Fine, I’ll confess it: I am not really keen on articles that call for the latest diet, how to stay healthy, the new fitness routine, and which suggest easy work-outs for those who have limited time.
I also do not like those cliché pieces for budget backpackers, stating the obvious – i.e. “your back does get a good workout just by carrying your backpack”: I seriously could have never said that!
So, when I agreed to write this piece on how to stay healthy and fit while travelling, I knew something interesting would come of it, because it would give me a chance to consider all the things I do wrong when away from home long term, and all the excuses I look for to justify myself.
So, here I am, your perfect example of don’ts! Or else, if you are tired of being seen as the living wonder woman, perfectly hydrated, excellent blood values, luscious hair, great complexion, follow my advice and you’ll be sure to go back almost as rotten as an old shoe.
Don’t’ go thinking that I am a lazy bum and that’s why I am no champion of keeping fit while travelling. Family and friends know me as a healthy, sporty and slightly hyperactive girl that makes it a point to keep fit.
In my daily life here in Sardinia I portion my food, eating proportionate amounts of carbs, proteins, vegetables and fruit, avoiding alcohol, and regularly training at the swimming pool.
I hike, I bike, I swim in the sea during the summer months, I walk wherever I can, I take the stairs rather than the elevator, I carry my groceries home. Whatever it takes to stay healthy.
Yes, every now and then I indulge myself and I have the odd glass of red wine (but I promise, it is only because that’s meant to be good for you), a small beer (which, believe it or not, is great after a tough training or hike, as it is rich in minerals, salts and carbs), a cocktail (there is a reason I learned to make mojitos in Cuba), and even junk or street food.
The general rule, when home, is that of being sensible. There is just about one thing I don’t enjoy doing, which is perhaps the easiest and cheapest way to keep fit and healthy: jogging. I never really got a hang of it and I think I never will.
However, the minute I walk out my door and get on that plane that takes me away from home, I (almost) forget all my good habits.
I have so far been on two long term backpacking trips – a 5 months one, and a 4 months one. I thought I had learned my lesson after my first long term travels, when I came back home with a few extra kilos all happily settled on my belly, which I shed in no time thanks to a tonsils removal surgery that left me unable to eat for weeks.
All the things I had done wrong on that first long trip, I promised myself I wouldn’t on my second one. I could pin point all the things I did wrong, so I could also correct them. Or so I thought.
So, I have made my list of excuses which can be easily used to justify those extra kilos you may carry back home (and no, I do not mean the souvenirs you have packed in your backpack):
✏️ Post content
I was so convinced I’d get it right this time, that I even bought a pair of cross trainer shoes, suitable for hiking, walking, and even light running. If packing light had previously meant that I would not carry the extra pair of shoes, I had no more excuse not to go for a daily jog.
I surely took the first step, spending 120 euros on a pair of shoes. In fact, I took many steps in them. Just, none of them was on a jog. Too bad that for the first 3 months of my trip I was working 24/7 as a tour leader and had little to zero chance to go for a run.
Pools are everywhere in Europe. Large or small cities have a public pool where, for a small fee, you can go for a swim, use the showers and get your own work out. Now, I simply love swimming, but I mostly travel to developing countries and I stay in budget hostels. Try to find a swimming pool in Leon, Nicaragua. At most, you’ll be pointed to a luxury hotel that has a 10 meters pool. Unless you just want to turn all the time, you won’t go.
The new age
Many travel the world and support themselves by teaching yoga and Pilates. And many take advantage of this and sign up for yoga and Pilates classes wherever they are, including Lake Atitlan, where they can enjoy an 8:00 am workout with a view over the volcanoes.
I won’t be joining that, though – anything that requires me to sit still listening to some new age music makes me bored. I can hardly stand being bored when I am home, not at all when I travelling. I’d much rather go hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, rafting, zip lining – you name it. I need action.
It’s all about the money
If, like me, you enjoy backpacking and are on a budget, you will often rely on street food and budget eateries for your meals. Street food is very tasty. It also is oily and rich in carbs. And it is really cheap.
However, money is just a bad excuse to justify unhealthy eating while travelling. For as many stalls that sell cheese filled “arepas”, greasy tacos, fried plantains and yucca and churros covered in sugar and chocolate sauce, there are just as many that sell steamed corn on the cob, delicious fresh fruits and juices and even just plain grilled meat. Now that you know this, go look for another excuse.
You arrive at your hostel, and soon find out that a bunch of other travellers are going out for drinks. They invite you out: they don’t know that only a few hours ago you made a new resolution not to drink alcohol for the rest of your trip.
You don’t want to miss the chance of making new friends, and it would look bad if you refused. So you go, and have that beer. Then accept the one you are being offered, because it would be rude to refuse.
All in all, I think the few real pieces of advice I can give to those travelling, even for prolonged periods of time, is to accept that when backpacking it is inevitable to change habits, and that there may be no occasion to practice the favourite sports or activities.
The sensible thing to do is to try and follow, wherever possible, a regular schedule – eat three meals per day, take advantage of the local variety of fruits and vegetable (they do count as local specialties you won’t find at home, I promise!), drink lots of bottled water and fresh fruit juices, sleep a sufficient amount of hours every night.
If you can’t practice your sport of choice, look for others that you may like, and that will also allow you to see more of the place you visit, such as hiking and biking. Finally, just relax and enjoy. We travel to have a good time, so there is no reason to be as tough on ourselves as we’d be on a daily basis. Happy travels!
Claudia Tavani is from Cagliari (Sardinia) and is obsessed with travelling. A former human rights lawyer and academic, after devoting her life to the protection of cultural identity, in November 2013 Claudia decided to give in to her biggest passion and started travelling around Latin America, and she has hardly stopped since.
Blogging came as a natural consequence, for Claudia wanted to let her family and friends be updated with her adventures. Follow her adventures on her blog.