Last year was a busy one – a lot of travel, a lot of living and a lot of changes. It was an amazing year full of highs and lows, but in the midst of that it was hard to feel settled and to live my best life. I finished the year pretty exhausted from the constant movement, ill as all my adventures caught up with me, and eager to make some big changes for the year ahead. Now don't worry, it may be January but this isn't one of those "New Year, New Me" posts – instead of some health kick, I'm focusing on making some big lifestyle changes that will hopefully bring me happiness in 2018. I'm looking at the long-term rather than some quick fix. What's prompted all this? Well I've been travelling for over three years now and in that time I've done and seen a lot, but now I'm craving some stability and a different way of travelling, and of living my life. So what changes am I making this year?
Now I don't believe in diets, but I do believe in lifestyle changes and improving diet. I am focusing more on what I put in my body and some of the ways I can really feel my best. I remember when I felt healthiest and happiest during the year and it was when I was road tripping Western Australia and was eating purely vegan/vegetarian for months on end. I had endless energy and as soon as I stopped that diet I was exhausted all the time. I'm already eating vegetarian most of the time, but I've been incorporating more vegan food into my diet and it's making me feel great. I'm excited to move into my own place into a few months and then there will be nothing but vegetarian food in my cupboards. I don't do this because I don't like meat – my choice is based on the fact that I feel better when I don't eat meat, and the fact that I just don't think a meat-heavy diet is sustainable without damaging the environment. Likewise, I haven't forbidden myself from eating meat if I do want to, I don't think diet should be about restriction – more about introducing more things that are better for you like my mostly vegetarian diet.
I've already cut out as much dairy as possible from my diet – choosing soy, rice or coconut products instead which has helped my eczema-prone skin no end. I absolutely love the Alpro with Coconut instead of yoghurt, and always switch regular milk for Rice Milk as it's far more sustainable than Almond Milk. My favourite post-gym breakfast at the moment is Lizi's Granola mixed with Alpro and lots of fresh blueberries and raspberries, the granola is absolutely delicious and packed full of protein, fibre and all the goodness you need post-workout, plus its low sugar. Fancy a snack? I'm the worst for picking up the wrong things to snack on, so Soul Food Collective sent me some of what they think I should be filling up on and I'm more than impressed. This entirely fair trade, delicious, natural and organic range is just what you need to keep you going during the day, and oh my goodness they are the perfect snack. My favourites are the Amarena cherries and raspberries coated in dark chocolate and I always make sure I have a packet in my bag to stop me from snacking on the wrong foods. When it comes to dinners, I actually prefer using tofu and Quorn as meat replacements, the more I have eaten them the more my tastebuds have changed and I enjoy the texture of meat less.
I'm so happy to be back in a gym. I signed up as soon as I arrived back in the UK and I'm there most days now to attend classes or hit the gym. After travelling constantly for three months and indulging over Christmas, it feels really nice to be back in a routine and to challenge my body, to feel the aches that means you've pushed yourself further. I have always been a bit of a gym bunny when I get going but travelling makes it hard to keep up a routine when you're never in one place long enough. I love yoga, pilates and running, but I miss the weights, the machines and the challenges of classes when I'm on the road. I don't consider myself out of shape at the moment – my focus is more on getting stronger and building my energy levels. Also, adapting to British weather, I need all the help I can get in staying warm!
I'm focusing on trying to be active every day but in different ways. A couple of days a week I'm attending classes such as body combat (my fave!), yoga, or zumba depending on what my body is craving. On the other days, I'll either head to the gym and do my own HIIT workout or have a weights session. One thing I can tell from this is that I love variety and I get bored if I do the same thing every day, so on the days where I just don't fancy the gym, I like to get outside and either run or do huge walks on the beach or in the woods – perfect for when you need to blow away the cobwebs. Looking for new workout ideas? Why not try your hand at winter sports such as indoor skiing?
Encouraging yourself to get active in January is a lot of work, so it's important to invest in yourself and to get some nice workout clothes that you are excited to put on even when it's cold outside and you want to stay in bed. I have the comfiest workout leggings and sports bra from Australian brand Cotton On Body and they are genuinely the best workout clothes I have ever had plus very budget friendly. I'm lucky to have a sister who works as a personal trainer so I'm always getting her cast-offs when it comes to exercise gear and she recently sent me two (almost new) sets of trainers! It's definitely helped me to get in the right mindset for working out and working hard! This gorgeous sports bag from Hunkemoller Doutzen Sports range has helped the most, I was in need of a new gym bag and this one is fantastic – it's huge and has plenty of space to fit all my workout clothes, shoes and even swimming gear in. Plus the cute floral design helps make it feel really feminine and pretty, just what I need after a sweaty gym session. I'll also be using it as a weekend bag from time to time as it's the perfect size for taking away with me.
As someone who spent much of Christmas/New Year feeling very poorly with the flu, and who spent much of their month in Sri Lanka with food poisoning, it's been a rough time for my body. I've spent a lot of the year working too hard, working long hours, partying too much and not giving myself time to heal. I've been the sickest I've been in a long time and yet I haven't stopped or taken time out, it's a problem when you live a lifestyle like mine. I'm not very good at stepping back and looking after myself, but since being home I am focusing on my health so much more. I'm making sure I exercise daily, that I eat as healthy as possible, that I'm sleeping for long enough and deeply enough. And I feel so much better for it. When I had the flu recently, instead of pushing myself to get out of bed and make myself worse, I wallowed and I allowed myself time to get better. It was frustrating and went against all of my instincts but it worked and I feel so much better now. I'm also making decisions to adjust my diet and lifestyle based on information that has surfaced during a long course of treatment for an ongoing skin condition that is finally being taken seriously. After it being brushed aside all my life by doctors and myself, 2018 is the year of healing.
This can come in so many forms and all of the above can also be included. But in this case I want to focus on how I am putting less pressure on myself, how I am changing my habits and giving myself space to breathe. I'm taking more time for myself lately, more time to do the things that make me feel good like reading a good book, or spending a day in bed watching Disney movies when I'm having a rubbish time. I'm giving myself the time to pamper and treat my body well, to indulge and invest in myself by actually taking the time to appreciate myself. Lately I've really been trying to focus on appreciating the people around me, telling them what they mean to me and making the effort to get in contact with friends I haven't spoken to for a while. Caring for my support network is in turn caring for myself – you get out of it what you put in. Most importantly, I'm making plans for the future, that for the first time in a long time actually revolve around staying put and settling for a while. Last year was one for moving constantly and pushing myself, this year I want to focus on what makes me really happy and that is being closer to friends and family, having more of a base that can become my home, exploring different ways of fulfilling my travel needs and letting my relationship grow.
I'm a self-confessed workaholic. When I have a job, it tends to take over everything and even during the times when I don't and I'm travelling, I end up giving all my time to this blog like when I spent ages redesigning the whole thing from scratch while I was in Australia. For so long I've been taking jobs for convenience and money due to travelling, rather than focusing on my skills, interest and qualifications. Now my brain hurts from lack of use and I'm craving the chance of having job where I finally get to use all three – I'm in the process of applying for jobs and for the first time in a long time I'm focusing on quality. This year is the year where I develop my skills and really use my brain instead of running myself into the ground for a job I don't believe in.
What changes are you making this year? Are you focusing more on your health, your relationships or your career?
I've always been a health conscious kinda gal and liked to keep track of what I was putting into my body - from the food I was eating, to how much water I was drinking, to the beauty products I chose. As someone who has annoyingly sensitive skin prone to allergic reactions, eczema and flare-ups, it's important for me to use the most natural products available and to avoid overly-processed foods. Travelling gave me the opportunity to take full control of this and to really reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, I always ate very healthily at home and exercised plenty before travelling, but going solo meant every decision was up to me and that I was able to try out different lifestyle choices that perhaps I didn't have as much opportunity to pursue before I went away. Starting out in Asia, my diet changed dramatically as I gorged on the delicious fruits available and cut out meat almost completely, replacing it with tofu or other vegetarian options. It was something that happened very naturally and I found that I didn't even miss meat. Throughout travelling I never gave up meat entirely but I very rarely ate it, and I almost never cooked it - watching more and more documentaries about the farming industry made me stand by my decision.Likewise, away from European beauty standards and living in a much more relaxed backpacker culture, I found myself living months on end without wearing make-up. I never wore that much to begin with, but never quite felt comfortable leaving the house without at least a bit of mascara or concealer. Asia changed all that, the humidity and the heat made make-up pointless unless you wanted it sliding down your face, and we all know that everyone looks better with a tan anyway. I was confident and happier since travelling, I was comfortable with the way I looked, and more importantly I just didn't give a damn. I liked rolling out of bed and straight to the beach, I liked applying sunscreen and a dash of coconut oil to my skin, and more importantly, my skin liked it. I didn't have spots or patches or any sign of irritation, the one thing I did have was a big smile on my face. I can tell you that my happiest moments in the last few years have all happened when I've been barefaced except for a smile, with messy hair that smells of the ocean. It just shows you, once you take all the clever advertising and society pressure away, when you really get back to basics, whats really important - health and happiness.Being more aware than ever of the importance of knowing exactly what we are putting in our bodies, when Time Of The Month contacted me to ask whether I wanted to review their organic range - I jumped at the opportunity. Starting out back in 2012, the company was founded as a way of empowering women to make their own choices about their gynaecological health while offering them products that were made of the purest and cleanest materials. Founder St. John Burke said: " I was motivated to develop a brand I'd be happy for my daughter to use." Your vagina is the most absorbent part of your body, and sanitary products full of harsh chemicals can be absorbed into your blood stream and cause problems with your immune system and hormones, with links to reproductive issues and cancer. We refuse to use sun beds for fears of skin cancer and regularly check for lumps in our breasts and yet we still use products in our most intimate area that could cause severe health problems on a daily basis. But it's not something we think about because it's never talked about!Did you know that tampons and towels have been around since the 1930's and that most are still made from the same man-made materials used back then? So for almost 100 years we've been using the same products to deal with our periods - think how many versions of the iPhone have been released in the last six years alone. So if we can update our phones that often, why haven't we found a healthier way to deal with our periods? For some women, moon cups have provided a better option, but for many girls that method just doesn't appeal. The average women is using up to 17,000 tampons in a lifetime, so for those who prefer traditional methods, perhaps it's about time we started looking at healthier, more organic options. If not for our health, then think about the damage your time of the month is doing to the planet - every tampon you're currently using takes six months to biodegrade, while the plastic applicators take a further 25 years to break down, and don't get me started on pads which take a whopping 500-800 years! TOTM offer a fantastic range of 100% biodegradable tampons which dissolve naturally in landfills and unlike many other brands, they only use natural, organic cotton that has not been genetically modified or treated with chemical fertilisers or pesticides.I don't know about you, but doing my bit for the environment is pretty important and if it helps keep me as healthy as possible at the same time - we're onto a winner! I trialled out a selection of TOTM's products to see whether they would marry up to the standards I'm used to, and the truth is they far surpassed them. When you open the tampons and sanitary towels you're not overwhelmed by that chemical smell you get from high street products, yet the absorption rate is just the same, if not better than the products I would normally use. I was also really impressed to find that TOTM run a tailor-made service to suit your period, they'll deliver your chosen products directly to your door each month to fit with your cycle, or you can choose a one-off delivery. TOTM really puts women's health at the heart of things, and makes times of the month as hassle-free as possible - isn't that what we all want? I loved the way they were delivered to my home and having a regular delivery would stop you from getting caught out each month. After all that drama about the tampon tax, it's clear that female health is less of a priority to our government but that's why we need to make it more of a priority personally. TOTM exists to empower women to make real decisions about what is being put into your body - its a luxury that generations before us didn't have. Let's take advantage of it and take control.
How has travel affected your health? Have you become more health-conscious since travelling? How do you feel about the sanitary products available and knowing what you are putting in your body?
Travelling can have one of two very different effects on your body - half the backpackers out there seem to lose weight from not eating properly while the other half watch their beer bellies grow from night after night on the booze. It's a difficult feat, maintaining that lifestyle while not piling on the pounds, particularly when you are constantly on the move and unable to get into a routine for working out. I loved working out when I was at home and could be found at the gym at least three times a week, sometimes more. I definitely got a bit addicted at times and loved the way it made me feel stronger, fitter and healthier. So as you can imagine, the gyms is something I've missed hugely since travelling, not just the physical part but the mental side as well. It's great for giving you goals and keeping track of achievements, it's great for de stressing (granted, not something a backpacker really needs) and it's great for giving you more energy. The lethargy among backpackers can sometimes become quite contagious - I've noticed in certain hostels it can become easy for everyone to just do nothing and to have no energy to even organise a cycle to a waterfall or temple. Of course, this can be nice for a few days, but when you're travelling long-term it's important to realise the effects this will have on your body, and in turn your health. And nobody wants being ill to stand in the way of a good time!
So what can you do to avoid becoming a bloated, beer-bellied backpacker? How can you eat healthy while on the road? Here are my top tips:
- Don't forget your fruits and vegetables - in Asia, enjoy a fresh fruit juice or smoothie a day and fresh pineapple or watermelon, even a fresh coconut! The fruit is so good and so fresh, there's no excuse!
- Eat spicy. A spicy curry cures all and kills all germs as my dad always says!
- Eat a varied diet - it's difficult when cooking for one and you often end up eating the same thing for days but it is important to make sure your body gets all the different vitamins and nutrients it needs.
- Make sure you are eating enough and aren't just getting your nutrients from alcohol, it's easy to not feel hungry when in the heat all day but it's important to get enough food inside you and don't skip breakfast - it really is the most important meal of the day!
- Line your stomach before going out by eating a good dinner of pasta or curry and rice - something that will fill you up so you are less likely to binge later on greasy street food
- Remember that what you eat directly affects how you feel - if you eat greasy chips and fried food you will feel and look like crap. If you're eating fresh and healthy food full of vitamins, your skin will be glowing and you will be full of energy.
- If you're cooking in a hostel in Australia, throw some fresh veggies in your standard pasta
- If you're eating veggie to save some money, or because you actually are veggie, remember you need protein as well or you will become sick so make sure you're getting plenty from other sources
- Drink plenty of water - I felt really under the weather when I first arrived in Australia because I was too cold to be drinking enough water after Asia - dehydration affects you hugely
- Avoid beer, cocktails and fizzy drinks - instead drink white spirits with juice as a mixer
- Don't always give in to yourself over burgers on a night out and hangover fry-ups the next day
- Avoid pot noodles and 7/11 toasted sandwiches like the plague - they're packed full of salt, sugar and lots of other nasties
Staying fit while on the road - top tips!
- Walk everywhere - also great for those on a budget
- Get out and get active - you might not be able to get to a gym but the great outdoors is waiting and it's free! Hike to a temple or waterfall, spend a day exploring the city on foot, surfing or kayaking.
- Don't be afraid to have a night in - you've got plenty of time to party and your body needs a rest sometimes. Willpower - remember how much time you have to live the dream
- Can't resist the pull of the bar? Head to a club and dance the night away, drink less and burn off those calories while having a blast
- Take advantage of free gym trials everywhere you go. I spent a month in Sydney using the gym every other day and always for free, I even scored free boot camp classes twice a week and all because I took advantage of the deals that are always on offer.
- Use the hostel facilities - many of the hostels have stayed in have had some kind of sports facilities available - whether it's bikes or surfboards to rent or borrow, a basketball hoop, or volleyball and a tennis net, some even have a pool! Why not get a gang together for an evening game of volleyball? A great way to bond and stay fit, or play tennis one sunny afternoon.
- Going to Asia? Do what I did and invest in some cheaper running shoes, then use them to death! Running is something you can do anywhere so take advantage of that. Another great one is yoga - just get yourself a little yoga mat.
- Do a week of volunteering at an animal sanctuary - you're so busy working hard all day long that the love handles simply melt away and you don't even realise how hard you're working because you love it so much.
- Sign up for a yoga retreat or boot camp and give it your all, focus on fitness for a week or two.
- Workout somewhere beautiful - a friend and I headed to the beach for an intense cardio workout by the sea, and let me tell you, the beautiful setting definitely eased my pain!I could go on listing top tips and ideas for staying healthy, but there are so many. Once you start making changes to your lifestyle, it becomes easier and easier to see ways of improving. Don't be heard on yourself, it is hard when you are a backpacker and temptation lies all around you. You always tell yourself, it's okay, I'm on holiday! But five months down the line, you're still using that excuse and you can't understand why you're exhausted, you're getting sick and you have no energy or drive to explore and see the country you're visiting. Backpacking is a lifestyle, and it's important to strike a balance that suits you and the way you want to live - if that means having a fresh coconut when everyone else is on the beers then that is okay. If you fancy a salad when everyone else is snacking on greasy noodles then that's fine too. Your body relies entirely on what you put into it, so if you put rubbish into it, you will find it a bit rubbish when you're relying on it for a good time. Treats are most definitely not off limits, but they remain just that - treats.
What are your best healthy backpacker tips? How do you manage to stay fit while travelling? What are your favourite healthy backpacker meals?