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HOW TO: Keep Fit While Traveling

by Globetrooper Todd | 11 Responses
Keep Fit

At home, life is so structured. We wake up at the same time, eat the same breakfast, and perform the same duties throughout the day against the same schedule. But despite this discipline, most of us find it difficult to keep fit.

On the road, when we’re enticed to try local deep-fried dishes and where no day is the same as the next, you’d imagine keeping fit is even more difficult. But it’s actually much easier if you leave the routine at home.

The beauty of travel is that it’s naturally active. If you don’t keep active, then you’re not really traveling. So we can maintain a base level of fitness just by getting out and about. But that’s still not enough, especially when the local cuisine is light on nutrition and heavy on the saturated fat.

A Strong Heart

Cardiovascular fitness is by far a traveler’s best friend. It underpins stamina and resilience, which themselves underpin greater levels of adventure. Plus, a strong heart is important for everyday health and will help prevent heart disease and all those other nasty things that stop us from traveling untethered.

Keep Fit - Strong HeartThe best activity, apart from exploring a new locale, is the one that doesn’t feel like exercise. That’s because you’re much likely to stick to an exercise routine if you don’t even know you’re exercising. For example, a game of squash or tennis with a friend feels more like socializing than exercising. But as travelers, especially in remote places, squash and tennis aren’t always possible.

So you need to find your perfect medicine; an activity that’s unobtrusive to your travels and easy to perform anywhere. Me? I enjoy running. With running, I can get into that zone where I forget what I’m doing and focus my mind on planning my next adventure. And with a pair of running shoes, I can run anywhere. Swimming, cycling, or yoga may be more enjoyable for you.

The other important consideration is variety. It’s very easy to hit a plateau, but this is where exercise on the road trumps exercise at home. You can run up mountains, jog through a city or hike through a forest; all providing different levels of intensity. As long as you sweat profusely and enjoy the scenery, you don’t need to give it another thought.

A Strong Body

Muscular fitness isn’t all about walking half-naked along a crowded beach. It actually contributes to skeletal health and agility. You can walk longer, climb higher peaks, carry a heavier pack, but more importantly, you’ll experience fewer day-to-day injuries.

Forget the gyms though; gyms are for rigid routines at home. Unless your travels involve carrying tree trunks, then you don’t need to confine yourself to a room full of expensive equipment. Plus, kinesiologists (experts of human motion) agree that the best preparation for an activity is to perform the activity. And most popular gym exercises don’t replicate real world applications.

Keep Fit - Military PushupThe most unobtrusive way to strengthen your body is, again, to perform an enjoyable activity. But this is much more difficult for muscular fitness. The next best thing is to find a way to turn your cardio activities into muscular activities too. For me, stair climbing complements my running by providing a muscular component. It doesn’t sound very muscular, but you should try running up the 227 stairs to the summit of Mont Royal, two- or three-at-a-time.

But of course stair climbing does nothing for the upper body, and we need balance. Again, the secret is to keep your activities as simple and unobtrusive a possible. I wish there were something I found enjoyable for upper body exercise, but alas (and I’m open to suggestions). My current solution is military push-ups. They’re really difficult (which is good) if you do them properly and so they entire routine can be over in minutes.

The Road to Success

Forget the routines and the reps. Keeping fit on the road is more art than science. All you need are the following:

  • To enjoy the activity so it doesn’t feel like exercise
  • To adapt the activity to your travels, not the other way around
  • To keep the activity so simple that you can zone out

Of course, a healthy diet is also paramount to healthy living. But if you get too prescriptive with your eating, you’ll intrude on your travels, or more likely, give up on your quest to keep fit.

Posted in How-To Guides | August 5th, 2010

11 Responses to HOW TO: Keep Fit While Traveling

  1. You mention balancing yet you lack anything for your back/biceps. Wouldn’t that balance your pushing muscles? Also, two additional suggestions: jump rope and burpees. Also, never leave out your core.

    • Hi Allen, thanks for dropping by. Running and pushups will cover the back and biceps. Sure, they’re not direct workouts for those areas, but both are large compound movements and tend to cover a wide range of muscles, including the core. For example, when you lower yourself down in a military pushup, you’re using your biceps, core, etc. And of course when you’re stair climbing you use your core. Again, I like to keep my workouts as unobtrusive as possible. So even though a jump rope is small, it’s still extra equipment.

      • Touche to the jump rope. I think we’ll end up agreeing to disagree on some of the matters of fitness. If you’re interested, we could email further about this. Regardless, I’m enjoying your articles and apologize for such a late response.

  2. Great article Todd. I think one of the most effective things one can do when traveling is to simply walk as much as possible. My partner and I have a saying, “We will take the boat when we HAVE to,” which stems from a hiking trip to the Grand Tetons (you can take a boat across the river or hike an additional 2 miles to the trail head). In any case, we replace “boat” with “subway” or “taxi.”

    I am also with you on running. You don’t have to pack extra gear and it allows you to see things you otherwise might miss.

    Both walking and running are like killing to birds with one stone. Even better, if you run / walk with someone, you can have some amazing conversations. This is when my partner and I tend to have our biggest, most life-changing epiphanies.

    Thanks again for a great article.

    • Hey Kent and Caanan, great point about walking everywhere. I was always a bit of a walking skeptic (doesn’t really get your heart up), but after walking a lot on this trip, I’ve seen the light. We now walk 3km into the city and don’t even think twice. And like you said, it gives you a great chance to think and talk and make lasting changes. Also interesting to hear your story about going vegan for a month and now being mostly vegetarian (http://www.tandemworld.org/2010/08/nutrition-fitness-and-travel/). All the best guys.

  3. Enjoyed your article. So true, you have to fit fitness into your travels and find the opportunities that are fun and make it interesting.However, I wouldn’t rule out going to the gym on extended travel. I’ve been traveling 18 years now and have developed a bit if a routine. I carry a jumprope and do push-ups on even days, crunches and ballet on odd. But we love going to the gym we have YMCA membership and are welcome at most branches thanks to the AWAY program. This means we can use their gym, fitness facilty,weight room, fitness classes, shower (a big plus for travelers) and spa/sauna when available. This may only be option for US travel but I still wanted to put it out there.

    • Hey Kimberly, wow, 18 years, now I really feel like a beginner :) Most places we visit don’t have easy access to gyms, especially when we’re trekking or in remote areas. However, we’re about to start a road trip through Canada and the US, so I love the idea about the showers at YMCA. We’ve wondered how we’d shower on the road. Great tip.

  4. We also travel with a resistance band which you can do a number of excerises to work all muscles groups.

    • Thanks for the tip Anthony. I just checked out your site, and Wow. Very nice. Love the look and feel, plus the breadth of info and the way it’s all organised.

      PS. Lauren and I are from Sydney too.

  5. Great article. I was just thinking about travel fitness as I did my workouts in my tiny apartment today. You hit all the big stuff- walking, running, using the surroundings.

    I have an upper body tip- Go on a huge picnic. Carry the bags and continually switch the arms you hold the items in and the positions you hold them in. You’ll be walking with functional weights. You definitely need to supplement this with burpees or something, but it’s something to try.

    • Thanks Rease; great idea. Love the title of your latest post. Lauren was just there working out with the ‘bad girls of Gobi’ <- referring to her desert trek across the Gobi desert.

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