Staying fit while travelling is an all-too common challenge. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a short trip or long, when we are travelling routine goes out the window, and the opportunity to try new foods is impossible to pass.
Getting back into our fitness routine is hard, but there are ways to maintain healthy habits without dipping into our travel savings, sacrificing time to go to the gym or skipping desert.
During the first few years of travelling, I would be ultra-healthy and have a strict gym routine at home, but as soon as I got on a plane it all went out the window. This on/off routine continued for a while until I realised I was causing harm to my body and overall well-being.
While travelling can be filled with incidental exercise from spending our days exploring, cramped airline seats, uncomfortable mattresses and pillows, plus carrying heavy bags means our backs and posture suffer significantly. Add in disrupted sleep patterns, increased stress levels, eating more (because who doesn’t want to try everything?) and drinking more all adds up to impact our health.
So here are my top 12 tips for staying fit on the road, without sacrificing time or paying for a gym membership.
1. STAY ACTIVE
Travel tends to mean a lot of time in planes, trains, buses and cars. Constantly sitting in usually cramped spaces for long periods of time isn’t great for our bodies or health. Unfortunately sometimes it is unavoidable but there are ways to keep moving.
In airports waiting for our flights we normally find a seat and just wait for hours before going to sit again in an even more cramped seat for even longer. Use the time to walk through the terminal, even if it is slow laps of the waiting room.
When on a plane, train or bus and you can’t walk along the aisles, do small stretching exercises with your legs and feet. Things like small leg lifts, rotating your ankles and even pelvic floor exercises can all be done in your seat. If you are driving, make sure to take breaks and stretch. And where possible, take the stairs instead of lifts and escalators.
This may seem like an obvious one, but walking is a free and effective way to maintain the cardio, and a great way to sight-see. Slowing wandering through museums doesn’t really count, but you don’t need to work up a sweat to gain the benefits either.
Walking also means you are more likely to find hidden gems when exploring, such as street art, quirky laneways or small shops. You can also take advantage of small group walking tours which are in most major cities (especially in Europe), take the stairs instead of the lift or escalators, or get out of the cities and go hiking through the countryside or ancient ruins.
Download a step counter or invest in a Fitbit to track your steps, I think you will be amazed at how many steps you can do in a day without even thinking about it.
A great free app for your phone is SweatCoin. This app lets you earn ‘rewards’ for all the steps you take. When you earn enough you can use the ‘Sweatcoins’ to purchase products on their site.
3. COPY THE FRENCH
Years ago, I was given a book called ‘French Women don’t Get Fat’ by Mireille Guiliano. A charming and easy to read book filled with personal stories, recipes and lifestyle tips on how French women maintain their lifestyle without over-indulging.
What were the two biggest tips in the books? Walk everywhere and eat in moderation.
If you have ever been to Paris, you may have noticed people walk everywhere. Apartment blocks rarely have elevators, so if you live on the top floor you are walking up six flights of stairs several times a day! They also eat in moderation, most of their meals are made fresh from in-season produce (forget processed foods) and they don’t over-indulge in pastries… which is much harder than it sounds if you have a sweet tooth like me.
So even though the French seem to drink wine like water, eat bread daily, live off cheese, put butter in everything and shun gyms, they are still overwhelming in shape and healthy.
4. HIRE A BIKE
Depending on your destination, cycling can be a great way to see more of your destination, or to get out of town to explore the neighbouring area. Many countries are becoming more bike friendly, just make sure to have GPS working on your phone and hire a helmet.
Cycling is a great way to get exercise in (without it being a dedicated workout), so pull out a map and look at what is nearby, especially if you are staying in a smaller town rather than a big city centre. Stop at little villages or parks, cycle along a coast line for stunning views or follow hiking/bike paths for spots truly off the ‘tourist track’.
It also means greater freedom, as you are not tied to bus or train timetables, and if you went further then you meant to or are simply too tired you can always take the train back!
5. REMEMBER TO DRINK WATER
Something we are all guilty of is not drinking enough water when we travel. Reasons can range from forgetting to bring a refillable water bottle (or simply not wanting to carry one), being unsure about where to find public bathrooms or simply forgetting to drink because we are too distracted.
Besides which dehydration is often mistaken for hunger, so when you think you are hungry have some water instead and see how you feel after.
I carry two reusable & foldable water bottles with me, and refill whenever I can. Because they are collapsible, they take up barely any room (and are also great for music festivals) and they have little clips to attach to the outside of your bag.
These are my favourite collapsible water bottles.
6. JOIN IN LOCAL ACTIVITIES
A great way to meet people is to join in local activities. You’ll meet locals and fellow travellers, have fun and get fit without breaking the bank. The key here is to step outside your comfort zone and try something that is different, fun and that has intro classes available. Or if there is something you love doing at home, actively look for similar wherever you are. If you love dancing, then you will easily find dance classes in most cities. The same for rock climbing or swimming.
Take flamenco or salsa classes in Spain, learn to tango in Latin America, go snorkelling in marine parks, take intro classes into martial arts, learn to ski or hike up volcanoes.
Some apps and sites that are great for finding local activities include: Airbnb, MeetUp, Visit A City, WithLocals and CouchSurfing. These sites all have event sections where you can find either activities hosted by locals or special interest activities with other travellers.
7. TAKE THE TIME TO STRETCH
It took a lot of massage and chiropractic visits after trips to release that I needed to stretch workouts while on the go. Travel means cramped seats, uncomfortable mattresses, flat pillows (or too high), carrying heavy bags and stress. All these combine to create tight knots and muscle pain, which also affects your core and posture.
I now do a stretch workout daily, no matter where I am. You can easily find stretch exercises online whether it is specific workout apps, websites or Youtube. The best part is they rarely require much space, so no matter how small your room is, you will be able to find something that works for you.
If you are worried about the cleanliness of your hotel floor, then consider a travel yoga mat such as this one by KUYOU which is light and folds up perfectly for travel.
8. DO AN IN-ROOM WORKOUT
If you prefer something a bit more intense then working out in your room is totally doable. If you have a personal trainer then see if they can create an on-the-go routine for you, otherwise apps like FitOn have a great selection of free apartment-friendly workouts (perfect for small spaces and no equipment). Resistance bands are also a great tool to have as well.
Personally, I love barre workouts as they are amazing for your core and posture while also being low impact. My favourite YouTube channel for barre inspired workouts and stretches is Lazy Dancer Tips, and she also has several apartment friendly videos and standing only (for when you don’t have a yoga mat).
9. BALANCE YOUR MEALS
Eating well is half the battle of staying in shape. If you have access to a kitchen then it is well worth the time to prepare snacks and some meals (especially breakfast) so that you won’t over-order when you are out. When we’ve spent the day exploring it is so easy to see a menu and say ‘I want everything’… you also never truly know how your days will go or where you will end up!
Pick up some fruit and protein bars to keep in your bag and take the time to occasionally cook. If you are staying in a hostel, it is great way to meet other travellers. I found in Italy some of the hostels I stayed in offered Aperitivo, and honestly it was cheap, healthy and filling and a perfect way to socialise with fellow travellers.
In Paris I would stop by a boucherie and pick up some roast chicken and roasted potatoes, then a boulangerie for fresh bread, the produce store for fresh fruit and salad, and a fromagerie for cheese. Fresh, cheap and you still get to try local foods! You can do the same or similar in other cities as well.
10. BE MINDFUL OF AIRPORT FOOD
Airport food, airline food, cafes on long distance trains… all these are deadly when you are hungry. Unfortunately, food offerings in these places tend to be heavily processed, full of salt or sugar, and expensive. Try to plan ahead and pack muesli bars, protein bars, sandwiches or mixed nut bags. Airlines and airports have different rules about what you can bring on a plane, so check first.
Trains on the other hand are absolutely fine with you bringing sandwiches and snacks on board, as long as you clean up after yourself.
11. GO DANCING
Going to bars and clubs or enjoying a hostel ‘house party’ is a fun way to meet new people and see a different side of a city. But one of the hidden dangers (beside the risk of being drunk in a foreign country), is in what we are drinking and our end of the night snack.
Beer, sugary cocktails and wine are all fine in small amounts, but too much too often is not great our health. I’m not suggesting avoiding alcohol, just be mindful of what you drink and how much. Stretch out the drinks with water in between and pick your go-to. Personally, my clubbing drink is vodka-soda, others prefer gin & tonic. Find your go-to and know your limits because being drunk solo in a foreign city is not great for your personal safety either.
12. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
How many times have you felt like you needed a holiday from your holiday? We often try to fit so much into our trips that we end up burning ourselves out. Rather then squeezing everything into a couple of days at each destination, stretch it out and slow down. Make sure you take breaks to rest (you won’t miss anything) and get a full night’s sleep.
Between jet lag, wanting to get up early to beat the crowds, staying up late to see the nightlife, and literally hours of walking every day, our bodies take an absolute beating.
Slow down, have an occasional early night or sleep in and even consider booking in a few hours at a spa. Your mental and physical health will thank you for it.
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