I love traveling and I live to travel, but one thing I dislike about travel is the sedentary lifestyle that often comes with it. It’s easy to become out of shape while traveling because you spend a lot of time sedentary by sitting on a bus or train, sleep-deprived from early mornings and overnight buses, sitting around having drinks with new friends and partying, etc. The traveling culture typically isn’t an active one because many people use travel and vacation as an excuse to be inactive. But if you’re traveling for months without exercising, your health and fitness will suffer substantially. And you may find that when you return home, your clothes won’t fit anymore (something I’ve personally experienced a few times), and that is never a good feeling.
When I’m home, I genuinely enjoy being very active. I love how it relieves stress, clears my mind and makes me feel better overall. I decided that travel shouldn’t put a stop to my active lifestyle, so I found a way to incorporate it into my travels. It can take more effort and motivation to be active while traveling, but making an effort to be active at least a few days each week is key for staying fit and not having months of damage to undo when you return home.
More importantly, regardless of size or weight, some level of fitness is important as a human being because we are made to move and be active. Many of the most amazing, impressive and must-see sites in the world can’t be experienced without some physical effort. Like hiking to see the gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda; hiking Mount Ijen in Indonesia to see the blue fire; hiking Acatenango in Guatemala to see an active volcano erupting; hiking Huayna Picchu, the mountain with a bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu, in Peru, etc. You definitely don’t need to be an athlete to see these sites, but a certain level of fitness definitely helps. And if you do a longer trek (like Acatenango or the Inca Trail in Peru) there’s a huge difference between actually enjoying it vs. struggling in misery and hating it (or being fit vs. unfit). Acatenango, the 1.5 day roundtrip hike to 4000m to see an active volcano erupting, was easily the coolest thing I have ever seen in my life and I can’t imagine not seeing it if I felt like I wasn’t fit enough (I met a few people who opted out of it for this reason). A good portion of these hikes are a mental challenge, not just a physical challenge, however, the mental drive to keep pushing yourself physically is typically gained when you’re used to pushing yourself physically. And don’t be afraid of slowing down your hiking group. People are understanding and respectful and everyone can go at their own pace.
Activity Suggestions to Stay Fit While Traveling:
Hiking – Take a break from the city and enjoy nature and a new landscape.
Biking – A great way to get around and to sightsee.
Walking – The best way to see a city. When possible, forgo transit for walking and you’ll save money, get some exercise and see so much more.
View/Sunset Hikes – In many cities and towns, there is often a hill or mountain with an amazing view of the whole city. If it’s safe to go for sunset, that’ll be the best time to go, if not, go during the day. Earn that amazing view.
Take the Stairs – In many places, taking the stairs, instead of an elevator or escalator, is the only option. A change in perception means looking at this as a opportunity to get some exercise, as opposed to an inconvenience.
Find a Place to Play Your Sport/Activity – If there’s a sport or activity you like to do at home, you can likely find a place to play it in the country or city you’re traveling. If you do jiu jitsu or yoga at home, find a place to do it and it’ll be a great experience because it’s a different way to interact with the locals. If you like dancing, take a class to learn how to dance their national dance, like Salsa in many parts of Central and South America, Tango in Argentina, and Samba in Brazil. This also doubles as a great cultural experience. If you play soccer/football, you’re in luck because that is the most universal sport in the world, so it’s easy to find a place to play and people to play with. And you might just make new friends 🙂
Bring a Jump Rope – It’s great cardio and it doesn’t take up any space in your bag.
Run and Exercise Outside – Running outside is a phenomenal way to see a city or town. You can run along the water, through the streets and in parks. I’m a big fan of running along the beach during sunset and taking pictures. Sometimes you can find outdoor workout stations and playgrounds for bodyweight exercises. If it’s too hot or unsafe to exercise outside, you can do bodyweight exercises in your room. If you don’t have a private room and feel uncomfortable working out in a shared room, find a more private space or a gym.
Yoga or Bodyweight Exercises in a park, gym or room. Some bodyweight exercise examples are squats, push-ups, ab movements, lunges, burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, etc. Do jumping squats and jumping lunges for an extra challenge. Use a ledge or bench for step-ups or jump ups.
Gym/Yoga Drop-In – Many gyms and studios will let you drop-in. If you’re there for one week to one month, you could get a pass.
Find a Friend to workout with and to keep each other motivated.
Download an App – There are tons of apps out there that will give you workout ideas.
Fact: You can get a good workout in less than 20 mins or less if you’re short on time. But it will be intense.
High intensity interval training is the all-time best for cardio. Interval training is when you do short bursts of all-out work followed by short periods of active rest, which makes your body work a lot harder and burn more calories than it would during steady, moderate cardio, like jogging. Training intervals will jack your cardio, boost your endurance and also make it easier to do the long distance activities, like hiking or jogging.
Examples of interval workouts:
Tabata workouts – I’m a big fan of Tabata workouts because they’re quick and dirty, intense 4 minute mini interval workouts (sometimes I go for 5 mins to get a little more out of it) and they’re amazing for cardio and strength. Pick an exercise or movement (i.e. squats, jumping squats, push-ups, lunges, jumping lunges, ab movements, mountain climbers, burpees, jumping jacks, skipping) and do it for 20 seconds as fast as you can, followed by a 10 second rest. Do this 8-10 times. You can set a goal for amount of reps for each 20 seconds. Do a few different Tabatas with various movements. You can do 4 different 4 minute Tabatas and be done in 16 minutes or 5 different 4 minute Tabatas and be done in 20 minutes. Or even just do one 5 minute Tabata because it’s better than nothing. You can use your watch, the timer on your phone or you can download a Tabata app.
Burpees – While most people will think I’m crazy for suggesting this, burpees are an unreal cardio, endurance and total body workout, which work your arms, back, chest, abs, quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. On my last three month travel adventure, I would regularly do Tabata burpees. It’s over in 4 minutes (or 5 if you want to get more out of it), so it’s really not that bad. And the more you do them, the easier they get. Try to do the same number of burpees in each round. (You could also do 10 minutes of 30 seconds on and 30 seconds rest).
Interval Training – Find a park, field or quiet road to do some interval training. For example, every 1-3 minutes on the minute, either sprint or run really fast for 20-60 seconds or 50-250m, followed by a rest until the next minute. Find stairs or hills to further challenge yourself. Either option will jack your cardio and endurance.
If none of these ideas work for you, find something that does.
Mix it up and try new things.
Remember to warm up and to stretch.
The majority of these options are free, so there is no excuse not to. So just do it. Your body will thank you.
In addition, if you’re concerned about gaining weight while traveling, what you eat and drink also plays a big role in this.
I love food and one of my favorite things about travel is trying all the new delicious food. And I’ve come to learn that, the majority of the time, the local cuisine is not healthy. Don’t ever deprive yourself, but also make sure you make an effort to eat some healthy meals and snacks too.
Some tips for healthy eating:
Try to eat real food the majority of the time, like vegetables, fruit, nuts, eggs, protein and meat (if you eat meat).
Try to limit sugar, soda and other sugary drinks. Fruit juices are included, but we all know how inviting, refreshing and delicious fresh tropical fruit juices are in hot countries. Try ask them to not add additional sugar, because added sugar is very common.
Drink lots of water
Try to limit carbs. This is exceptionally difficult as most countries have very carb heavy diets with rice and bread, so this is where portion control comes in.
Eat your vegetables
Try to limit fried foods
Buy and make your own food, when you can.
Keep healthy snacks on hand, like nuts, seeds and fruit.
Eat slowly and enjoy your food, in order to avoid overeating.
Moderation and portion control are key.
Limit alcohol. Fun police, I know, but alcohol is often one of the biggest, if not the biggest, contributors to travel weight. Definitely still have drinks and party, but it helps to pick your nights and parties. Drinking and partying everyday will kill your body, wallet and likely your waistline too. When you do drink, make sure you drink some water too.
Do your best and don’t obsess. None of these things should take away any enjoyment from your trip. And any damage can always be undone 🙂
Feel free to add suggestions in the comments below.
Be My Travel Muse – On Gaining Weight On The Road
Alex in Wonderland – The Truth About Gaining Weight Abroad