The New Business Traveler: Peloton Instructor Emma Lovewell on Biking, Hiking, and Eating Her Way Through Japan
Finding time to exercise when you're traveling for work is an art form, and one that Emma Lovewell has mastered—although she's quick to add that on the road, even sightseeing can count as a workout. On a recent trip to Japan, the Peloton instructor and wellness expert took one of the longest rides of her life: cycling past rice fields, hiking sacred mountains, and watching Geishas perform, as part of an itinerary with travel company Elsewhere to promote travel to Japan. It was a reminder, she says, of just how meaningful travel can be.
Lovewell, who was also completing her memoir, Live Learn Love Well: Lessons From A Life of Progress, Not Perfection, during the trip, chatted with Condé Nast Traveler about her favorite moments in Japan, including mediating with monks, practicing Iaido with a real Samurai sword, and unsurprisingly, a 90-mile bike ride along the coast.
What was the destination?
My partner Dave and I went to Japan for 10 days last fall. We flew to Tokyo, spent the first few days there, and then took a train up to Yamagata Prefecture, where we spent most of our time.
Purpose of the trip?
I was working with travel company Elsewhere to help promote this region in Japan on social media before the border officially opened back up to visitors. Elsewhere matches travelers with local experts to create an incredible personalized itinerary.
What was on the agenda?
Our days were jam packed. We went to Sanjo-Niigata, where most knives and cutlery in Japan is made. We got to see the factories, how skilled craftsmen who have been doing this for over 40 years actually make knives, and they taught us how to make our own kitchen knives.
We spent one night sleeping in a Buddhist temple with monks. In the morning, we meditated with them and then took a half-day hike up Haguro mountain to meet with Chef Ido. He specializes in making traditional ido sojo ryonen—a meal made using all fermented vegetables originally developed for monks to sustain themselves during long periods on the mountain. We were able to cook this meal and eat it with him. I love that we got our heart rate up during the hike, sweat a little bit, and then were treated to this really nutritious and delicious meal.
Another special part of our itinerary was a 90-mile bike ride along the north coast of Japan. It was one of the longest rides I have ever done. It was incredibly long, but incredibly beautiful.
What did you pack?
A lot of muted colors—black, white, gray, and navy mostly. My number one rule for packing: I should be able to wear every item of clothing I bring more than once. I recommend bringing shoes that are easy to slip on and off, since it's traditional to take them off before entering many restaurants and shops.
What’s the one item that makes work travel easier for you?
I like to bring something that makes me a feel a little luxurious while I'm away from home and out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I'll bring lavender essential oils and spray it on my pillow to create a more relaxing environment where I'm staying.
As a fitness expert, do you always workout while you're traveling?
I try not to be hard on myself and just get my workout in where I can. Sometimes that means a hike or walking when we're sightseeing. If I notice there's not a lot of movement built into my itinerary, then I'll make sure to fit that in somewhere else—maybe that's getting up early to walk to a coffee shop or go for a run, which is a great way to see a new place. And of course, the Peloton app is so convenient. I can do a 10-minute body workout using the app without even leaving my hotel room.
As important as it is to move our bodies, I totally believe when you're traveling, do the thing, eat the dessert, and don't be so hard on yourself. As much as I want to go back to every single place I visit, there's a chance this might be my first and only time in this place. So I tell myself no regrets, go for it.
What was the best thing you ate?
Our first meal in Tokyo was a traditional kaiseki dinner, which included 10 small dishes served during a three-hour experience. Our server spoke English and Japanese so she was able to translate everything from the chef about what we were eating. Everything from the presentation to the flavors had so much thought put into it and told a story. That's one of my favorite things about traveling—I love learning about why I'm eating what I'm eating in a certain place.
One thing that was really interesting to me is that in the US, we're used to restaurants serving miso soup first and then rice with your meal. In Japan, you get miso soup at the end of your meal and a small bowl of rice. The idea there is to enjoy all of the amazing flavors of the food during your meal and to not fill up completely on rice or soup. After this first meal in Tokyo, we noticed that became pretty standard everywhere we ate. That signaled to us that the meal was ending.
Highlight of the trip?
We got to learn Iaidō, a type of Japanese martial art. We had swords—that were not sharpened— and learned some traditional moves. At the end of our lesson, they let us hold a completely sharp Samurai sword. We got to swing the sword at a rolled up, wet Tatami mat, which, we were told, is the same density as a leg—and we got to actually feel what it was like to chop the mat.
How has travel influenced your book?
I talk about travel quite a bit in my book. When I was growing up, I often looked at my immigrant mother [who is from Taiwan] and wondered “Why isn't she like my friend's moms? Why is she so different?” I looked at her with such a critical eye until I traveled internationally for the first time. Once I was the foreigner in another country and was in a new environment, unable to speak the language, I developed such a better understanding of who my mom is. She has gone through so much and created a whole new life for herself in a place where she didn't have many resources or family nearby. Travel helped me with empathy, my relationship with my mother, and my relationship with many other people in my life. It makes us all a little more patient and a little more understanding.
Emma Lovewell's memoir Live Learn Love Well: Lessons From A Life of Progress, Not Perfection is out now.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler