How could I say no to a glass of silky Vietnamese coffee, the rich brown swirled with the creamy sweetness of condensed milk. How could I turn down a plate heaped with string hoppers in Sri Lanka, accompanied by a spicy prawn curry. And Thailand's mango sticky rice? Only a fool would say, "Sorry, too many carbs."
The fear of packing on the pounds while traveling is real. You get caught up in the adventure of a lifetime hopping from country to country and there seems to be a permanent beer bottle in one hand and street food in the other. Sleeping schedules get the boot as you're catching red eye flights, bumping along on buses or trains and trying to cope with changing time zones. Travel is a big ol' melting pot of let go, enjoy the ride, what happened last night and what day is it. After all, embracing unpredictability and complete freedom of routines and schedules is part of what makes it such a life changing phenomenon.
I've always been an active individual with a slight health obsession. When I left home to backpack Southeast Asia, everything I practiced at home to stay in shape went out the window. After driving a motorcycle through Vietnam for two months, all of those hours of sitting on a bike, not to mention countless milky coffees, had taken a toll on my booty and belly...a 10 lbs toll to be exact. I hated how I felt and when I decided to stay in Southeast Asia indefinitely, I had to face the fact some changes had to happen, not just to stay in shape, but to take care of my overall health. After two years abroad, I learned not to be too critical, don't deprive and take baby steps to make it a lifestyle, not a diet. Here are some tips I follow every day that helped me to lose the extra weight and stay fit on the road.
"I can't workout while traveling, it's too hectic."
"I can't join a gym in this country, I'm on a strict budget."
"I'm just not going to eat that much."
"I'll start later, like whenever I get home months from now."
Don't give in to those poop thoughts. That routine from back home is ingrained in your mental hardware, and it's not going to disappear overnight. Make fitness a priority and a constant in your everyday life. There are plenty of ways to stay active and healthy anywhere without busting your budget. Keep it simple, keep it fun and try not to deprive yourself or go from one extreme to the other. Accept that you'll slip up sometimes and that's OK. It starts with YOU to make fitness a regular part of your daily thought process.
You don't need a gym or fancy equipment to look good. Studies show that 40% of all physical activity happens outdoors with 25% resulting from the daily commute alone. When I touched down in Thailand and took a bus out to the countryside, my head was on a swivel ogling the spectacular landscapes outside my window. That's when I got the idea to walk- a lot. I don't mean sign up for treks or tours (although trekking is an awesome way to explore and get one hell of a workout), but instead, walking from place to place and not relying on public transportation. A 20 minute walk from the guesthouse to the market sucks you into the local culture, and you suddenly notice the interesting little shops, smell the aromas of a nearby food stall or have cultural exchanges that you would've otherwise missed on a speeding taxi or bus. Those short walks hauling a heavy backpack burn some serious calories. Best of all, it doesn't even feel like working out when you're immersing yourself into the unfamiliar.
Water is MAGICAL
Water is the ultimate cleanser of the soul. If I feel like shit and then chug a liter of water, it's as if I was reborn. Unfortunately, remembering to stay hydrated while traveling is too easy to forget. Next thing you know, you've spent five days drinking under a scorching sun on Don Det Island in Laos, none of those drinks contained water and you get a bladder infection from dehydration. Drinking enough H2O can combat illness and flush out toxins. Carry a water bottle with you at all times and aim for a set amount to drink each day. If you have a liter bottle, 2-3 refills a day will have you peeing like crazy, but you'll also feel an immediate difference. Feel that energy surge? That's your hydrated body bursting with ecstasy and gratitude.
Eat ALL of the food
Eat that peanut-y pad Thai. Gobble up the lemongrass fried chicken. Slow chew those delectable dumplings. I'm all for indulging while traveling, after all, sampling foreign delicacies is a major part of the overall experience. The key to health lies in small tweaks that aren't impossible to hold up. Focus on smaller portions. Always add vegetables to your meals. For snacks, keep fruit and nuts in your backpack. If you gorge yourself on fried foods and beers one night, make a mental note to keep things light and healthy the next couple of days. It's not about sacrifice, it's about being mindful.
I love keeping a stash of supplements in my backpack when I travel. Powder vitamin C packets don't take up much room and prove invaluable for a quick immune system boost, especially after partying. If you feel a cold coming on or thrush is an issue (ladies, you feel me?), garlic is a powerful natural aid that can be eaten raw or in powder capsules. You don't necessarily have to bring goods from home either, do some research on nutritional supplements offered in the country you're traveling (expat forums on Facebook are great for this!). When I traveled in Southeast Asia I learned that moringa oleifera is a nutrient rich plant native to the region. Not only could I purchase it in powder form almost anywhere, but it's cheaper than if I were to purchase it back home.