Fit and healthy, two things people generally want to be, but does travel help you get fitter, or is the opposite true? It can be a challenge maintaining healthy eating and living when you’re on the road but it’s possible as many of the travellers below can prove. The key lies in maintaining intention. Lapses in dedication to the cause, restaurant meals, over indulgence and lack of access to your usual equipment, facilities and routines can lead to travel bloat and backsliding fitness if you don’t stay mindful. It’s the opposite for us, we find that travel keeps us fitter and leaner but maybe our family is atypical, our Ironman is serious about staying fit while travelling, and we all enjoy a physical challenge. But exercise and workouts mean nothing without basic good health, we all need to try our best to keep our minds and bodies healthy on the road before worrying about workouts. A sick body isn’t going to get you far. Avoiding sickness, hasn’t been too much of a problem for us over the last 4 years but we’ve had some rough patches and times when our diet has been poor. It’s part of travel and you just have to stay germ-smart. Let’s look at how we, and other full-time or experienced travellers handle health, fitness, diet, nutrition, exercise and staying well on the road. No medical advice here, just discussing findings and experiences to help you stay fit and healthy as you travel, how we and other travellers find time and motivation to stay fit and healthy on the road.
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How to Stay Healthy While Travelling
Forget the pizza and nuggets, grab some lean protein and veggies instead. Don’t get a bus when you could walk. Carry your bag don’t push it. Hike up a hill instead of collapsing by the pool, just stay active and mindful of your diet, but at the same time watch your health.
- Think nutrition, in some circumstances ( eg. trekking, where food options are ultra limited) you may need supplement.
- Maintain a healthy weight and don’t let a big gain sneak up on you unexpectedly.
- Focus on hydration and avoiding contaminated water. Make drinking plenty of water a habit and always carry some.
- Rest and sleep, ease off the parties. If in doubt, don’t drink the tap water.
- Watch the booze. A cold beer or 3 is my favourite bad habit, but long-term travellers can’t be in celebration mode every day.
- Vaccinations can be lifesavers, plan ahead, some take months.
- Avoid the sun, it’s not your skin’s friend and think about heat stroke risk.
- Avoid mosquitoes and don’t pick or scratch at bites. Those suckers carry a million diseases and in the tropics bites quickly become infected.
- Avoid contaminated food, these days this is far less of a problem than it was and we happily tuck into salad and ice where 20 years ago we wouldn’t have considered it. Be sensible, avoid buffets and reheated food and maintain good hand hygiene. Read more on travel sickness and first aid here.
- Fit in natural exercise or more serious workouts where you can.
- Think about kids’ fitness and fun.
Nobody is perfect all of the time, but if you have a holiday binge on food or drink, make up for it the next day. Don’t just throw in the towel and resign yourself to piling on the pounds and losing fitness. Fight it, find ways to make losses back. If exercise routines go out of the window or a tummy bug knocks you out for a few days don’t give in. We travel with children, maintaining adequate nutrition for them is harder than for adults with food choices often limited not just by availability, but by how the child feels about eating the dish on the day. We grown ups know what’s good for us, it’s often harder to convince the kids. Just do what you can and keep pushing the healthy stuff.
Staying Fit While Travelling, How People Handle It
Travelling does bring a certain level of physical activity if you are a person who doesn’t shy away from exercise normally. My experience is that I drop weight and gain fitness on the road. My family walks a lot, we’ll walk for hours and not think that a big deal, sometimes we’ll be carrying backpacks. Restaurant portions are moderate and food is healthy in Asia, which is where we prefer to be.
What can average people do to stay fit while travelling?
- walk more
- swim more
- hire a bike
- paddle a kayak
- hike up that hill
- take a tour or vacation with focus on exercise, for instance a bike tour
- ski, on water or snow
- just be more active and have more fun
What about the serious athletes, how do they fit exercise, training and workouts into a travel lifestyle? Also what about sports gear? Where can you find new running shoes on the Mekong? There’s no taking weights on a plane so how can you improvise? How do people manage to maintain their preferred level of fitness? And what about the kids? Shouldn’t they be in school doing PE lessons? How can, and do, people stay fit on the road?
Chef, The International Ironman Triathlete
My husband, we call him Chef, lives in his running, biking and swimming gear and gets out for a serious amount of exercise almost every day. This has been our life for many years now, he started training for his first full-distance Ironman back in 2011 and has competed in Ironman Cairns, Wales Ironman, Ironman Phuket half distance and this year the full Ironman in Langkawi. Triathlons include a bike section so yes, we travel with a triathlon bike much of the time. It’s extremely annoying but that’s just the way it is.
“The best way to track what you’re doing and make sure that you are doing enough is to use an app or GPS watch. I prefer Strava which I pair with my Garmin 910XT watch, tracker and heart rate monitor. The beauty of Strava is that you can see if the places you visit have other people actively training, you can check their routes or segments and then compete against these other people within the app. Even remote places have numerous segments and help you pick where best to train. The Garmin watch gives you useful real-time data including distance, speed and heart rate. Strava also provides motivation in that your friends ( it’s almost like social media) can see your activity and progress, they can encourage, support or ridicule, it all helps to keep you going. You can also meet new training partners if they are fellow Strava users.
When it comes to equipment I try to bring everything with me from either Europe or Australia. Asia is an emerging triathlon market and a lot of gear isn’t readily available. Even things like bike inner tubes for racing bikes can be impossible to find. I also make a point of packing the gels and energy bars that my body is used to.
Running is the best way to see new areas and I’ll normally have a quick look at Google maps and Strava before heading off. Yes I’ve been lost on occasion but having a smart phone with offline maps downloaded is usually enough to save me and put me back on track. I’ll try to run an area first before riding it to make sure that it is safe in terms of traffic, roads and hazards.
I normally spend upwards of 15 hours a week training which can take its toll if you don’t plan accordingly. Of course if you just want to stay fit and not compete you could easily halve this. I try to get workouts finished early in the day, Alyson will be up, the kids will be asleep and the Asian sun and heat isn’t as intense as late on in the day. If you leave it till the afternoon it can often get missed or forgotten and of course I don’t want my training to disrupt family time or our travels too much.”
Vegan Layla Has Lost Weight and is Keeping the Weight Off While Travelling
Layla is a glowing picture of health and her diet is obviously helping.
“As someone who has finally figured out (in my late thirties) how to be fit and healthy, I make absolutely sure that I maintain this whilst travelling. I’ve lost 4 stone so far, and I don’t want to return home having put a good proportion of that back on. I have made changes to my diet to achieve this weight loss, the most recent being that I have joined Slimming World. At home, I maintain a routine of fruit for breakfast, a green smoothie during mid-morning, something light for lunch (e.g. salad, soup, sushi) and a filling dinner. Whilst travelling, I try my best to stick to this routine – I even bring my Nutribullet with me so that I can still have my smoothie – it’s an essential part of my luggage. As a vegan following Slimming World, being organised about what choices I’ll have at any destination is really important, otherwise it would be all too easy to go off plan. The Slimming World app, the Happy Cow app, plus various Facebook groups are useful tools to help plan what I eat.
I have also recently got the running bug – it’s taken me four years on and off to get to the point of running 5km. Therefore, another essential part of my luggage is my running gear. I try to stick to a routine of running three times a week. For me, having a routine, being organised and having a few key pieces of equipment are all that I need to maintain this level of health and fitness that I’ve worked so hard to achieve.”
You can find Layla at Good Vibes Family
Ian and Family, Ultra Budget Family Travellers and Running Enthusiasts
Ian is a running inspiration to me, he takes off on decent length runs wherever he is in the world. I’m not good enough yet, but I hope to be able to run as he does within a few months.
“We are a super low-budget backpacking family. Not really because we have to be, more because we’re cheap. We almost never stay in hotels with a pool, and never, ever in a place big (or expensive) enough to have a gym. We are travelling long-term (indefinitely), so we can’t just put personal fitness on the back burner while we’re on “vacation”. How to stay fit? Run, run, run. Run in the rain, run through the back alleys of Rajasthan, run on the beach, run up all the mountains. Run even when you’re tired, run when you don’t want to, and if you have young kids (like we do) run early in the morning. I also try to do 100 push ups per day, but I usually fail at that. I usually succeed at getting at least 30 km a week, and it’s not enough for me. If you’re wondering if you should go for a run today, definitely go.”
You can find Ian and family at The Travelling Page Family
From Home Chef to Travel Mum
How to families adapt from home cooked food to grabbing whatever they can find on the road?
“Before we started traveling, I was the crazy organic-homemade-from-scratch healthy eating person. We didn’t exercise much, though.
We’ve been traveling for over a year now and I had to accept eating the quickest meals, or at the cheapest places, more often than not. But we now walk for hours almost everyday.
My weight has dropped, my feet hurt and I know it’s been great for us. We’re now getting inspired to add some different exercises to our routine! Let’s see how that works out! ”
You can find Thais and her family of explorers at World Trip Diaries
The Over 50, Not Very Good Runner, Me.
What I lack in speed I make up for in dogged determination. I’m back to running after 6 years off and I’m loving it. I posted recently about returning to running, you’ll see how I re-introduced exercise back into my life if you click-through. Right now, in London, it’s easy, we have a beautiful, safe park to run around and endless shops to buy running tights and shoes. My kids are old enough now that I can escape to run, the baby and little-kid years made any such me-time virtually impossible.
I’ve never been massively unfit but I have been quite overweight, Romanian winter inactivity and bad diet, heavy in bread and fats sees me piling on pounds that a few days of skiing just won’t shift.
In 10 days we’ll be back in Asia, I always drop weight on healthy Asian food but this time I’ll be running too. It’s unlikely that I will run alone unless I feel very safe but I have a husband and two sons who will run with me and I also hope to find local running groups. I will suffer in the tropical heat, running is best in cool drizzle for me and after living in the tropics for years I know that my running will be restricted to early and late. My new best friend, my cooling towel comes with me on every run even in London, I hate heat but the wonders of Asia outweigh my need for personal comfort. I’ve got new shoes and running tights, they will become a lightweight, easily laundered staple of my travelling wardrobe.
Yoga and Stretching for Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
As a digital nomad and full-time travel blogger who is always on the road, I need to keep a healthy balance both mentally and physically. The top two ways my mind and body stay healthy and fit is yoga and meditation. I usually start my day with a light healthy breakfast (like eggs and fruit) and move into 20 minutes of meditation to open my mind, to hone in on good thoughts and positive energy. In addition, I practice yoga either by joining other groups, or outdoor classes I find online, or by just practicing in my hotel room or wherever I’m staying.
Yes, yoga keeps the circulation of energy flowing through my body, but most importantly, yoga gives me the deep stretch I need to help relieve my leg condition, short tendons. Those of us born with a short Achilles tendon cannot walk flat on our feet. Walking on my tippy toes my whole life causes frequent leg cramps and pain. Yoga not only helps my body (achieving deep stretches like no other workout can provide), it also improves my mind and soul since I find the practice of Yoga to be relaxing. As you go through the various stretches, it’s best to clear your mind and focus on your breathing and movement. It’s just an all around, well-balanced type of exercise for a balanced lifestyle.
Baby Wearing Their Way to Stronger Bodies
When we are traveling the last thing we want to see is the inside of a gym! Instead we look for ways to incorporate exercise into our travel plans. Walking (carrying the children in carriers) is a great work out and also a slow and detail rich way to see a new area. We also look out for kayak tours which offer unique viewpoints, great arm workouts, and fun! None of that feels like exercise at the time because we’re just having a great time exploring.
For diet, we try to eat local as much as possible and concentrate on the positives. Even in countries where the food is heavier than we’re used to, we realize that the different nutrients and spices are great for our bodies and for the kids! If we don’t feel good about the food we’ve been eating, we just look for an opportunity to replace our next meal with a big salad.
Jessica is the queen of stress busting while travelling and you can find her at Magnets From Everywhere
The Travelling Event Runner
I like Gillian’s style, entering events and committing to physical challenges is exactly what we do to stay motivated.
“It’s 7:30 am, we’re on our travels and hubby is already off for his morning run. Ugh. This.is.not.me. I have the best of intentions: running shoes are packed, exercise schedule is all planned out *in my head*. But in reality, my shoes end up guilt tripping me from the corner of the room where they sit idly for the duration of the stay. I admit it, I don’t do much exercise whilst travelling. I much prefer to travel to a destination to take part in a sports event. The Paris half marathon, The Hague half marathon, a Swiss mountain run – now *that* gives me the best reason to exercise and travel! I love the buzz of taking part, the run-up to the event, and of course, the opportunity to do some sightseeing at the same time. Right, I’m off to sign up for a 17Km legendary run in Switzerland. Do you exercise to travel?”
You can find Gillian and family at Explore.Learn.Travel
Trying Not to Gain Weight on the Road
“I find it really easy to gain weight when traveling. Travelling normally involves sitting for long periods of time (car, train, plane), and I like to munch while in a moving vehicle. Also, new places always have new and amazing food, and I want to try all of it! While exploring new places, it is also easy to forget to drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
So, my goal when I travel is to not think of it as any different from my normal day-to-day life and keep myself to my normal standards. This includes: lots of water, and no sweet beverages; lots of colorful veggies and fruits, and quality protein, and as much as possible make our own food (provided we have a kitchen). Yes, this requires more effort, and for the most part, it is worth it to me, as I feel better when I eat this way. When we do buy food out, I choose my meals and treats wisely.
I didn’t gain any weight on our weeklong trip to Paris this spring, and I was incredibly proud of myself. We walked miles every day, we ate really good food, and I was mindful to savor the treats and wine, but not overdo it. Yes, I had croissants and baguettes, but in moderation with lots of colorful veggies, fruits, and good quality yogurt and cheese. We typically ate one big meal out a day, and breakfast and dinner were items from the market or Monoprix. Most important, is to check in with myself and make sure I feel well so I can fully enjoy our travels! “
The photo was a typical Parisian dinner for us.
You can find Jillian at Greenawalts Travel
Travel Brings on Greater Activity
When you’re at home you get into a routine. Sometimes that is a good thing (exercise and healthy eating) or not such a good thing (quick meals, junk food and nights on the couch). I am most definitely in the latter of the two categories. People often associate travel with things like too much beach lounging and gelato, but I experience exactly the opposite. While traveling, I find people are more active and outgoing. Sight-seeing throughout big cities, hiking over new landscapes; your step counts will go through the roof. This couch-potato even climbed a mountain in Ireland! There is so much to see and do that you won’t want to be still. Your couch will never be further from your mind. I also find I tend to eat less, because instead of focusing on what I am eating, I’m excited to get back out DOING. Now factor in all of the mental health benefits of travel – studies show regular travel decreases risk of heart attack and depression, as well as increased brain health – and travel is one of the healthiest gifts you could give yourself!
You can find Marie at Adventures in Family Travel
The Balanced Traveler
“We believe that balance is the key to a happy and healthy life which to us means incorporating a mix of work, play, fitness, relaxation, and learning into our daily routine. This elusive balance was hard enough to maintain when we were living our “normal” life, but now that we travel full-time it has become even more challenging. One of the biggest challenges is staying on track with our fitness. Sometimes we stay in one place long enough to get a gym membership but more often than not we have to get creative with our exercise regime. One thing we always do is travel with a couple of pieces of equipment that we just can’t live without. With these two multi-purpose pieces, suspensions straps and resistance bands, we can get a full-body workout almost anywhere. The next thing we do is look for parks, beaches, sports centers, running routes…anywhere that we can exercise. We have found lots of parks that actually have some simple exercise equipment, but if not we will use things like heavy rocks or fallen tree branches as weights and will often fill water jugs or bags with sand. Stairs at a sports stadium are also great for cardio and leg workouts. Ultimately we have found that with a bit of thought and imagination there is never an excuse to drop your exercise routine while traveling.”
Sarah and Nathan have more tips for staying fit at Live Dream Discover
Staying Healthy on Vegetarian or Vegan Diets While Travelling
“Travel can play havoc with your diet at the best of times, but travelling as a vegetarian can make things even tougher. Take Vietnam, for instance, where dogs are roasted on spits by the roadside and ordering a Chay (vegetarian) version of a dish often means chunks of meat are simply fished out of your noodle soup. Then there’s the Philippines, where barbecued meat reigns supreme and dinner can end up being plain rice and crackers every day.
After four years of travelling as a vegetarian though, mainly in Asia, I’ve developed some strategies for staying healthy on the road. I scour TripAdvisor for veggie-friendly eateries, find local markets to stock up on fruit and nuts, learn the local word for vegetarian and rent apartments with kitchens so I can cook my own meals. I always look out for Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants too, which I know will serve veggie-friendly food.
I also love spending time in places like Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is crammed with vegetarian eateries where you can get everything from a huge leafy salad for 60 Bhat to veggie versions of traditional Thai dishes and vegan chocolate brownies. Big European cities like London tend to have a good variety of veggie restaurants too and Whole Foods was heaven whilst road tripping in the USA.”
Amy and Andrew have been travelling vegetarian for years but are transitioning to a full vegan diet. Best of luck to them, I found it too hard with a family. You can read more about their decision to go vegan on their site, Our Big Fat Travel Adventure
The Kids, The Homeschoolers Who Don’t Do Sports or School PE
Not putting your kids in school is ( IMO and I’m going to really speak my mind here) the best thing you could do for their health. Think about it, modern obesity is blamed on computer gaming and bad diet. Why is the obesity never associated with the children’s requirement to sit still at a desk all day, 5 days a week? Why are computer games so much more fattening and health impacting than being desk bound? For adults it’s well-known that earning a stationary, seated living is a shortcut to death, why are the kids starting the “siting disease” lifestyle so early? Mine play a LOT of computer games, they love them, they also eat plenty of sweets, chocolate, crisps and Mc Donald’s, but they are healthy, lean and fit with perfect teeth. OK, the teeth thing is mostly good luck but they have balance and move around freely. They eat what I cook at home ( protein and veg, no carbs) and order sensibly in restaurants for at least half of the year, with treats and junk sometimes. It’s not going to kill them. Because they’re not in school they get a chance to be involved in the physical activities they really enjoyed. One likes to compete in running events, one is a superb swimmer with no interest in competition. Seriously, he’s amazing, he’s never had a lesson and at 12 could beat his Ironman dad. They aren’t forced into hockey, football, netball or reluctant cross-country runs as I was from 4-16. Being forced into activities I loathed turned me off sport or exercise for a very long time. Sure, some kids love that stuff, that’s great, I hated it and so did most of my friends. I’m one of the few that has continued physical activity after school and into my 50s because I found what I enjoyed later in life.
I’m rambling a little, but the sports the kids have tried while travelling include kayaking, archery, climbing, high diving, skiing, ropes, monkey style gymnastic exercise, cycling and a LOT of walking. They’ve been half way up Everest and we walk every day, we rarely have a car. They don’t have a TV to veg out in front of, but they do have their less passive laptops. So my travelling, homeschooling or worldschooling kids do OK in the health and fitness stakes, it’s easily achievable. Before somebody brings up team sports, nobody here has any interest in them and that suits us.
Travel Improves Mental Health
Sian and family, not content with travelling like normal people, are about to mix their lives up and take to the high seas, she says it’s great for the soul.
“Travelling definitely has a positive affect on my fitness levels, but the most important affect of travelling on my health has to be on my mental health. Travelling makes me happy. The sort of happy that involves four backpacks and the people you love. When we travel, we have time to think, time to talk, time to switch off. Travelling brings us closer as a family. We laugh and smile more. We talk constantly, discussing everything we see and experience. So the biggest effect on my health is that travel makes me happy! How happy I am affects my relationship with my kids. It affects how much I eat. It affects how much exercise I do. It affects how much energy I have. It affects how early I get up in the morning. Oh, and it makes me thinner too, which also makes me happy. What’s not to love?”
Sian can be found at Growing a Pair