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Before I went travelling, most of my friends who had done similar trips told me “you won’t have the time or desire to exercise”, “you’ll have plenty of time to get fit again when you get back” and/or “just enjoy yourself”. However as someone who is passionate about health and fitness, I knew I didn't have a choice; if I was truly going to enjoy my trip I would have to continue to exercise regularly.
The trip in question was a five month long backpacking trip around Europe with my girlfriend and a few friends. While all of us were relatively health conscious, it was my girlfriend and I who were really motivated to stay fit over the five months. At times it was far from easy, but in the end we were able to have the time of our lives and still come back in decent shape. I truly believe that regardless of where you travel to in the world there is always a way to exercise - as long as you have the will power to get it done!
1. Walk everywhere
You will end up walking a lot out of necessity anyway, but when you have the choice stick to the pavement. Walking is 9 times out of 10 the best way to explore a new city and enables you to stay active each day. During our trip we went on heaps of ‘free’ guided walking tours, they're a great way to orientate yourself when you arrive somewhere new and for getting the inside scoop on what’s worth doing while you’re in town.
2. Set a plan and stick to it
Besides walking, we set a goal on our trip of exercising every second day - alternating between cardio and strength workouts. The cardio workouts would normally consist of a 40min+ run, while for the strength workouts we would use a mix of resistance bands that I brought with me on the trip (I would highly recommend this to travellers as they are light weight and easy to stuff into your bag). For these strength workouts we had created three different circuits that we would alternate between, incorporating all muscle groups. This helped us be efficient with our workouts as it prevented us from wasting time worrying about which exercises we would do, and kept us accountable to a certain duration and intensity of workout. As you’ll read below some of our workouts were better than others, but over the five months we managed to miss only two sessions (shit happens!). Before you go away, think about your fitness goals or fitness level you would like to maintain and set out a clear plan of your own to achieve it.
3. Make hay while the sun shines
If you are travelling to multiple places on your trip, when you come across somewhere that is great for exercise make the most of it. It might be a great running/hiking trail, a gym at your accommodation, the opportunity to rent a stand up paddle board, or even just some sunny weather. Whatever it is, enjoy it now because you might not be so lucky at your next stop.
4. Roll with the punches (be flexible and creative)
While some workouts will go according to plan, a lot will not. When these situations arise think on your feet, be resourceful and resist the urge to give up (you’ll feel good when it’s done!).
E.g. 1: We had a big day planned in Dublin so we decided to wake up early and go for a run. We knew it would be cold but from growing up in Melbourne (which can get reasonably cold in winter) we thought we could handle it. We were wrong! We did a few laps around the block before we had to retreat to our hostel; no matter how hard we ran we just couldn’t warm up. Frustrated by our failed run and lack of warmer exercise clothing, we managed to find a mostly unused flight of stairs in our hostel. We used them to do stair run variations and also used the stairwell to do burpies, push ups etc.
E.g. 2: Similarly while in Marrakesh, Morocco, we woke early to do a workout before a boat cruise we had planned. As there wasn’t any suitable public spaces for us to workout, we had decided to make use of our hotel’s rooftop. However, when we woke it was still pitch black outside and to our frustration we found the rooftop to be locked (with a sign informing us it wouldn’t be open until sunrise). We didn’t have time to wait until it was opened, so we were forced to complete our routine in the dark and in silence, on a dusty tiled floor outside rooms filled with guests trying to sleep. At the time it was far from fun, but we felt good once it was done.
5. Be aware of different customs
In some parts of the world it isn’t appropriate or common place to exercise or wear exercise clothing in public, particularly if you are female. For some places this was easy for us to pick up on (e.g. in Morocco) while in others it was not so obvious.
E.g. 3: In Prague, my girlfriend, another female friend and I decided to do a resistance band circuit at a park near where we were staying. From the beginning we felt out of place. We were getting weird looks and a fair bit of unwanted male attention. This of course made us all uncomfortable, forcing us to move to different areas of the park several times. While we did complete our workout in the end, we were very glad to get out of there.
If unsure ask staff at your accommodation what is appropriate or scout a location yourself to see if other people are exercising before you get to work.
6. Enjoy the process
Exercise does not have to detract from you experiencing a destination, in fact it is one of the best ways to do just that. For instance, going for a run or bike ride is an awesome way to explore a city, you cover more ground than walking and because of the distraction your foreign surroundings provides, you end up running/riding further than you normally would. Furthermore, outdoor workouts (where possible) are a great way to get outside, explore the parks and gardens a city has to offer, and blend in with the locals.
Get out there!
From personal experience, maintaining a regular exercise routine will help avoid illness, keep morale high, de-stress and boost self confidence while travelling, all of which being necessary ingredients to an amazing travel experience. Not to mention it allows you to party night after night (relatively) guilt free! Good luck and have fun travellers!