Staying Fit While Traveling is Tough But Can Be Done…
Backpacking is utterly enriching for the mind, heart, and soul but can be punishingly hard on the body. Travellers regularly find themselves losing control of their diets, enjoying one too many beers with new friends and slipping out of their carefully crafted exercise routines. In fact, it is not uncommon to return home from a backpacking trip having gained a few pounds or at least lost those hard-earned abs.
This is not inevitable though and there are many things a traveller can do for Staying Fit While Traveling.
Make and Maintain Some Routine
The first step to Staying Fit While Traveling is by far the most important even though it doesn’t explicitly involve doing any exercise or physical activity at all. (Hurray!) How can this be I hear you say? Because simply by holding onto even the vaguest vestiges of some (any!) kind of routine, you unconsciously set yourself up mentally to comply with the rest of the steps outlined in this guide…
I know. When you’re constantly moving around and engaging in all kind of new, strange activities, it can be near impossible to hold a routine but there is still almost always some little something that you can do. For example, it could be as simple as setting your alarm to get out of bed each morning, and even if all you do is drag yourself out of bed and down to the hostel common area to veg out, it’s a small victory. One tiny morning routine that is currently very popular is simply making ones bed; the theory is that doing it gets you into the habit of completing tasks as soon as you get up.
For me, I find that I set my alarm (the time varies between 06:30 – 08:00 depending on how tired I am) and then I meditate, ideally for one hour. Meditation clears and focus’ the mind and leaves one feeling motivated for the rest of the day. There are loads of different meditation techniques and tools to help you try them.
2. Eat Properly
Your backpacking diet will quite probably change for the worse from your usual diet. This is because in much of the developing world, (and in the US which is the counter-developing world) food preparation can be quite unhealthy with a heavy emphasis on frying things and using lots of salt & oil. Also factor in that a lot of the time you will be eating “on the go” from street food stalls and trying to dine as cheaply as possible (I lived on instant Mac & Cheese for one month in California).
There are however still some steps you can take. Order veg as much as possible, ask if they really have to fry things or is there another method? Also, try your best to eat at more or less the same time everyday and if you are serious about keeping your weight down, don’t eat big meals too near to bedtime which can be tough in late dining cultures.
One step I took in India was to simply ask them not to drop the standard big dollop of ghee into my curries. Whether I go I also request poached rather than fried eggs.
3. Buy a Daily Bag of Fruit
This one is a continuation and evolution of number 2.
Simply go out first thing in a morning and buy a little bag of fruit. This will (1) give you a little bit of the routine we discussed at number 1 and (2), will guarantee you get at least some vitamins even if all you then eat for the remainder of the day is fried Pokhara’s and baked Arepa’s. Furthermore, (3) by steadily grazing throughout the day you will slowly fill yourself up and eat less of the unhealthy snack-foods on offer! Any of the daily fruit bags which you don’t eat, can either be given to beggars, children or monkeys or be traded with other travellers in your hostel in exchange for instant friendship!
Keeping your Vitamin C intake up is also one surefire way to avoid getting sick when travelling.
4. City Walking Tours
There are free city walking tours pretty much everywhere I have ever been and they are brilliant in every way. Not only do you learn a hell of a lot about the place you are visiting, you get the chance to meet other travellers and you usually get a good few KM of walking in. This one is an absolute no-brainer so I’ll move on to 4.5…
4.5 …and Walk at Every Opportunity
So Google says that the metro from your hostel to the Eiffel Tower will take 20 minutes? Well, be sure to also check how long it will take to walk and then decide whether you should do that instead. In some cases, you will be very surprised at how little more time it will cost you and unless your day’s itinerary is totally jam-packed, you can probably spare this extra time. This one also means that you get to take in the city as you stroll across it and may stumble upon some hidden treasure. Besides that, surely you visit a place in order to experience it rather than to stand in some cramped sub-way carriage?
If it’s going to take 3 times as long to walk, if you are genuinely pressed for time or if it’s chucking down with rain then, I don’t expect you to do this one.
5. Cycling Tours & Bike Rental
A lot of cities offer cycling tours in addition to the walking tours. For example, I took one in San Francisco which went right across the world famous Golden Gate Bridge down to Sausalito. Not only was this epic but it was a hell of a workout.
Even if a tour is not on offer, have a think about whether you can pick up a bike easily and whether it would be useful. For example, I took a bicycle to travel around the towns of Goa rather than use the standard issue, automatic-scooter.
6. Pack Your Running Shoes
I like to travel light. Every inch of space and every ounce of weight in my bag is very carefully spent. Therefore, once I’d taken the decision to bring my trainers and lug them around the entire world with me, I was sure as hell going to use them otherwise I’d have kicked myself. Whilst I may not have gotten to go out jogging all too often, I generally found a quiet, long road or a nice little park to get out for a quick 5 – 10 KM at least once a week.
You don’t really need to pack much more running kit as the chances are that you’ll already be bringing shorts, vests and some kind of breathable, fast drying t-shirt anyway (if not you most definitely should and can buy the same one I use here).
7. Pack Resistance bands
During my last big backpacking trip, I decided to try some resistance bands. These are basically big rubber bands which you substitute for weights and the resistance machines you would use to train with back home; they make for a cracking Travel Workout. I found these to be a canny little investment as they are light, take little bag space and I ended up using them most mornings wherever I was in the world. Yes, my roommates did offer some strange looks when they came into the dorm to find me pulling pieces of rubber but in most cases, they ended up being inspired by my dedication and asking to join in!
8. …and a Skipping Rope
Like the resistance bands, a skipping rope is a small and light piece of fitness kit to pack. Skipping is an intense cardio workout and even a 10-minute session can leave you drenched in sweat and out of breath (like good sex). The best bit is that you only need a little bit of space to skip in and can even sometimes be done indoors. Just be sure to wear proper trainers and ideally ankle supports, as the impact from hitting hard surfaces can strain the lower leg muscles.
9 . …and a Yoga Mat
As with the running shoes, I find that simply bringing a yoga mat along with me makes want to be that bit more active. It’s also ideal for spreading on the floor and using to do sit up’s and planks. Finally, many hostels these days offer on-site Yoga classes and Yoga is a great way to stay in shape. In case you have never tried Yoga then I can assure thee that it’s far more strenuous than it looks. There is also a good probability that the Yoga teacher will be hot so you can legitimately have a good ol’ perv.
10. Body Gym
Maybe you’re reading this halfway through your trip in which case its too late to pack 6,7,8 & 9. Well, the good news is that there is still a hell of a lot you can do simply be devising a body conditioning routine which uses your own, erm, body as its own gym!
This is one where its easier to use pictures rather than words. The below images are just some of the exercises you can do using nothing but your own body…
11. Remember, You’re NOT on Holiday
If you are headed to Ibiza for one week with the intention of passing out drunk every night, sleeping it off all day and then repeating until you go home then yes, you are a holiday. If on the other hand, you are taking six months to do the great loop in South America then no, you are not on holiday. Six months is a considerable chunk of your life and should be treated as such meaning that it is vitally important that you mentally set and maintain some clear boundaries rather than descending into lethargy and debauchery!
If you find yourself thinking “It’s OK to drink alcohol every night because I’m on Holiday” then fine do it, but let’s how you liver feels 6 months later. The same goes for eating whatever the hell you want and opting out of doing exercise because you’re “on holiday”.
I personally spent 6 months in South America and there were indeed a lot of unhealthy temptations on offer that made it very hard to hold onto a healthy normality. Even so, I still managed a 30-minute push-up/sit-up routine most mornings and usually declined alcohol before dinner. Fortunately, one of the many temptations on offer was the beautiful local girls so I also got plenty of exercise without it even feeling like exercise…
12. Dance at Every Opportunity
In case I lost some of you with all that strenuous and unpleasant stuff between 5 – 10 then hopefully you can get back on board with this last one! Absolutely everybody loves to dance and fortunately, there is music for you to dance to all over the world! (Except sadly in Mali right now…).
Indeed, there are night-clubs pumping reggaeton, street salsa sessions, full moon trance parties & Sufi gatherings you can jive at in every single corner of the world. Or, you can simply dance on the spot whilst waiting for the train to the music playing through your headphones.
Not only is dancing a natural, enjoyable way of expressing yourself, it is also seriously good exercise. One night I took my step-o-meter to a trance party in Goa and found that I danced the equivalent of 27km. The next day I had what I can only describe as runners high and by the end of the season, I was leaner and happier than ever.
When you do get home from your backpacking trip and everybody comments upon how healthy you look, you can thank me.