When we spend all year looking forward to our holidays, it's no wonder that staying in shape when we travel is so important to us. It sounds superficial – but when we look good, we feel good – and there's nothing wrong with wanting to maintain that. Whether you are travelling for a week or two, or for months at a time, there are plenty of ways to ensure that we stay feeling fit, healthy and looking good during our break. Having chosen travel as a lifestyle, there have been times in the past when I have felt that meant compromising my love of staying healthy and fit. But over the years, I've found more of a balance that I'm happy with and I feel like now I'm in the best shape I have been in for years. I feel physically very fit and strong, full of energy, I'm eating a diet full of nutrients and I can honestly say I'm happy with the way I look. Accepting my body and it's appearance, as for many people, is something that comes over time and perhaps even more so with age. But a huge factor in this has been the lifestyle, diet and exercise that I have chosen in the last year.
Finding a food balance that suits you
This is something I've spoken about a lot and it is crucial to maintaining your figure, and your health, during long-term travels. Staying in shape comes from finding a lifestyle that you can keep up, not crash dieting and getting obsessed with working out then living off chips and beer for the next few months. It can prevent you from falling into the trap of yo-yoing between having the perfect bikini body, to feeling bloated and ballooning like many backpackers do. It can be very hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle when travelling long-term and constantly moving between places, but it also gives you the flexibility to not be so hard on your body.
For me, finding balance was about eating right – in my case deciding to keep to a mostly vegetarian and even vegan diet. Yes I slip up sometimes, but making the decision to focus on plant-based food and to avoid dairy has made me feel like a completely different person. I have twice the energy, I feel stronger and healthier, and my body has completely changed shape leaving me leaner, slimmer and with less body fat. Don't get me wrong, I still have pizza and pasta several times a week, love drinking wine and never say no to treats, but I also never feel guilty for these things because they are in moderation and contrast against the freshly prepared meals that are bursting with healthy ingredients.
Stay food flexible
Travelling means a constantly changing environment, new cultures and new foods. You have to be open to spontaneity and remain flexible in your diet and exercise. You won't always fit in all your workouts and sometimes you'll be forced to eat certain unhealthy foods. The main thing is to be open and to never blame yourself if you have a bit of an unhealthy week – perhaps you're spending your time eating all the treats and not being very active. But other weeks, you might be hiking mountains and dancing the night away living off fresh fruit and salads! It's called balance. If like me, you try to eat mostly vegetarian and vegan, you have to be open to some cultures not being as knowledgeable about animal products and replacements being less available. For instance I found it super easy to eat vegetarian in Thailand and Australia, but I've heard in Japan a lot of food contains fish oil which might put stricter vegetarians off certain foods. I've also had issues since moving to Germany with the meat-heavy diet of the country. Be open to trying new things and always try to stick to your morals, but understand it may be difficult at times.
Changing your attitude towards working out
Changing my attitude towards working out from trying to stay slim, to focusing on getting stronger and pushing myself has also had a huge effect. Now I work out for my mind, not my body and just changing my mindset has helped me grow to love my body for it's strength, and for how it feels rather than how it looks. I never go to the gym because I'm having a "fat day" or because I feel like I've overindulged. Instead staying in shape is more than just working on my body, it's working on my mind too. Now I head out for a run, or to the gym to blow off some steam, to clear my head, to give myself an energy boost or to tire me out for bed. I get asked a lot about how I stay in shape when I seem to be on a permanent holiday and I can tell you at first, it wasn't easy. But changing the way I think about it really helped me to go from trying to stay slim, to wanting to feel healthy all the time. One great thing about travelling – your health and happiness becomes a priority!
Staying in shape means moving more
It sounds blindingly obvious but you'd be amazed how many people are glued to a sun-bed when they travel. I'm not saying you have to get up at the crack of dawn and go running every morning, but why not get out and go for a walk? It's my favourite way to explore a new city, by walking the streets, you see so much more than you would on the underground and you get to work up an appetite for that plateful of paella you've had your eye on! When we were on our 3 week road trip around Europe, we broke up the trip with days soaking up the culture and beauty of Vienna and Prague, in-between eating the local sweet treats.
Don't fancy the city? Head out to the national parks or countryside, or enjoy an afternoon walk along the beach and work on your tan. Even jump in the ocean and swim alongside the beach for a great way to cool off while staying in shape. There are so many amazing ways to stay active and the more you throw yourself into them, the more you will start having fun and won't even realise how much energy you are burning. Things like an afternoon of snorkelling or scuba diving with sea turtles, or climbing a mountain, or even walking around the markets and shopping to your heart's content.
Make the most of your travel time
So many of us plan our travel time to the tee from plane to bus to taxi. But there are so many ways to get a bit more active while staying in shape during your trip. A great way to do this is to hire bikes, or borrow the ever-popular city bikes you will find in most big cities. Usually these offer the first 20-30 minutes of free riding which can be plenty of time to enjoy some of the sights. It can also help you avoid busy public transport and traffic jams. For those who have planned a beachside holiday, there are lots of great water sports you can try out, from the more exhilarating options of surfing, waterskiing and paragliding. For something more relaxing, try kayaking or even renting a little pedal boat like my boyfriend and I did in Hamburg the other weekend to explore the canals and lakes.
If you love sailing, boat rental is a fantastic way to keep fit while travelling. Many people underestimate sailing as an endurance sport but being on water means that you are constantly balancing and using your stomach and core muscles. Perfect for staying in shape, and enjoying a day out on the water, sailing improves your coordination, flexibility and strength. Daily tasks, such as rigging, often require a lot of energy and being on your feet all day means you are constantly getting a workout, while having fun!
Enjoy yourself and never feel guilty
The most important thing of all – never feel guilty for food choices or for not squeezing in a workout during your travels. While I agree you will never regret a workout and always feel better for doing it. I also know that sometimes, it is much more important to squeeze in yet another delicious slice of Black Forest Gateau, a delicious cheese fondue or even a famous Trdlo from Prague. Food is life and food is huge part of the travelling and cultural experience, and you should never feel you have to turn it down to stay in shape. Likewise, you should never feel guilty if you skip a workout to go out for a pizza or to go drinking with friends from your hostel – life happens and it gets in the way sometimes. Your holiday should always be a holiday first and if that means you sit in your bikini drinking pina coladas and eating chips for two weeks, then that's fine too. Staying in shape is mental as well as physical, and it's important to be happy and enjoy your trip without guilt over that last gelato.
How do you stay in shape when you travel? Do you find it easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle on holiday or do you head straight for the cocktails? What is you favourite way to stay active on holiday?