Living and traveling abroad forces you to push your body to many limits. You are giving up a habitual routine to eat irregular foods at irregular intervals, hike through harsh and remote areas, and forsake sleep for a chance to experience a new sort of nightlife. It’s all in the name of appreciation for where you are. You want your body to be able to take it, but you don’t want to worry about being strict with your diet and fitness regiment.
I’ll always remember the first time I went hiking in South Korea. Chiaksan in Gangwon-do is a beautiful mountain park with two possible trails: an advanced route with a rough trail, or an expert route with endless stairs–both much steeper than anything I’d previously attempted. I went in a group and struggled at the end of the pack. I didn’t make it to the peak that time, the darkness descended and my slow pace was my downfall.
I committed myself to going back to Chiak, and in a few months I did, and I reached the peak. The entire thing was much easier once I’d incorporated a few healthier habits into my routine. But, leaving Korea a few months later meant leaving the routine I’d build over time. After a few weeks in vacation mode, I realized that my lifestyle was becoming unsustainable. I didn’t want to structure my time too much, or refuse myself any new experiences. Instead, I picked up a few small habits that helped me maintain my fitness and energy levels along the way.
Switch to wine
I think being able to go out for a few drinks (if that’s what you want to do) is a perfectly fine part of the travel experience. However, being blindly wasted and having a hangover-from-hell the next morning can make you second-guess your choices. Switching to wine is a good way to monitor your consumption. Wine is meant to be savoured and two or three glasses will get you sufficiently lightheaded before calling it a night. Of course, like any alcohol, it is possible to get black-out drunk on wine. Buy a decent bottle and remember that drinking it should be part of the experience. That should slow you down.
Find your connection to nature
Exploring the outdoors is pretty likely to keep you on your feet. Focussing your adventures on touring parks and hiking through hilly terrain will challenge you physically while giving you a chance to really appreciate the landscape surrounding you. If you’re not quite an outdoor enthusiast, you can always start off with hiking paths within city parks. Eventually, the serenity of nature and possibilities of wildlife sightings will take over and you’ll be looking for more.
Bicycling is the new walking
Walking everywhere is great, and will certainly do something for your health. But, if you’re already used to walking everywhere, you won’t really see the same results. Renting a bicycle for a day is my favourite way to get to know a new place. Sometimes, hostels will have bicycles that are free to borrow for guests. The most I’ve paid to use a bicycle for a day was $15 in Australia. Faster than walking, cheaper than transit, and a chance to get some cardio in? Why not?
Aim for 5 a day
That’s five servings of different fruits and vegetables a day. When you make a bigger effort to eat a variety of plant foods, you’ll find your consumption of not-so-healthy food naturally drops. This is an easy way to stick with a healthy diet, without actually giving it much thought. The more fruit and veg you consume, the more you’ll crave it over other foods. There are a lot of controversial opinions when it comes to diet, but you can’t argue against the fact that more plant food = good.
Plan your water consumption
Buy a large reusable water bottle (maybe .75-1 L) and aim to drink and refill it a couple of times a day. Not all at once, of course. Fill in the morning, drink by lunch. Refill and drink by dinner. You’ll have to adjust how many times you do this by the size of your bottle, climate you’re in, and level of physical exertion. If you’re not used to drinking an adequate amount of water, you will likely find yourself having to take a few extra bathroom breaks. However, your body will adapt to healthier hydration habits and you won’t be running to the toilet every ten minutes for long.
When you find a scale, use it
We all know that weight doesn’t determine health, but a scale can be your friend while traveling. You may find that you’ll go days and weeks without coming across a scale while on the road. When I backpacked in Southeast Asia, I quickly broke my obsession with weighing myself daily. When I did see a scale–those ones by pharmacies that you pay a dollar and get your height and weight–I took advantage. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, but I wasn’t looking to gain either. Using the scale kept me on track to maintain my weight through a non-existent routine. If my weight fluctuated, I’d pay closer attention to what I was consuming and my physical activity. It was a good way to keep me in check in the long term.
Give yourself a mental health break
We all want to take advantage of every single second of travel. But, how can you enjoy your travel if you’re stressed to the max about tight schedules, don’t have time to make longer than a 5-minute Skype call to your mom, and somehow forgot to eat lunch for three days straight? It’s OK to spend an hour on the internet in a café, catching up on your favourite blogs, or go see that movie you’ve been wanting to watch rather than party for the fifth night in a row. You’ll enjoy your time much more if you actually give yourself a chance to decompress once in a while.
Limit your caffeine
Every time there’s a lull in the day, my brain immediately tells me that a coffee would be nice. A coffee is nice, but too much coffee is not. Sadly, I’m a lover of coffee with a sensitivity to caffeine. “There’s such a thing as decaf,” you say, but I am deaf to these words. I’ll make the same mistakes, over and over until I am a shaky, anxious mess. That is, until I discovered how awesome I feel when I just drink tea. Suddenly, I can drink a warm, caffeinated beverage without the accompanying quickened heartbeat. My energy levels stay constant throughout the day, without the highs and lows of coffee, and I like to believe my teeth are a little whiter.
Don’t forget strength training
Whether that means doing push-ups on the floor of your room, or joining in on a free yoga class nearby. Muscle can be built relatively fast and take a long time to deteriorate, but if you’re traveling long-term you’ll want to make an effort to maintain.
It’s fine to have an off day, but don’t let that off day become the norm. Staying fit will help you have the energy levels and stamina to get the most out of every new experience, and give you the confidence to try something different. If the thought of working out makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry, take the day off. Or go for a walk. Or do 100 jumping jacks (something is better than nothing!). Not the end of the world. Just don’t forget the benefits. You’re a traveler, your body is your vehicle in which to experience the world.
What are your easy tips for staying fit while traveling? Does travel inspire you to take better care of your health?
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