The Challenges of Long Term Travel #3 – Maintaining Health and Fitness

I have found that routine is key for sticking to healthy habits, but when I am on the road my life is anything but routine.

I find it very easy to stay healthy and fit when I am living in one place. I stock up on yogurt and granola and eat a few variations of the same healthy breakfast every morning. I join a gym and make a commitment to Thursday night Zumba or Tuesday morning yoga, making it a predictable part of my schedule. I go out with a hiking group on Sundays (that’s me hiking in England in the featured image) and throughout the week I eat mostly home-cooked, healthy food. If I set up these healthy elements of my routine, I start to do them on autopilot and the results of my actions add up.

However, when I am on the road it’s a lot more challenging. I cannot join a gym or go to classes to keep myself motivated, so my exercise habit often starts to slip. I try to run when I can, but sometimes I am in a climate where it is 35 degrees Celsius and humid and just sitting still is exhausting – or in a location where running is impractical, unsafe or unpleasant.

Doing cartwheels on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Doing cartwheels on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

I’ve thought about doing calisthenics and bodyweight exercises, but sometimes our hostel rooms are so small that this would be impossible and I don’t want to be the weirdo doing jumping jacks in the lobby of the hotel or the courtyard of the hostel.

When it comes to eating healthy, it’s difficult to resist temptation when everyone else around you is in holiday mode, indulging in delicious local food and enjoying plenty of drinks. Also, sometimes being on the road makes it challenging to find a healthy alternative – such as when you are in a bus station or an airport lounge and the only choice you have is fast food.

I really do like to eat... here I am feasting on a muffaletta in New Orleans.
I really do like to eat… here I am feasting on a muffaletta in New Orleans.

For most of the other people we meet health and fitness is not an issue because they are travelling for such a short time – they can treat themselves while they are abroad and get back into a healthy routine when they return. When you travel for years at a time, this is not the case!

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

Of course, these are all excuses and if I really wanted to be in better shape I would try harder to work around the obstacles of my lifestyle. However, I find that the hardest thing is that when I am traveling I am always starting from scratch with my healthy routines. I arrive in a new location every couple of weeks or so. By the time I have figured out how best to eat healthy and exercise in that environment – it’s time to move on to somewhere else.

We all know that the hardest part of healthy habits is getting started, once you have been going to the gym three times per week for a month or two it becomes so automatic that you don’t have to think about it. Long term travel traps you in the getting started stage again and again, shaking up any habit as soon as you establish it by placing you in a new environment.

Being Healthy Can be a Positive Aspect of Long Term Travel

Kayaking in Borneo

I’m not saying that I will just give up and let myself go – I will still do my best to make healthy choices day by day that make sense with my lifestyle. I’m learning that staying healthy while travelling requires you to be aware of what you are doing in the moment – you can’t rely on a routine of a bi-weekly aerobics classes to take care of your exercise requirements.

You have to make the decision daily to make physical activity and healthy food part of the balance of your lifestyle. This can actually be a lot of fun and can enhance the experience of your travels. For example, I have very fond memories of running along Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro while watching the sunset, or jogging through beautiful desert landscapes in Chile. The lush tropical fruit abundant in South America and Southeast Asia was healthy and delicious. I love the days when we do active travel experiences, such as trekking through a national park in Malaysia or rappelling down a waterfall in Ecuador.

This is a good workout!
This is a good workout!

It’s all worth it too, because being physically healthy will benefit your travel experience in a lot of different ways – as well as improving your mood and giving you more energy.

So how do you stay healthy on the road? Let us know in the comments below.

Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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  1. Good advice. Thanks. I wonder want your plan is for those more serious health issues – do you have health insurance? That’s the one thing that lingers out there and is difficult to figure out. I’d like your opinion no that and how you deal with it.

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