How to Stay Healthy While Traveling

I think of myself as a healthy person. I’m a pescatarian. I take vegan vitamins, drink kale smoothies and beet juice, and run the occasional half-marathon. I avoid foods that have artificial colors or ingredients I can’t pronounce, and my pantry smells like the organic aisle at Whole Foods. Some might even label my propensity for healthy eating as a tad on the OCD side. Yeah, I get that a lot.

But, my healthy eating tends to totally go out the window when I start long-term traveling.

Unfortunately, long-term travel can be quite unhealthy – at least for me. Exhausting days of sight-seeing, restless sleeps in dorms, little cardio exercise, lots of “social” drinking, and frequent sugar and carb-loaded meals can be a recipe for intense wear and tear on my body. And I’m not one of the lucky “high-metabolism” backpackers who looses a ton of weight simply by walking around looking at architecture. No, ma’am.

Unhealthy long-term traveling – On my last trip to Asia, I actually lost quite a bit of weight in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Between eating tons of fruit and tofu, walking, bike-riding, SCUBA diving, and drinking gallons of water everyday, I was thin, tanned, and toned (thank you Buddha gods!) And then we crossed the border into Malaysia and I was introduced to the delectable wonders of calorie-filled Malay-India food: Roti Canai, Mee Goreng, and frothy lassi’s. Plus, since I only had a month of travel left, I was doing more beach laying than physical activity and more beer drinking than water guzzling. So…I gained all that weight back, plus more. Not a good look on me.

$2 bottle of vino - why yes, I'd love some!

$2 bottle of vino – yes, please!

On another trip to South America, I hiked in Patagonia and ran daily through the streets of Buenos Aires. But, the lovely hostels in Argentina often included free breakfast, complete with piles of fresh croissants and dolce de leche (carbs + sugary goodness). And who doesn’t appreciate the gorgeousness of cheesy empanadas and a $2.00 bottle (or three) of red wine? I gained weight there too.

So, given my history with somewhat “unhealthy” long-term travel, I want to maintain my weight, fitness, and healthy eating on my next trip. Now that I’m a bit older and somewhat wiser, along with planning routes and packing toothpaste, I’m also planning how to to eat well and include exercise in my daily activities.

vegetablemarketinchinaCEating healthy during long-term travel – There are usually plenty of local markets all over the world where I can buy fruits and vegetables. I always seek them out to stock up on fresh produce and goodies. However, unless you have a stomach of steel, it’s usually wise to NOT partake in uncooked (and unpeeled) locally grown produce, such as cucumbers, apples, tomatoes, and spinach. When eating out, cooked vegetables are certainly available, but they are often served in nutrient-deficient (and calorie-laden) curries or white pasta dishes. And most travelers I meet, including myself, avoid fresh salads in restaurants. I. MISS. SALADS!!

I know, I know. There are exceptions. I ate apples and carrots everyday in India after just peeling them with my pocket knife. I just find it difficult to eat as many fruits and vegetables when I travel as I do when I’m at home. Maybe you don’t have this problem. If not, please tell me your secrets.

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It’s not always possible to eat healthy meals like this while on the road…though I wish it was.

Also, eating out is such a social experience, especially when traveling solo. I find that grocery shopping and cooking meals in the hostel can sometimes be rather isolating when the rest of the dorm room is heading out for local cuisine. It’s much more fun to go out with your mates for curries and wine – right?

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Meals out with friends is always more fun than cooking and dining alone.

Of course, again there are exceptions. In New Zealand and Peru, I cooked plenty of healthy meals in hostels – as did the majority of travelers – and the kitchens were wonderful places to hang out with other backpackers (and the produce was excellent!) Then again, though guesthouses in destinations like Moorea and Nuku’Alofa offered cooking facilities, fresh produce was very limited and we had to be creative with canned goods and uh…..lots of bread.

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Hello carbs. Welcome to my hips.

Plus, there’s the expense of eating nutritiously all the time. Seeking out healthy food can be taxing on a travel budget, i.e. 30 cent Pad Thai from a street vendor vs. a $3.00 salad from a restaurant. I personally would rather save the extra money for my next SCUBA diving trip and eat a sleeve of saltines instead.

So what’s my plan for healthy eating while traveling? Food is the big kicker as obviously the more calories that I take in, the more calories that I have to use up. And I LOVE to eat, and will openly admit that I have absolutely no self-control around carbs, sweets, or any type of new, fun street vendor food.

I honestly don’t know what I’ll encounter in Central America. I know that stuffed foods such as pupusas and tamales are readily available, and that fried foods, like rellenitos and garnachas, are common choices for vegetarians/pescatarians. Though mouthwateringly delicious, none of these options are healthy choices to eat three times a day. So, I’ll be sure to seek out local markets for peelable fruits and veggies, and I’ll cook in the communal kitchens when I can.

My go-to "kale and banana" smoothie

My go-to “kale and banana” smoothie

Also, many hostels include breakfasts of beans, rice, fruit, eggs, and bread. Sounds yummy, but I don’t usually eat such large breakfasts, and I am sadly wishing farewell to my morning banana-kale-cucumber smoothie. I actually know a couple who travel with their Vita-Mix in order to make their daily green smoothies. Now, I don’t know how they carry an 8 lb blender in their backpacks – but kudos for the effort. I wish to the high heavens that I could pack my trusty Vita-Mix, but I’m going to have to live without my morning green smoothies and will instead try these Super Food Green Formula caplets…think kale smoothie in a pill. Of course, I’ll take my Raw daily vitamins with me too.

Exercising during long-term travel – It’s absolutely possible to be extremely active when long-term traveling. Some backpackers roll out of bed to do push-ups and lunges every morning. I’m a runner and as long as I have my athletic shoes, I can pretty much go jogging anywhere I roam. I love that running is both an awesome way to explore new places and to stay fit on the road.

A new running path!

But making time to exercise isn’t easy. Daily runs get delayed due to safety or location concerns (ever tried to run in downtown Delhi?). Morning yoga in a hostel common room can be a bit socially awkward, and let’s be honest – other travelers don’t always want to see my spandex-clad downward dog while they eat breakfast. And packing exercise DVD’s and equipment isn’t even a possibility when I’m limited to an 10 kilo backpack.

So what’s my plan for exercising while traveling?
I know that they are TONS of fitness apps that are travel friendly from MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal to Fitbit and
YogaPal. However, I’m a member of the dark ages, and I don’t carry a smart phone or iPad with me while traveling. So I’ll need to get creative with my fitness by incorporating some of the following activities to help keep the fat at bay.

Running:  As I mentioned, I am a running nut. All I need is a path, and I’m a happy girl. Granted, when I was younger, I naively ran in some very dodgy places around the world. Similarly, my research of Central America pretty much advises that solo females probably shouldn’t run alone. So unless I find a local running group to join, I unfortunately won’t be running too often, and I am so sad about this. I tend to get rather angry when I don’t get my daily running fix.

Jumprope: I hate jump roping. I really do, and I’m bad at it. Seriously, my feet get caught up in the rope, and then I trip and I get cranky. But I’m going to give it a try since jump ropes are light and very packable, making them a perfect item for a cardio workout anywhere.jumprope Yoga: Downward dog, warrior pose, plank, triangle pose, and more. Yoga is a great way to do light cardio, stretch travel-weary muscles, and strengthen and tone abs. One of my friends gave me DDP Yoga and the 90 minute P90X Yoga. I just bought this lightweight  travel yoga mat to take with me as well. I think the only problem will be finding suitable locations in which to practice. Beaches? Parks? Hostel rooftops? Hallways? Still thinking about that one.

Resistance bands: I’m not a fan of resistance bands, and I much prefer actual hand weights because they make me feel super buff and invincible. But, since I can’t carry a set of dumbbells, I found these resistance band exercises, and I’m hoping to keep some of my muscle definition by using these two to three times a week.resistancebands Cardio Workout Videos: Insanity is a fantastic workout, and I’m bringing along a few of the videos on a USB stick. I love that Insanity gets my heart rate pumping for a good thirty minutes and that the videos require absolutely no equipment. The downside of Insanity is that I’m embarrassed to do squat jumps and burpees in front of people at the hostels, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to find safe parks or other areas where I can securely set up my laptop and mat.

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Rock-climb, walk, swim: just get off your bum!

Walking/Snorkeling/Hiking/Biking: I enjoy exploring the outdoors, and I intend to hike, swim, and snorkel as much as possible. Even walking around sight-seeing all day can be a justifiable – though subtle– cardio workout. Extra points if I can sneak in some rock-climbing or mountain biking!

Seek out gyms or running groups: Most cities have gyms or fitness centers that offer one-day or one week passes (usually they are free too). Also, it’s easy to find running groups or other organized fitness activities like “free yoga in the park”. I once met up with a running group in Salta, Argentina for a few days, and the other members were very welcoming, albeit extremely competitive and challenging during their runs. I also had one very interesting experience at a yoga studio in Nepal once. These types of groups can be found on Yelp, Google, or Facebook.

Bring a friend, or invite some stray travelers from your ten bed dorm. Burn some calories first and then you can all go out for deep fried food and beer!

Well, that’s my plan to stay healthy while traveling in Central America. I feel ambitious now, but who knows if I’ll actually wake up in the mornings for thirty minutes of yoga? I’d rather run 3 – 5 times a week instead, but safety is a priority so I’ll need to try these other options if I still intend to wear a bikini.

So, how do you stay fit while traveling?

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