Staying Fit & Healthy while Travelling
When I am at home in the UK I find it so easy to stick to a healthy diet and strict fitness regime. I would prep my food before I went to work and only bring enough food for the day (to avoid mindless snacking). I would either go to the gym before or after work (or both) and it all seemed to fit into a nice little manageable routine. Surely I can stay fit & healthy while travelling.
The guys at work would joke about how I was going to put on weight while I was travelling for a year and how I will be stuffing my face with pizza once I hit USA. I was adamant that this wasn’t going to happen to me. I am great at staying in routine and having self-control. I’ll only eat the healthy food and I will find gyms when I travel. How hard could it be?
That all sounded amazing in theory. I didn’t take into account that my UK foods wouldn’t always be available in other countries. Or that there wouldn’t be gyms close by, or that I wouldn’t even have the time to actually go to a gym. Not to mention trying to work out in the blistering sun.
For three consecutive weeks in Cusco I ate white bread for breakfast, which I am pretty sure was loaded with sugar. Then I added jam! Mixing that with a couple of cups of coffee to start the day off right. In Rio I found it even harder as everything seemed to be loaded with sugar and we didn’t have the facilities to cook for ourselves. There was one vegan restaurant in Rio but it was really far from our hotel and the route to get there was ‘questionable’.
Most of the time travelling involves a lot of walking, hiking and sightseeing so you are at least getting in some form of exercise. I unfortunately had been used to very intense workouts and was working specifically on gaining muscle tone. Travelling is not a place where you can get into a routine, I don’t know what I was thinking. It actually hit me hard to see the changes in my body. I was losing the tightness and getting a little more fluffy. It actually started to get me down. However, I gave myself a stern talking to. You are travelling the world, who cares if you put on a bit of weight or a lot of weight for that matter. As long as you stay healthy and active, your abs can wait until you have a base again.
However, it is important to most of us to keep up our fitness, not only for our physical health but also for our mental health. Here are my top tips for exercising abroad:-
- Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t fit it into your day, be flexible.
- Go for a jog or run (if it is safe to do so). It’s free and great for working on your stamina.
- See if there is a gym close by with a cheap weekly pass.
- Do body weight exercises in your room, push ups, squats, planks etc.
- If you are lucky and have enough space in your room throw together a HIIT routine to do every morning. High knees, burpees, tuck jumps, jacks. You really don’t need to do much to get your heart pumping. Just be mindful of the noise you make for the rooms below you.
- Look up some yoga videos on the internet. Yoga is great for core strength and balance.
- Book a hotel with a gym. These are usually a little pricier though and travelling long term means cutting the cloth a little.
- Buy some resistance bands and use these instead of weights. They won’t have exactly the same effect but it’s a good alternative.
- Join an online training programme. I loved doing the Insanity classes at my local gym and decided to join the Beachbody on Demand programme while travelling. It is less than £40 for three months which I think is reasonable. As long as you can get an internet signal at some point then it is worth it. I downloaded a few workouts to my tablet to make sure I could watch them even when I didn’t have WIFI.
Above all, it is important to stay active but do not beat yourself up for any changes in your body. This is nothing compared to the amazing experiences you will have on your travels. It is a great way to detach yourself from our usual vanity and let go of all them silly worries.
What about food?
Exercise is great but if you are fuelling your body with junk food then you are fighting a loosing battle. I completely understand those that go on a two-week holiday and indulge. It’s a ‘let your hair down’ moment. However, I started to get lured into that trap at the beginning of my travels. I had no routine and was ‘treating’ myself far too much. It wasn’t until I was on my second chocolate covered banana in Cusco (bananas are good for you right) that I decided I cannot carry on like this.
I was however always following my vegan diet which was far easier than everyone told me it would be. This at least kept me away from the worst food choices out there. The hardest thing was to stay away from all the sugar! Here are my top tips for staying healthy while travelling long term.
- Get enough water. My Nalgene bottle has been a life saver. You can fill it up with boiling water. Keep it as a hot water bottle as it cools down (I am always cold). Pop it in the fridge or somewhere cold and you have a fresh batch of water ready and safe to drink. I still try and get my 1-2 litres of water in a day.
- Eat fruit. Fruit is full of nutrients and antioxidants and will keep you feeling full. It will also satisfy your sweet tooth and stop you craving those delicious desserts.
- If you do need a chocolate fix find a bar as close to 100% cocoa as you can. Watch out for the added sugar. I found a really dark bar in Peru but it was loaded with extra sugar.
- Be careful of the fruit juices and smoothies. Although these sound like a healthy option they can also be loaded with sugar. Make sure you check what is actually in them. Also limit how many you have each day. Consuming 10 bananas on top of your daily calorie intake is not a great idea.
- Opt for Veggie Juice. I cracked in Arequipa and bought a juicer. We had an apartment for 4 weeks and it was insanely cheap. I have been making fresh carrot juice every day. You can add beetroot, broccoli and a whole host of other fruit and veggies. Lots of places are selling veggie juice now. Its great for an added boost.
- Find avocados. Seriously. Even though I am pretty sure I have an addiction to them, they are a great nutritionally balanced food.
- Vegan doesn’t mean healthy. I always find out if there are vegan restaurants close by via my HappyCow App. However, this doesn’t mean that they are ultimately healthy. Vegan food can also be loaded with extra unhealthy ingredients, so just be cautious if you do go out for food regularly.
- Watch out for ‘bars’. I know the feeling when preparing for your hike and wondering what snack foods you can bring. Warm apples and bruised bananas doesn’t sound appealing and the handy trek bar is calling out to you. Use these only as a last resort. I couldn’t believe the sugar content of some bars, such as Nature Valley (it sounds so healthy). Try and find a vegan or organic shop which are more likely to sell healthier versions of these.
- Keep clean. Depending on where you are travelling to, keeping your food clean and safe to eat can be tough. I quickly encountered this when I visited La Paz. I have met many other travellers who also got sick in La Paz, coincidence? Check out my blog post on avoiding food poisoning while travelling.
The most important thing to remember when travelling long term is that you still need to look after your body and stay as healthy as possible. Yes, go out and enjoy the local food but do not make it a habit. Carry water purifying tablets, diarrhoea tablets and always have good travel insurance.
Happy healthy travels.
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