this means consuming foods that are as close to their natural state as possible: fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (such as fish), wholegrains and healthy fats. I personally opt for a purely plant-based diet, and I also eliminate sugar and alcohol for the period that I am travelling.
Le Botaniste in SoHo is without question my favourite place for all things plant-based. I tend to hotfoot it there before I’ve even checked into my hotel, and leave with a couple of bottles of Red Beet Detox Juice (it tastes better than it sounds), which I stash in the fridge in my room.
(Sugar is my weakness, especially when I travel. It is the first thing I want when jet lag creeps up, and a vegetable or fruit smoothie helps to fight the craving.)
Breakfast, post-workout, is coconut yoghurt parfait with seasonal fruit and house-made granola at The Butcher’s Daughter.
Alternatively, I head for the counter service at Honey Brains, an establishment that claims its food is good for both body and brain, with a menu based “100 per cent on neuroscience”. My staple here is the “power oatmeal”, a mix of quinoa, gluten-free steel-cut oatmeal and warm spiced coconut, with endless topping choices from house peanut butter to mixed berries.
For a business breakfast, head to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABCV, a bright, cheerful venue that serves the most delicious wild-blueberry matcha muffins. The V in ABCV stands for vegetables, vibrations and Vongerichten — it doesn’t officially signify vegan, though many things on the menu are.
For a “clean” lunch, my latest discovery is Jajaja, a fabulous plant-based Mexican eaterie with dishes ranging from jackfruit tamale to hijiki hearts of palm ceviche. There are three locations: Lower East Side, West Village and Brooklyn. The food is colourful and the atmosphere light and airy — a perfect antidote to jet lag.
Swap cocktails for mocktails
When it comes to social events, I rarely feel I can’t be involved, even though I’m not drinking alcohol. This is thanks to the countless bars in the city offering fabulous mocktails and juices, which are presented almost like pieces of art.
The most impressive is The NoMad Bar, housed in an early-20th-century Beaux Arts building that has been fully restored to its original grandeur.
The Campbell Bar is a great spot that doesn’t have mocktails on the menu, but the bartenders will make alcohol-free drinks to order. So theatrical is the process of mixing them, you almost forget they don’t actually contain any alcohol.
A wellness boutique and spa with a bold mission, it promises to help you “feel better, look better, with the ultimate goal of helping you live better”.
Every product and service it offers has been chosen with this in mind, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you want to feel your best, boost your energy and reduce your stress levels — this is the place for you.
Before indulging at the café, go for a quick pick-me-up, such as a full-spectrum infrared sauna. Aside from helping you to relax, the sauna provokes similar reactions in the body as moderate exercise, including sweating and an increased heart rate. The notion that one can lie down and relax while simultaneously exercising the heart and burning calories makes this rather addictive.
Another option is full-body cryotherapy, where for two to three minutes you step inside a cryochamber that’s filled with liquid-nitrogen-cooled air at a temperature of -130C. Why would you do such a thing? It is said to speed up muscle-healing and recovery and boost metabolism. It certainly makes me feel incredibly energetic, if a little shell-shocked!
If you prefer something slightly less extreme, try a cryofacial, where air that’s been cooled cryogenically to -106C is applied to your skin.
Clean Market also offers IV drips that are meant to deliver vitamins and minerals straight into your bloodstream — a popular new health trend. I’ll admit you have to be quite brave to go for this — who would opt to have a needle in the arm? — but the after-effects are said to make it feel worthwhile. I found it helped combat jet lag by increasing energy levels, and improving mental clarity and focus.
On days when the above feels like too much effort, it is mercifully easy in New York to eat clean without even stepping outside your hotel room, thanks to order-in services such as Sakara Life. A plant-rich, organic delivery service, Sakara will deliver portioned meals — think spicy harissa chard bowl, say — direct to your hotel or office. It’s the kind of food that is hard to find on the average room-service menu — and there’s a range of boosting powders and healthy snacks as well.
One could be forgiven for thinking that this is a missed opportunity, given all that New York has to offer. But, while I am just as partial to a large gin and tonic as I am to a ginger shot, this is a way to experience the city in a totally different way — one that allows you to end your trip feeling significantly better than when you left home.
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