How to Stay Fit Abroad

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How to Stay Fit Abroad

In some ways, travelling is great for your body. The ample fresh air is reinvigorating. You seem to be constantly walking. And the disruption to your regular routine means you don't spend so much time whiling away the hours in a comfortable chair.

But in other ways, travelling can exact a physical toll. Often, you’re eating out at restaurants that use a heavy hand on the fats, salt and carbs. The airplane, coupled with the heat of a far-flung destination, can easily dehydrate you. And you don’t have recourse to your regular workout equipment and/or gym membership.

The question, then, becomes: How do we emphasize the healthy aspects of travel while minimizing its potentially harmful effects? That’s the central question we aim to answer in this article.

Below, we're approaching how to stay fit abroad from a few perspectives. As we often do here, we start with packing, offering advice on how to pack for travel fitness. Then, we tackle the issue of fitness from a few angles: exercise, diet, general health and mental health.

Your reasons for staying fit are personal. Some people do it to turn heads at the beach; others do it to feel better. Regardless of why you want to keep in shape abroad, consult the following guide for help.

Packing for On-the-Go Fitness

The good news here is that you don’t need to pack a separate workout wardrobe just to stay fit. Leave the Lycra shorts and spandex shirts at home; they are uni-purpose garments that will just serve to take up precious space in your bag. And they do nothing that your merino wool clothing can’t do.

Our Unbound Merino travel clothing fares incredibly well for workouts. Our anti-odor wool t-shirt ensures that you work up a sweat without working up a smell. Our merino wool shorts are breathable and sweat-wicking to keep you comfortable and dry – even in hot destinations. And our base-layer underwear and all season ankle socks add a little comfort to your travel fitness regimen.

The only other item you may want to include is a good pair of running shoes or trainers. If you’re shooting for a minimalist packing list, you can make these your primary footwear. A sleek pair of black trainers work well in a variety of contexts.

Exercise

The prevailing wisdom is that diet and exercise are the two-pronged considerations for physical health. Diet is relatively straightforward (more on that below). Exercise, meanwhile, takes a little more determination; it’s easy to forgo exercise when your exciting destination keeps pulling away your attention.

Luckily, you can still see the world and stay in shape. Below, we’ve listed a few of our favourite exercise tips – the ones we use when we feel like working up a sweat abroad.

Hotel Room Fitness

First thing in the morning or during a low period in the evening, consider fitting in a hotel room workout. Without recourse to gym equipment like dumbbells, use your body weight to your advantage with a Pilates or home cardio workout.

There's a spate of great apps featuring classes for home fitness. Our favourites are obé fitness and The Sculpt Society. The former costs $27 a month and features a bent toward HIIT and Pilates, while the latter is only $19 and has some fun “dance cardio” and Pilates-like classes. Each offers a free trial period, so you can sign up the day you leave and exercise for free at your destination.

If you prefer a more low-tech approach, just write yourself a short workout routine that combines push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, squats, planks and lunges. This Shape article lists some helpful details for hotel room exercises. And this YouTube video from The Body Coach TV offers a handy visual tutorial for a 16-minute hotel room HIIT workout.

A Sight-Seeing Tour in Fast Motion

Don’t call it “running;” call it “a sight-seeing tour in fast motion.”

Plan a route that includes some notable sights – monuments, architecture, natural scenery, etc. Plug your route into Google Maps or a running app (Asics Runkeeper is a good one), so you don't get lost. And queue up a playlist that fits the context.

This way, you won’t feel like you’re dividing your time between enjoying your destination and staying fit. For all-season run wear, pack some Unbound Merino. For men, we recommend our basic t-shirt and merino wool shorts. And our merino wool leggings and merino tank tops for women are perfect for summer or winter vacation fitness.

Swimming on Beach Vacations

If you're near a body of water, you're near an exercise opportunity. Provided that the surf isn't too strong, consider burning calories with a daily swim. Of course, observe all the necessary precautions: don't swim too far from shore, swim within your capabilities, avoid swimming in rocky weather, and stick to lifeguarded areas.

Better yet, if your hotel has a pool, start the day with a few laps. Just a half hour of swimming can burn around 250 calories.

A “No Elevators” Policy

Here’s a low-effort tip for maximizing your physical exertion while travelling: make a “no elevators” policy. Walk the three (or 23) flights of stairs to get to your hotel room. And briskly scale the stairs of subway stations, shopping centers and museums. That simple act of punctuating your day with quick physical effort can make a load of difference.

The only exception to the rule is if you’re visiting one of the world’s tallest buildings. No one expects you to walk up the 160 floors of the Burj Khalifa.

Stylish man in merino shorts walking up stairs

Credit: cookie_studio Via Freepik

Day Passes to Local Gyms

Can’t fathom staying fit without a gym, and your hotel doesn’t have a gym? In the vast majority of cities worldwide, you will find local gyms that will sell you a day or week pass.

Truthfully, it’s not our favourite option; spending time in an enclosed, over-bright gym when you could get your fitness in elsewhere seems like a misuse of time and money. But we understand that some people feel more comfortable exercising in a gym. If that’s your preference, all the power to you!

Eating

The other side of the physical health equation is diet. Depending on where you are in the world, you might have access to plenty of healthy dining out options, or you may find a sea of fried foods and sugary drinks. You can’t control your environment, but you can control what you extract from that environment.

Below, we’ve included a few tips for mindful, healthful eating that you can follow anywhere in the world.

Aim to Prepare a Few Meals

As Anthony Bourdain famously pointed out, "If you eat at any good restaurant, assume you've eaten a stick of butter." While the late, great gastronome’s comment mainly applies to French dining, you can be certain that most restaurants, regardless of type, go heavy on the calories.

To counterbalance, we recommend preparing a few meals on your own. Shopping at a local grocery store can be a cultural experience in its own right, and it allows you to control the whole foods entering your body. If you don’t have access to a stove at your hotel, opt for fresh vegetables or pre-cooked items.

Stock up on Healthy Snacks

Another way to avoid centring your day around heavy meals is to snack throughout the day. As you peruse the local grocery store, zero in on dried fruits, nuts and other healthy non-perishables that you can throw in your day pack when you’re on the go.

Eating healthy while travelling

Credit: bublikhaus Via Freepik

Sample the Local Fruits

There’s a good chance your destination is known for a particular fruit. In France, you’ll find some of the crispest apples in the world. In Thailand, you can get a mango that will make you cry. And in Costa Rica, you’ll find the platonic ideal of a banana.

Use those vitamin-rich local offerings to your advantage. Start your day with a fruit-forward breakfast, or trade in your dinnertime dessert for a couple pieces of the local fruit. It’s a straightforward swap, but it can help you stay fit abroad.

General Health

While diet and exercise are undoubtedly the linchpins of keeping fit, your general health also factors into the equation. You can’t exercise in your hotel room if you’re suffering through dehydration. And it’s not easy to eat well when you’re too sick to eat anything.

Think of “general health” as keeping your body in good enough shape that you can stay in shape. These are fundamental, underlying tips necessary to stay fit abroad.

Take Measures to Avoid Getting Sick

No one’s going for a run with malaria, nor are they walking seven flights of stairs with COVID. Therefore, take precautionary measures to avoid getting sick on your trip.

Get all the necessary vaccines for your destination and the recommended boosters. To steer clear of gastrointestinal issues, avoid ice from vendors (which can carry bacteria from non-potable tap water), be choosy about the street food you consume, and avoid eating raw foods from questionable vendors. Finally, observe all the best practices around COVID safety, including masking up in dense enclosed spaces, and washing your hands frequently.

Stay Hydrated

As mentioned in the intro, travelling can do strange things to your hydration levels. Airplane cabins are notoriously dehydrative environments, and humid travel destinations work similarly to deplete your body’s stores of H2O.

Our advice is to pack a collapsible water bottle – one that easily slips into a side pouch of your carry-on. Refill your bottle regularly, and if need be, set reminders on your phone to chug a glass of water. When you fly, drink more water than you think you’ll need to offset the low humidity. Staying hydrated on your flight may even help you avoid jet lag.

Finally, wear cool, breathable clothing to avoid overheating. Obviously, we’re partial to merino wool here. Read more about how you can wear merino wool for any climate.

Woman in merino tank top drinks water

Credit: drobotdean Via Freepik

Get Your Requisite Shut-Eye

Those first couple of nights as you leap time zones are a write-off. Try as you might to gamify jet lag, you’ll probably experience some sleep disruptions.

After the jet lag subsides, try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule with the requisite number of hours. Sleep is essential for bodily health; irregular or insufficient sleep can leave you feeling groggy, physically depleted and irritable. If you’re aiming to stay fit while travelling, prioritize good sleep.

Stretch on Your Long-Haul Flights

Being sedentary and seated for a multi-hour stretch can do a number on your body. At best, you’ll feel achy. At worst, it can lead to things like deep vein thrombosis (blood clots, essentially). Neither scenario is conducive to staying fit.

This GQ article lists a few expert-recommended stretches for long flights, like rounded shoulder stretches, upper body twists and “self-hugs.”

Mental Health

In our recent article on evening rituals for travellers, we touched on an evening workout routine that prioritizes mental health and self-care. If you have the time before you jet away, we recommend giving the whole thing a read. But if you’re in a hurry, we’ve extracted a couple of quick tips to ensure that you stay fit holistically – mind and body – while travelling.

Journaling

Jotting down your thoughts at the end of a whirlwind day abroad can be a fantastic way for your brain to process the deluge of new experiences. It facilitates self-reflection, and helps you practice positive self-talk. In a more practical way, it can also be an excellent opportunity to write down fitness goals for the following day.  

Hotel Room Yoga

Yoga is a perfect middle-ground between mindfulness and exercise. It also happens to be incredibly hotel-friendly. If you don’t have access to an inexpensive yoga mat at your destination, use a folded beach towel or hotel towel – either will work in a pinch.

There are several good, paid yoga apps available (Alo, Glo, Down Dog, etc.), but you can just as easily find free YouTube yoga classes that do the trick.

These are a few ways we like to stay fit while on the road. As usual, we're all ears regarding new tips and recommendations, so feel free to leave a comment below.

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