Health and fitness expectations vs realities while traveling, and how to adjust

Four months ago, two athletic therapists/personal trainers left home on the adventure of a lifetime. While exploring some of the most beautiful places this world has to offer, we also had every intention of staying in the best shape possible. Needless to say, things don’t always go as planned. Here are some of the lessons we learned during our time in Europe:

1.Expectation: I will maintain a consistent exercise regime while traveling.

Reality: You will sacrifice exercise to make the most out of your travel experience.

Adjustment: Accept the fact that right now, your fitness isn’t your main priority, and that is OK. Don’t beat yourself up about it because it is a necessary sacrifice to fully appreciate and enjoy this incredible adventure you’ve begun. If you do want to try and remain healthy and active, the best advice I would have for you is to try and incorporate exercise into your travel plans. Don’t wait until last minute to plan a workout, because most of the time, it won’t end up happening. I suggest making a little program (3x/week at most), and try to stick to it on a weekly basis.

2.Expectation: No gym? No Problem!

Reality: There are only so many push-ups and sit ups you can do. Creativity and your ability to actually enjoy your workouts will play a huge role in your consistency with them. If you’re bored, your motivation will plummet.

Adjustment: Since you won’t have regular access to a gym-like environment (free weights, racks, machines, etc), this is a fantastic opportunity to work on the things you may not have prioritized in your at-home routine. A few examples that come to mind are your mobility & flexibility, your postural muscles, your balance & stability, and your core. A great way of sticking to your training is to set performance goals for yourself.

For example, before we left, I had been working hard to help relieve myself of chronic low back pain I had from an old lifting injury. Along with getting regular treatment from an AMAZING osteopath, I was working extremely hard on my posture, mobility, and core to make sure I wouldn’t hurt anymore. Needless to say that when we left, I was pretty nervous about regressing and returning to the way I was before. That’s why I decided that a goal of mine would be to make sure I stayed mobile, stable, and strong enough to keep my back pain under control. So far, so good. 

3.Expectation: If I’m always working my core, at least my abs will look better.

Reality: This point doesn’t just apply to travellers; you can do all the crunches you want, you can’t out-train your nutrition, quality of food is key. It goes without saying that Western Europe is probably one of the worst places in the world to maintain a six pack, let alone try to develop one. European food is heavy, calorically dense, and absolutely delicious (especially in Greece and Italy). On top of that, it’s even harder to eat clean on a budget. When it comes to restaurants, the more nutritious foods such as seafood, lean proteins, and even salads are far more expensive than the classic favourites, such as pasta, pizza, and gyros. The same applies for the supermarkets, where fresh produce costs a fortune compared to getting some bread, cold cuts, and a condiment to make sandwiches.

Adjustment: if you’re travelling on a budget, accept that your current level of health & fitness will have to take a hit in order to travel longer and experience more of this beautiful world. Another great way of adjusting is to understand that your body’s ability to gain or lose weight is dependent on the amount of calories you take in vs burn. Therefore, if you are eating a lot, try to increase your caloric output by staying somewhat physically active. If you know today is a pizza & gelato kind of day (as all days in Italy should be), then try to walk as much as your plans will allow you to instead of taking the metro or bus. On top of that, if you can PLAN to get some early morning exercise done before your day starts, you’re already in a caloric deficit, meaning you’ve burnt more calories than you’ve eaten. Don’t get me wrong, we walked A LOT, but we also ate THOUSANDS of calories worth of bread, cheese, and ice cream. Sometimes, you have to pick your battles.

4.Expectation: I can still eat clean when I’m in Europe.

Reality: Food is one of the biggest elements of European culture, and depending on what your priorities are, you shouldn’t deprive yourself of enjoying the part of the world you’re currently in. Take full advantage of this opportunity to experience as much as you can, and food is a huge part of that experience. On top of that, it’ll save you SO much money if you aren’t worried about your vegetable and protein intake every day.

Adjustment: There are some simple tricks to enjoying European food without going way overboard on a regular basis. If you feel like pizza, go for it! A great bonus of enjoying amazing food is the ability to share the experience with whomever you’re with. For example, rather than both ordering a pizza, split one amongst the two of you, and get something else such as a grilled vegetable plate (which is a must in Italy), salad, or even a protein between the two of you. By doing this, you’ve decreased your dinner size by several hundred calories, and added some healthy nutrients you would’ve otherwise gone without.

5.Expectation: I’ll have a lot of time to workout when I’m travelling.

Reality: That’s not how you will want to spend your time. Although it may seem like you have all the time in the world, the reality is that Europe has so much to offer that when you’re trying to experience as much of it as possible, you’ll soon realize that you’re busier than expected. On top of that, the Mediterranean summer is no joke. Depending on where you are, it can be between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius by noon! You will not want to nor SHOULD you train outside in that kind of heat. That means that you’ll have to reserve either your early mornings or evenings for your workout time. Depending on what your plans are, or how much you like sleep, this may not be convenient for you.

Adjustment: As I mentioned earlier, this is where planning your workouts in advance is really helpful to being able to stick with them. If you know your itinerary for the next few days, take the time to decide if and when a workout can fit into your plans. For example, while travelling through the Algarve, we had multiple days that were spent beach hopping, sometimes spending a few hours on 2 or 3 different beaches every day. If I knew that was the kind of day we were having, I’d dedicate 45 minutes at one of those beaches to perform a workout. After 3 or 4 days of this in a row, your body already feels better, and you won’t feel as guilty when you can’t train for a few days when you’re exploring a city or journeying to a new exciting destination.

So there you have it, here are some of the biggest things we learned trying to balance health, fitness, and a budget while backpacking. Accepting some of these realities, and choosing to work with them rather than against them was crucial for us to get the best of both worlds, and fully appreciate the experiences we had.

We hope you enjoy this post, If you have any other questions or advice of your own, please leave a comment below 🙂

Lots of love,

Ben and Bianca

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