How to stay fit and healthy while traveling

4 days ago I celebrated being on the road for 1 month. That also means I’ve celebrated 1 month since I’ve last been in a gym, done squats or lifted something heavier than my backpack. And my backpack is a mere 9 kilos. So, really, how do you keep healthy and fit while traveling?

Traveling means you might eat out more often or have to cook in tiny crowded hostel kitchens. While in said tiny crowded kitchens you might simply go for pasta and rice, the holy grail of all backpackers, or a hearty sandwich to prepare you for the night to come.

I have a love-hate relationship with carbs. Don’t we all though? I’ll simply feel like crap if I eat pasta, rice, fried stuff, any kind of sauce, or simply too much bread. And with limited resources to a gym or any other organized way of working out I knew I’ll have to find a way around the normal backpacker diet. I remember going to Asia for a month and simply feeling terrible the entire time because of the delicious, less-healthy food, lack of sleep and continuous drinking. I told myself never again, *insert super-determined look*.

A short google search got me reading The foolproof guide to staying in shape while traveling and How to stay fit while traveling so I had the right mindset before even landing in South America. Here’s a few of my ups and downs:

Eating healthy

I think this was my biggest concern. I don’t enjoy cooking and basically live on a supply of veggies, fruits and the occasional integral grains. But when you’re changing location every few days it’s hard to prioritize your grocery shopping over sightseeing, meeting new people or partying. Both Argentina and Chile have loads of verdulerias, fruit and veggie family-owned shops, look for them and stock up for 2-3 days at a time. This way all your snacks and breakfasts will be powered up.

For lunches and dinners, avocado, eggs and seeds are the base of my daily meals and I’ve been feeling great all throughout the trip. Add the occasional asado (barbeque) to the mix and my newly found love for murrones rellenos (grilled peppers filled with egg and cheese) and it’s all yummy and good.

Example of a what I would normally eat: breakfast could some fruits with yogurt or maybe some eggs, coffee or tea. I’ll have an apple snack later on and a big-ass salad with avocado, plenty of veggie, seeds or maybe some fish. I’ll snack again on a fruit or bar of cereal and close the night with some cooked seasonal veggies with a side of crackers or whatever grains I can find. Empanadas can always jump in the equation, I have no shame over that.

That being said, I do quite a bit of Couchsurfing and that means I have access to kitchens most of the time and when I do stay in hostels it’s usually for a short time so I compensate by having some meals out as well. And yes, I try to eat the free breakfast, I am a backpacker after all.

A typical hostel breakfast in Argentina

The hardest thing is to always plan ahead and avoid the sugar that seems to be all over the place in South America. I cringe over the moments I forgot to get any healthy snacks and I ate bags of cookies in the bus because I was starving. What a hard life, having to eat free-sugary snacks, I know. But when you feel the sugar screwing up your entire system, it’s all very different.

Find your balance

You will eat bad stuff, it’s just bound to happen. Being rootless, living out of a backpack, meeting tons of people and the occasional-sometimes-daily-intake of alcohol will impact you. Be gentle to yourself and allow yourself the splurge now and then, healthy living is a long process of good decisions. That fatty burger won’t add anything to your waist the same way one salad won’t do wonders over night.

In all transparency, I’ve been spending the last 4 days in complete and absolute pampering in a friend’s home in Valdivia, Chile. Not only did did I eat out everyday for lunch but I’ve also tried (and loved) deep-fried-empanadas, had the best roasted potatoes of my life, and gorged on bread with butter like there’s no tomorrow every evening at onze (a sort of evening get together with a cup of tea or wine, bread, butter and other yummy things to snack on)

Have I gained weight in 4 days? No. Do I feel a little heavier? Yes, I will make it up with some exercises today. Don’t stress yourself too much, your body is strong and will make it through the food you feed it.

Buckets of food at a place called Growler in Valdivia, Chile. Best roasted potatoes of my life, like ever.
Getting your sleep on

I’ve been resting more during the last month than I can remember I did in years. I’m assuming it’s a mix of everyday novelty, the tiredness of training my brain to speak and think in Spanish and the fact I change locations every few days. I’ll sleep until I’m done most days without feeling the very least guilty and it’s absolutely wonderful. Sure, the parties do add up but I’ve now learned that my body reacts differently to non-sleeping and I simply choose to sleep more than before.

This does not include the time I went hiking up a volcano on 9 hours of sleep within the last 48 hours, nobody is perfect, okay?

Getting enough exercise

I really miss going to the gym. I miss the structure of my classes, the sense of absolute exhaustion at the end of a hard workout and the ever lingering question: can I bike home after this? However, it’s not all that bad. I’m walking an average of 15 km per day when discovering new cities, I’ve done challenging hikes and I’m now looking into booking myself a few yoga classes in my new location. It’s all about the focus, building up a routine and following it. I find it so hard to build up a routine now which makes me appreciate how easy it actually is to stay fit at home. #foodforthought

Hiking in the snow on a steep path in El Bolson, Argentina. Can you see my excitement? In a few minutes I would not be able to see the path I was going on.
Drinks, drinks, drinks

Do you know how good the wine is in Chile and Argentina? I had an idea but I didn’t really know, know. It’s delicious and cheap-ish and an easy way to meet people and I should pay more attention to it. And now that I’ve discovered home-made pisco sour and pisco maqui, I have a feeling I need to double my healthy eating and exercise efforts to keep up and counter the alcohol effects.

Sipping pisco like a boss in a small restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

I do drink tons of water to keep hydrated and keep a stash of green tea in my backpack to use for when getting together with others so I won’t automatically reach out for the bottle of wine. Okay, this last sentence sounds like I have a problem. I’m just gonna smile and wave and tell you it’s all good.

Eating healthy versus costs

I had a fabulous salad yesterday that cost me double the price of a daily lunch menu which consists of meat, potatoes and dessert. Any normal backpacker with a normal metabolism will definitely tell you it’s stupid but anybody whose metabolism is slower than a turtle will understand me.

My take is that it all evens up one way or the other. I make my own food more often than eating out so when I pick something out of a menu it’s to nourish my body not to fill it up to the brim. And sure, fresh fruits and veggies will add up more than bread and butter or sweet snacks. At the end of the day it’s all about listening to your body and knowing what fuels you better and most.

Grocery shopping on May 1st when all the shops were closed in El Bolson but I managed to snag essentials from the only kiosk open that had more than candy and beer. Yaas!

(Eat away those late-night lomitos (a heavy enough sandwich with steak, eggs and cheese) if you can and move your bum up a mountain if you need to, it’s all up to you.

Do you struggle staying fit and healthy while traveling?

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