Exciting news! I'll be publishing an eBook on Amazon soon called Travel, Forever. It is a guide for budding backpackers who want to see the world and have authentic experiences without breaking the bank. Keep an eye out for an announcement when it is released. In the meantime, here is a free excerpt from the chapter on staying healthy while travelling; which addresses how to maintain a healthy body even while vagabonding long-term. Enjoy!
Your body is what’s getting you around the world! You need it to walk, trek, bike, taste, and experience this beautiful planet. Treating it well when you’re travelling really maximises your ability to sense and enjoy every moment to the best possible level.
The world is your gym
I’ve met several people on my travels who actually purchase gym memberships or attend free gym trials in the city or town they are visiting. This is a great idea but it requires a lot of effort and time. Personally I’m a huge fan of exercising outside or in a ‘home’ like environment - I find the gym a bit stifling. For those who love the gym, however; grabbing free trials or short term memberships (24 hour gyms with no lock-in contract work well for this) is a good solution. If you’re like me though, and want to constantly keep up your workouts wherever you are, simply treat the world as your gym.
The most obvious and natural way to do this is to walk a lot. Walking through the city streets, going on free walking tours, or foregoing public transport or a vehicle for a stroll from one part of town to the other; it all helps you maintain your health. I also adore hiking so at least once a week I’ll seek out a local hiking route and take a day hike, or plan an extended, multi-day trekking trip. Don’t underestimate the workout you get when you carry all of your possessions, food, and water over a mountain. Hiking is an excellent way to stay fit while you travel, and depending on the trail and the country is usually a very cheap activity too. If you’re based in a city and want to maintain your cardio levels you can always go for an occasional run or jog. Running is a great way to explore and experience a place too, especially if you go early in the morning when the city is waking up.
If you’re concerned about losing muscle tone and strength, bodyweight exercises can suffice as a way of maintaining it to a degree. They are also are fun and free of charge. Just go to a park and bust out some pushups, pull-ups, leg raises, handstands, cartwheels, whatever you like. Mix it up and even go with a friend or fellow traveller to push each other and try new exercises. If you’re lucky enough to have private accommodation you can exercise indoors if the weather outside isn’t suitable. I find that creating a routine or ‘circuit’ of bodyweight exercises helps me stay consistent.
- 20x Pushups
- 20x Lying Leg Raises
- 20x Deep Squats
- 1x 1 minute Plank
- 10x Pull-ups (if a bar is available)
- 20x Burpees.
Repeat for as many sets as you like, resting in between sets, or until you can’t do any more. Of course as your strength improves you can increase the amount of repetitions of each exercise. The great thing about this little circuit is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. You can even put on your backpack or piggyback a friend to make the squats more challenging.
To maintain your flexibility while travelling it is important to stretch, especially if you are performing bodyweight exercises and hiking now and then. Warm up before a hike or workout by doing some dynamic (moving) stretching such as leg swings, twisting at the waist, windmilling the arms, jogging on the spot; and the like. After a hike or workout do some static (staying still) stretching, making sure to stretch out all of the areas of your body that were engaged in the workout. My personal favourite way to maintain both strength and flexibility is to practice Yoga asanas (poses) while I’m travelling. Take a few yoga classes before you leave or while you’re abroad and apply these lessons to your workout. You may even become one of many happy travellers that I’ve met who carry a yoga mat strapped to their backpack.
You are what you eat
It may be tempting to only eat only the most unhealthy of local delicacies while you’re travelling, and unfortunately these are usually the most delicious, but you can definitely find and eat healthy local food too, wherever you go. Eating healthy will prevent a lot of sicknesses that can plague travellers, and will give you more energy to enjoy your trip. Eating healthy is really a no-brainer nowadays. Just eat whole foods including plenty of fruits and veggies, avoid fast food and processed foods (i.e. ones in a box or bag with multiple ingredients), and try to cook for yourself once in awhile. The same goes for drinks - sugary soft drinks and processed juices can wreck your diet.
Eating healthy when you’re moving around frequently can be a challenge, as you will be snacking a lot. That said, you can easily substitute healthy snacks into your travel lunch box, rather than depending on fast food and salty or sugary conveniences. I always make sure that I have some fruit (fresh or dried), a mix of nuts and seeds, carrots or other easy to eat raw veggies, and some meals in containers that I have prepared myself in a hostel kitchen or at a Couchsurfer’s place handy if I’m going to be on long bus or train rides.
Getting sick sucks, but it can be prevented
If you maintain some sort of exercise regime and eat relatively healthily then the chances of you getting sick while you’re abroad are decreased significantly, but of course, getting sick while travelling is sometimes unavoidable. That said, there are a few additional preventative measures that you can take to ensure that you aren’t sick too often.
Dietary supplements such as a good multivitamin and probiotic are a great way to add some extra nutrients to your system and to maintain a healthy gut. Probiotics are especially important if you’ve been sick recently and have taken antibiotics. Eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir also help to restore and maintain gut health. Just ensure that you buy a probiotic that doesn’t need to be refrigerated as this is impossible when you’re moving from place to place frequently.
Another preventative which is often a mandatory requirement for entry to certain regions is vaccinations. I always ensure that before I visit a region that I’ve never been to, I check the vaccination requirements for that area. Nobody wants to catch something serious like yellow fever or cholera when they are abroad. I also make sure that I have malaria medication handy if I’m in a malaria prone area. See Chapter 5 of this book for more detail on vaccinations.
Of course, there are times when you’ll get sick no matter how many preventative measures you put in place. Dengue Fever comes to mind - see the Travel Tale in Chapter 5 for the story of my experience with it. Dengue is almost unavoidable as only one unlucky mosquito bite can cause it, provided that the mosquito is carrying the viral strain. There is no vaccination for dengue and no preventative measures other than sleeping under a mosquito net and applying repellent, so ensure that you do both of these things if you’re in a dengue-prone area; and as always, having good travel insurance will lessen the financial impact of unlucky situations such as this.
If you get sick despite all of these measures, don’t let it dishearten you. Even if you were still at home you’d still get sick once in awhile. I actually find, surprisingly, that overall I am sick less while I’m abroad than when I’m at home. This will vary from person to person but the pros of travelling in incredible places will far outweigh the cons of getting sick every now and then.
Travel for Health Itself
As time goes by it seems that health-related travel is on the rise and very much in trend; and with good reason. By combining a healthy retreat with a travel experience not only will you be seeing and doing awesome stuff abroad, but staying healthy and learning new things as you go. Two prime examples of this that I have experienced first-hand are extended adventure trips, and yoga retreats and ashrams.
No matter what country you visit, except maybe tiny city-covered countries like Monaco; there will always be some kind of beautiful natural environment to explore. By taking a long, multi-day hike, bicycle, or rafting trip through such areas not only do you experience the beauty and develop a deep connection with a place, but you get plenty of fresh air and exercise; two vital ingredients for maintaining good health. All of the hiking trips I’ve done in the past I have done independently, but if you aren’t so confident with a map and compass you can book an adventure tour.
Adventure tours can encompass hiking, biking, kayaking, rafting, canoeing, or a combination of any of these modes of transport. Countries that are known for adventure travel will have a plethora of tour companies to choose from. Examples of such countries that stand out to me include Nepal, New Zealand, Iceland, USA, Canada, Peru, and Chile; to name but a few. You can also use walking or cycling as your primary mode of transport wherever you are travelling, this way you get free transport and plenty of healthy benefits, as discussed in Chapter 7 of this book.
My first exposure to a yoga retreat was in Spain, where, using Help Exchange; I volunteered for five weeks at a retreat in Catalonia. Not only was I proved with free food and accommodation, I also got a free yoga class every day. Such retreats are becoming very popular for travellers as they provide an escape from the material world and enable you to conduct some pretty heavy personal development, both mental and physical. After being inspired by my experience in Spain, I made sure that when I was in India I stayed in an Ashram for a time. Ashram roughly translates to ‘spiritual community’ and they are essentially the original yoga retreats! Once they were firmly the domain of hardcore Indian yogis who were initiated into the fold after years of intense practice but now many of them have opened their doors to foreign visitors. Staying in an ashram is a cheap and healthy way to have an authentic travel experience, provided that the ashram isn’t overly ‘touristy’. Some ashrams have sadly allowed the tourist industry to corrupt many of the traditional values and practices that they would have originally touted. Thankfully these are obvious and easy to avoid and even so, I believe that yoga practiced in any form, in any environment; can be beneficial for your health.
Health or ‘Active’ retreats that operate in a similar way to yoga retreats but encompass other forms of nutrition and exercise are also becoming popular and are usually held in gorgeous tropical locations. They are often quite expensive however, and some even require a base level of fitness before you can attend. That said, any exercise is good exercise.
I hope you enjoyed that sneak peek into my upcoming eBook Travel, Forever. Keep an eye out here on Maitri Journal and be sure to follow our social pages and subscribe to this blog to be the first to hear of the book's release.