When I earned my personal training certification, I was told by veteran trainers and gym owners that if I wanted to earn a comfortable living, I had to set up shop in one place and build a steady book of clients over the course of several years.
As a new trainer who just signed a lease on an apartment, that was fine.
But after a few years, the wanderlust started.
Believing it was possible to become a traveling personal trainer, I spent hours researching how to be a successful trainer without being tied down to one place.
Since then, personal training and fitness writing have paid my way around the globe. I’ve been a travelling personal trainer in Poland, South Korea, Bolivia, and Peru, to name a few countries.
If you want to become a traveling personal trainer, there’s no better time to do it. Online personal training and the ever-growing fitness industry have created new opportunities around the world for travel fitness jobs.
Here are the best ways to merge a personal training career with travel.
What Personal Trainer Certificate is Most Respected?
The first step in in learning how to become a traveling personal trainer is to get certified by a nationally recognized organization.
Below, you’ll find a nationally accredited personal training certification list.
These are organizations that are considered the most respected in the United States, and they each offer a personal training certification program along with multiple recertification opportunities.
I’ve ranked them in the following order based on a few factors:
- How difficult they are to study for and attain
- How you’ll use the certification in your career (e.g., medical field vs. online personal trainer)
- My personal recommendations based on research and dealing with each certification directly
ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine)
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is a clinically focused certification.
Most trainers who opt for the ACSM have graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree. And a good percentage of these trainers have plans on entering the medical field.
In other words, the ACSM is a no-joke certification.
The American College of Sports Medicine churns out a ton of scholarly articles, and most of the other certifications reference this research in their own textbooks and study materials.
If you’re learning how to become a traveling fitness instructor with no long-term plans to enter a medical field such as physical therapy, I’d recommend selecting another certification.
This will save you sanity and cash because this is not an easy certification to get, and it requires far more studying than the others.
With that said, if you want to boost your credibility and marketing potential and you’re ready to dedicate yourself to studying like hell, I’d say go for it.
I’d argue that ACSM is the gold standard when it comes to personal training certifications, which will allow you to command higher fees.
NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association)
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) certification is a step behind the ACSM, but not by much.
From the fitness assessment to the program design, NSCA is serious about the science.
Similar to ACSM, the NSCA has plenty of published articles, but they are written by certified personal trainers.
The biggest difference between these top two certifications is that the NSCA has a heavy focus on athletes. That includes performance enhancement as well as rehabilitation.
I’d suggest the NSCA if you know that you want to work with athletic clients.
Yes, the things you’ll learn in the NSCA do apply to general population clients, but think about this:
If your focus is on gen pop clients, why go through all that hard work for a certification that focuses on athletes?
NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)
The National Academy of Sports Medicine is famous for its optimum performance training (OPT) model, which is directly used or has inspired the training program design that can be found in many commercial gyms across the United States.
The research used in NASM textbooks and study materials is based on the research performed by ACSM, but the science is a lot more digestible.
I’m certified through NASM. And I chose NASM because they were in the Goldilocks zone for me.
They weren’t as medically driven and serious as ACSM, but they weren’t a joke certification that you find online and can get in a weekend either.
The program design is one of the best and most replicated in any gym worth its salt, and while it’s not the cheapest, it’s also not the most expensive personal training certification.
ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association)
I’d compare the International Sports Sciences Association certification to a sampler plate on a dinner menu.
You get a little bit of everything.
In other words, it’s a good option for trainers who aren’t sure what to specialize in yet, and they want to start working with clients to get a better feel for that.
So, do gyms accept ISSA certification?
You bet. It’s considered one of the most popular personal training certifications, especially for those new to the industry.
My only gripe with ISSA is that the final exam is open book, which I don’t support.
But let’s get real: I’m just grumpy because I wasn’t allowed to have my book during the NASM exam!
Here’s the thing: It’s not as easy as picking up the book, taking the test, and passing with a perfect score. The test is timed and without some level of knowledge from studying, there’s no way you would have enough time to navigate the book for each question.
I think if you’re serious about training, you should know the book front to back as far as fitness assessments, program design, and special populations. (But I won’t get on my soap box.)
Personally, I think ISSA is for two types of trainers:
Those that aren’t great test takers but are serious about improving themselves as trainers every chance they get.
And those that want to make sure they pass the test so they can get started as traveling fitness trainers ASAP.
ACE (American Council on Exercise)
I remember when I was researching options for my certification, ACE was not an option for serious trainers.
Every gym manager I talked to said they wouldn’t hire me if I had an ACE CPT.
Times have changed, and the reputation of ACE has significantly improved over the years.
Not only are they considered one of the top five respected personal trainer certifications, but they are still one of the most reasonably priced.
I’ve gone through ACE for one of my recertifications as a sports conditioning specialist. It was surprisingly good, albeit a bit dated.
With that said, the recertification did give me plenty of new ideas to use with my performance-focused clients.
ACE might be last on my list, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad option. I think ACE is a perfect fit for anyone who isn’t really sure what’s next in the long-term picture.
If you’re on the fence about the fitness industry as a long-term option, I’d say try ACE. By the time you need to get recertified (two years), I guarantee you’ll have a better idea of what your future is in the fitness industry.
From here, you can explore specializations such as the master trainer certification (more on that below).
Personal Training Certifications I Don’t Recommend
Remember the cliché, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” as you do your own research for certifications.
Beware of certifications that promise to make you an expert trainer over the course of a weekend.
Your initial personal trainer certification should take no less than a month to study for and complete.
When I studied for my NASM personal training certification, I took full advantage of the allotted six months of self-study before taking my final exam.
I think this is a good policy because you really want to know your stuff when you go looking for a personal training job.
Again, do your own research for personal training certifications to make the final call, but I can almost guarantee that it’ll be one of the programs I mentioned.
How to Find Traveling Personal Trainer Jobs
You have your certification, your ticket is booked, and you’re looking for job ads titled, “traveling fitness instructors.”
Here’s the thing about travel fitness jobs: You’re going to have to either dig for them or create your own opportunities.
I’m a fan of the latter.
Let’s break down both on-site and online ways to be a travel personal trainer. I’ll also cover some fitness travel jobs that aren’t related to personal training.
Travel Personal Trainer Jobs On-Site
If you want to work face-to-face with clients, there are plenty of options that will take you to different cities, states, and countries.
Getting hired by an on-site gym in another country is ideal if you want to stay in that country for more than the allotted tourist visa timeframe, which is usually three months.
Commercial gyms will typically be your visa sponsor, which would provide you with at least a year in that country.
Here are the best ways I’ve found to become an on-site travel trainer.
Can I Train People at Commercial Gyms?
There are a few big-name gyms that can be found across the United States and in other countries.
If you want to work at an international location, you can start in the U.S. and then apply to transfer, but keep in mind that you may need to speak the local language.
Gold’s Gym is the best example. Outside of its locations in the U.S., you can find a Gold’s in Ecuador, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Australia, to name a few countries.
Can I Train People at Hotel Chains?
Many well-known hotel chains, such as Marriot and Hilton, offer opportunities for personal trainers around the globe.
If you can get an interview, make it known that you’re interested in transferring to a different state or country within a certain time frame such as six to twelve months.
Personal Training Jobs on Cruise Ships
Cruise ship schedules can be hectic.
But if you’re flexible and you don’t mind living at sea for weeks at a time on a fully loaded boat, this is an excellent chance to train a rotating list of clients and see dozens of new cities throughout the world.
Honestly, this would have been my backup plan had I not been successful with my other ventures in traveling fitness jobs. (All meals provided and new clients every week? Sign me up.)
If you’re someone who likes to have a safety net under them when trying new things, especially a new direction in life, being a traveling fitness instructor on a cruise ship is a good and reliable way to go.
Just be sure to check what current and former employees are saying about the cruise line.
Destination-Based Workshops and Retreats
Imagine working at a meditation retreat in Japan, teaching a kickboxing course in Thailand, or guiding a yoga class in India.
Destination-based workshops such as these have become incredibly popular. These personal training jobs abroad offer you a chance to travel the globe and teach without the constraints of a commercial gym.
Lasting between five to fourteen days, you’ll teach a few classes during the day, meet with your peers to network and discuss teaching strategies, and then go and enjoy your destination.
Become a Certified Master Trainer
If you enjoy helping other personal trainers improve, you may want to consider a position as a master trainer.
Every personal training certification program requires that you get recertified every two or three years, focusing on a specialization such as fitness nutrition or sports conditioning.
By becoming a master trainer, you can teach recertification specialties throughout the United States and abroad.
For example, let’s say you specialize in performance enhancement. Personal trainers would be able to take your course and earn their recertification.
The trainer gets recertified, and you’ve just made money to pay for your next plane ticket.
Asking yourself, “How do I become a certified master trainer?”
NASM, NCSF, and ISSA offer a master trainer certification. There are other programs but these three are the most popular.
And now you’re probably wondering, “Is the master fitness trainer course hard?”
The course content will vary between organizations, but overall, you should be prepared to dedicate just as much time to studying and practicum as your original certification.
Traveling Personal Training… with a Catch
There are two more ways to become a traveling personal trainer, but these methods come with a catch:
The pay isn’t great, or you’ll have more responsibilities than a traditional personal trainer.
Still, both options give you what you want in the end: a job as a traveling personal trainer in the country of your choice.
This is when you trade your skills and knowledge – in this case, your skills as a personal trainer – for accommodation, meals, and (perhaps) a small stipend.
For the new trainer, a work exchange could be a good option for you to hone your skills, discover your strengths, and help others.
Sure, there may be no pay or very little pay involved, but it provides you a chance to travel and become a better trainer through real-world experience.
ESL Physical Education
Many schools throughout the world hire physical education teachers for English-based instruction in basic sports.
The catch is that you may be responsible for a few English language classes.
When I taught English in South Korea for a year, I was placed in a sports science school. I taught basic English sentences and grammar.
But I also taught an English-based sports curriculum featuring American-style sports such as weightlifting, basketball, and dodgeball.
I can’t say enough good things about this opportunity.
Yes, the work hours in Korea are loooooooong. But my students were the best, my co-teachers were supportive, and I adored everything about South Korea.
Now, because I went through the EPIK program, I didn’t choose the school I was placed in. However, because of my background as a certified personal trainer, EPIK matched me with a sports school. During your interview with EPIK or a similar program, you can make it clear that you want to be placed in a sports science school and they’ll do their best to accommodate you.
Online Personal Trainer
Online personal training jobs have exploded in popularity over the last few years. (There wasn’t much of a choice, was there?)
If you can’t find a face-to-face personal trainer job in another state or country, there’s always the option of online personal training.
Using your laptop, you provide complete fitness consultations, classes, and guidance via webcam.
This might be the ideal option for many of you who don’t want to be tied down to one place. There are a ton of benefits of online personal training.
Work from Anywhere
As long as you have a reliable WiFi connection, you’ll be able to work from anywhere in the world.
Set Your Own Schedule
Being an in-house personal trainer limits your working hours to those of the gym.
Training online means you set your own schedule; however, this could also mean having an unconventional schedule as time zones between you and your clients may vary.
Form Close Relationships
I believe that online personal training allows you to form a closer relationship with a client than inside a commercial gym where the focus is usually on sales.
Without the worry of the gym taking a big cut of your pay, you can relax and get to know your client.
Now, with that said, there are some things to consider when you become an online personal trainer or fitness instructor.
Running the Business
When you become your own boss, you take on all of the responsibilities. You manage everything from sales and marketing to self-employment taxes.
Online software, email reminders, outsourcing, and invoicing apps take care of most of the self-employed lifestyle, but it’s something to prepare for.
Crazy Client Schedules
Let’s say you’re living the life in Bali, but you have a client who lives in Ireland.
They insist on training at 5 p.m. their time and for you, that means a midnight session.
Most clients are flexible, but keep in mind that you could find yourself with an unconventional work schedule.
The Client Hustle
When you work in a commercial gym, the majority of your clients walk right through the door, and you focus on selling your services.
When you are an online trainer, you are responsible for finding and selling yourself to potential clients.
Creating your own website and posting to third-party job sites can alleviate much of the work.
Other Travel Fitness Jobs
Here are some more travel fitness jobs outside of being a traveling fitness instructor or personal trainer.
It’s not personal training, but you do get to spend a ton of time outside in new locations being a hiking guide for groups.
I’ve seen numerous opportunities for this across the United States and abroad, especially in Cusco, Peru.
Create Workout Programs
You can create and sell customized workout programs for clients online.
I’d recommend offering a set-price package deal where the client pays one price and they receive a video consultation with one and a customized workout program for a set number of weeks or months.
How are your writing skills? If you’re good at and enjoy writing, you can become a freelance health and fitness writer.
This is what continues to pay my way around the world. I create marketing content for large fitness businesses including blog posts, textbooks, lead magnets, and copywriting.
Keep this in mind: Like any career path, you need to strive to constantly improve your writing skills. The online content and fitness industry both change at a rapid pace, so you need to be wiling to dedicate yourself to learning and improving each and every year. But that’s no different than being a personal trainer, is it?
Interested in Becoming a Traveling Personal Trainer?
Do you want to travel short-term or long-term as a personal trainer? Which of these opportunities are you most interested in? Have questions about my experience as a traveling personal trainer? Let me know in the comments below.