On January 4th, 2017, I celebrated my one-year independent travel anniversary. I don't think I've ever been more proud in my entire life... or healthy.
With all the new exotic foods to try, and the innumerable places to see, it can become very difficult to find time or motivation to stay healthy. But traveling long-term doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your health. Over the course of a year, I've learned a thing or two about staying in shape, happy, and centered while backpacking the globe. In fact, I'm in better shape, both physically and mentally, now than when I strapped on my backpack a year ago - despite all the gelato and crepes that I could not say no to. Here are a few things I've learned about health while on the road.
Healthy foods are abundant and cheap
Yes, it's very tempting to eat all the pad thai and empanadas you can get your hands on, and to an extent, I would say go for it. After all, one of the best things about travel is experiencing culture through food. Plus, I thoroughly believe that enjoying food is good for the soul and that you should never have to sacrifice good food to be beach-body ready. It's all about balance - which means connecting with the culture through traditional meals, but sometimes substituting the local carb-packed cuisine for a bit of home (or hostel) cooking.
But cooking food yourself doesn't mean you have to forego cultural experiences. One of my most favorite travel activities is getting a taste of the parochial culture in local markets. There's just something about getting lost in multi-hued markets with overwhelming smells and oftentimes bizarre sights that you just can't experience at home. Plus, haggling over prices with the locals will help you with your vocabulary.
Not to mention that local markets tend to have locally produced fruits and vegetables, grains, meat, dairy products, and any manner of food items you can think of for implausibly cheap prices.
Some quick health tips: If you're going with grains for your meals, choose quinoa (if you can find it) over white rice every time, because it is more nutritious, lower in carbohydrates and calories, and higher in fiber and protein. If you're traveling in South America, you should be able to find quinoa at any market for a great price. In Ecuador, for example, you can get a pound of quinoa for a dollar.
If you're in an area that is not familiar with the miracle that is quinoa, brown rice is also a great substitute for white rice because the former contains more of the "nutritious" parts of the grain than white rice.
If you can find outdoor markets with locally-produced, in-season food instead of supermarkets, you'll be able to find more wholesome, nutritious foods. If you want to buy bread, cheese, or meat, go to an outdoor market or a shop that specifically sells the item you're looking for and you'll have a better chance of avoiding harmful chemicals or hormones used in mass-produced foods. When I have a craving for sugar (which is quite often), I tend to buy cookies, ice cream, or cake from shops where they make the products by hand so I know there aren't any poisonous preservatives or sugar substitutes. Plus, I know I'm supporting local farmers and businesses and having a cultural experience while i'm at it. Really, there's no excuse not to eat healthy food while abroad, as it's easier to find non-processed, cheap foods outside western countries.
When traveling, try to check into hostels that have kitchens. I've often found that cooking my own food in hostels is not only cheaper and healthier, but it's a great way to feel at home, make new friends, and participate in an international community of backpackers and locals. I actually used to despise cooking before I started long-term travel, but I've found tat there's nothing quite like sharing a kitchen with other travelers or a local family that owns the hostel. Plus, I've also discovered that going through a long process of making a careful meal is grounding when you're constantly on the move. The kitchen is now one of my most treasured places.
The world is your gym
When I first starting exercising while on the road, I was doing meager sit-ups and some pushups here and there. To be honest, I didn't have a clue what I was doing. But one of the most incredible things about travel is discovering people's willingness to share their knowledge.
In various hostels and homestays while on the road, I've met locals and travelers alike who have taught me yoga poses, pushed me to run harder and faster, shared workout videos with me, and have even created personalized workout routines that fit my goals. I've found community in jogging along an Ecuadorian beach with other runners, and fellowship with other yoga enthusiasts in Indian ashrams.
I also carry a jump rope with me wherever I go and I use this in tandem with bodyweight training that I've picked up along the way. Jump ropes are great because they're compacy and lightweight and can be used anywhere. Plus, they're fun to challenge other travelers and locals with!
Sometimes it can be a little awkward doing a workout while on the road, as there are normally few places in a hostel to do pushups and squats in private, and locals will sometimes stare when you go on a jog in an area that isn't big on running. Plus, if you're like me and you look like a Gringa/o, the states (and the discomfort) can multiply. However, this is mainly how I've discovered the sharing community. Just like cooking in a hostel, awkwardly exercising in a public space is a great way to find other health-conscious travelers and locals.
And don't forget that the world is your gym. There are dozens of treks, hikes, mountain climbing, and other outdoor activities that you can do in nearly ever country. If you're in a low altitude area that's not too crowded or dangerous, take your running shoes out for a spin. I've done plenty of runs in low altitude areas or even up in the Andes after I acclimated. No running shoes? That's no problem if you're on a beach. There are few things more inspiring or exhilarating than running barefoot along the sparkling water's edge of a tropical beach somewhere in the wide, wide world.
Staying grounded amidst chaos
Traveling long-term can have some major effects of your psyche. While traveling usually causes changes for the better by expanding your horizons and flexing your social muscles, every backpacker has encountered moments of stress or frustration while maneuvering the complexities of traveling abroad. When the confusing bus schedules, lack of customer service, or homesickness gets to you, it's good to have a few coping mechanisms in place.
Yoga is not only a great way to get in some exercise, it's also an incredible way to relieve the stress of constantly being on the road, and center your mind. Nowadays, almost anywhere in the world you go, you can find a yoga class or a local or fellow traveler who is familiar with yoga sequences. Joining an ashram or a community-based yoga center is a wonderful way to find peace and to get to know some locals.
Meditation is another fantastic way to clear your mind while traveling. Just like yoga, finding other travelers or locals who are familiar with meditation is a great way to learn how to center yourself. I've found many times that people are not only willing to share their knowledge with an interested party, but are delighted to have a partner in meditation. Plus, in many parts of the world you can easily find meditation centers, especially if you're visiting areas of Asia where Buddhism is prevalent. Find a temple where you can meditate with locals (or even monks) to get a slice of cultural experience to go with your peace of mind.
If you're interested in learning more about meditation on your own, there are a number of books to get you started. Check out: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day, and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. For me, reading is meditative in and of itself, and absorbing yourself in a book about the practice of meditation is doubly so. It will give you some practical information as well as a way to connect with others who want to find calm amidst a barrage of new sensations, sights, and ideas.
But, one of the best ways to relieve the stress of a constantly changing lifestyle away from home is to simply talk to other travelers and locals. You'd be surprised to find how often other people are going through the same things you are. Connecting with others on my travels has given me countless novel insights, comforts, and inspiration over the months; and strangers-turned-friends on the road have been my biggest source of consolation and relief when I'm stressed - or even when I'm not. So turn to your neighbor and have a human connection to lift your spirits.
Part of traveling long-term is learning how to adapt to new environments. Although you may be used to cooking in your own kitchen, or working out at the gym around the corner, it's not impossible to adapt to this new on-the-move lifestyle and stay healthy, happy, and centered while you're at it.
Meet our guest blogger
Ariana is a writer and world traveler. Her writing covers her three main passions: women's empowerment, travel, and culture. The beauty of the world is not just in scenic mountain views or turquoise waters; it's in doing the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. For Ariana, that thing is stringing words together.
Read her blog at www.wewereinfinite.com, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her journey on Instagram @surrealife.
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