Ritz Carlton Maldives gym fitness center

How To Stay Fit And Healthy While Traveling – From Someone Who Actually Works Out

Staying fit while traveling has always been something I valued highly. Staying fit in general has been my mantra from a young age and is something I proudly keep going to this day. As someone that travels so much for leisure, it’s hard to stay in shape and avoid all the temptations of doing nothing while eating all the good food from your new destination.

drone shot surf board tanjang aan beach lombok, indonesia

I am no saint and I certainly indulge in my fair share of unhealthy foods, alcohol, and other sins. The main difference is that I make sure that these things don’t become the main parts of my life. Whether this is through exercise, watching what I eat, or a combination of both, I make sure to get something done.

Fiji beach paradise cove yasawa islands

I’ve maintained the same weight for most of my adult life and it’s not just because of genetics. I work out a lot and try to eat as healthy as I can, even when I’m traveling for months at a time. This post will go into detail of just how I stay fit while traveling. This post will not go into how to get shredded for the beach or how to get that magical 6-pack.

Leaning tower of Pisa Italy

Find the nearest gym

If you’re traveling for a long time but are planning to stay in one place for an extended period of time, go find the local gym and get a membership. Having access to a gym is the main reason I can stay fit when traveling for a long period of time. Getting into some sort of routine where I’m lifting weights, burning calories, and generally living a good lifestyle is an absolute must for me.

Body Factory Canggu Bali Fitness
Getting my workout in at the Body Factory in Bali

This isn’t always possible if I’m traveling somewhere remote like Madagascar or completing my divemaster course in Indonesia so I do the next best thing which is calisthenics (more on that later). When I’m back to society, I make sure to go find my gym. Nice gyms are obviously easier to find in cities but sometimes you might find them in the most unconventional of places like my visit to the Barefoot Manta Resort in the Yasawa Islands!

barefoot Manta resort yasawa fiji

I mostly prefer to just lift weights and do very little cardio (yes I know, I’m one of those people). If this is not your thing, go for something else like crossfit, TRX, boxing, HITT, etc. Really anything is simply better than nothing.

Virgin Active Silo Cape Town
Virgin Active in Cape Town. So very nice.

I’ve written many blog posts about the best gyms in whatever places I’ve lived in so it’s easy to research what gyms are available wherever you’re going.

I am also willing to spend an outsized portion of my budget on a nice gym. I know if I go to a gym that I really like, I would be more excited and go more often, lending to a better lifestyle. The Body Factory Gym in Bali was almost $200 a month which is an insane amount of money and one of the largest parts of my cost of living in Bali. While this is an insane amount of money for a gym in any part of the world, I knew it would be worth it because I would go every day. Plus I’m financially independent so money is not an issue.

Always think about calories in and calories out

If you’re familiar with working out at all, you’ll understand that it’s essentailly a numbers game. It’s not complicated. It’s simply calories in vs calories out that determines how much weight you gain or lose.

Know your BMR

For starters, you’ll need to figure out your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) which is the amount of calories your body burns without doing a single thing. Literally not taking a single step. Everyone has different BMRs depending on age, gender, and of course genetics. As an example, my BMR is about 2,100 calories which I obtained through using a machine at my local gym.

bmr calculator image

These numbers are of course not 100% accurate but it gives you something to reference. Your total calories out per day is your BMR + calories burned. Calories burned is from day to day activities like walking around, exercising, swimming, scuba diving, running, hiking etc.

Therefore, you should limit your calorie intake to something around your BMR + calories burned. Of course, this is all but impossible to quantify while you’re traveling because who honestly knows how many calories are in delicious street food in Thailand?

Know what you’re putting into your body

The goal is to simply be mindful. Think about what is going into your body at all times and understand if you don’t want to get fat while traveling for a long time, you cannot just let yourself go and eat anything and everything. This doesn’t just apply to traveling either, but to day to day life.

Didn’t do a single thing today? If you eat your normal 3 meals and then pound 10 beers, you are likely in a huge calorie surplus. Do that for a month straight and you are guaranteed to gain many kilos.

Hiking all the time but not eating your normal meals due to your schedule being messed up? You will probably lose weight over time if you continue this trend.

Cut down on the alcohol

If you want to stay fit while traveling, one of the easiest things to do is to cut down on the alcohol consumption. Alcohol is the ultimate in empty calories. Empty calories are empty in the sense that there is no nutritional value in it but the calories exist nonetheless. Calories your body will need to expend energy burning.

Alcohol doesn’t have much in the way of vitamins, minerals, or proteins that your body needs. What they do have is simple carbs (beer) that somehow go straight to your gut.

As an example, when I was living in Bali, I quickly swapped out my sunset Bintang beer for a coconut. Not only did I save on meaningless calories from a beer that wouldn’t have gotten me tispy at all, but I started receiving the amazing nutrients and flavors of the fresh coconut.

Alcohol in moderation is the goal

Of course, I am not advocating for no alcohol. I drink plenty of alcohol and have definitely had plenty of nights where there was nothing but regrets the following morning. When I visit new countries, there’s nothing better than eating the local food and drinking the local drink. The amount of wine I drank in places like Italy, Greece, or South Africa was definitely more than the recommended daily amounts. I mean how could you not want to drink when you’re venturing through the vineyards in Piedmont?

Piedmont Italy wine region views

or Tuscany?

Tuscany Val D'orcia

The main difference when I’m traveling long term is to simply not overdo it. If I know I’m going to travel for months at a time and be far away from a decent gym, I will simply drink less often and when I do drink, have a glass of wine a day instead of multiple glasses per meal. If you’re simply going on a vacation for a week or two, it’s okay to treat yourself every night to the good stuff because (hopefully) when you get home, you’ll be back to a more normal lifestyle.

clouds estate south africa
Clouds Estate in Stellenbosch with amazing views of the valley

Snack frequently but on good food

When I’m traveling to far flung places, I know I’m not going to maintain a steady or healthy diet. I try my best to get the food I need but also to make sure it’s not all terrible. One of the things I’ve started doing is packing things like protein bars, peanuts, trail mix, and other bars that I can find from nearby grocery stores before I set out for extended adventures.

I avoid buying snacks like chips, chocolate bars, sweets, and things that really provide nothing but empty calories.

Skip the buffet breakfasts

In fact, skip out on any types of buffets if possible. Breakfast buffets are the most common as they are offered by many hotels around the world. I tend to avoid buffet breakfasts because I know I will always overeat. Half the time, the food is just average anyway so why overeat on mediocre food?

La Locanda Breakfast at the Ritz Carlton Maldives

Instead, I like to go a la carte which helps me control my portions. When I was staying in the Ritz Carlton Maldives, I always opted for the a la carte local breakfast. Not only was it more delicoius, but it was healthier and cheaper too. The buffet breakfast offered at the Ritz Carlton Maldives was of course insanely good but the rest of the day is dragged down a bit by the insane amoutn of food you just consumed.

SO/ Bangkok hotel sofitel

Cut down on the sugary foods

No matter what, I’ve simply cut down on pointless sugary foods. Most sweets provide no nutritional value at all so there’s no reason to be eating them while I’m traveling. I’ve never had a sugar tooth so this is easily done but I know sweets can be many people’s weakness.

Again, you need to think about calories in vs calories out. Sweets provide no nutritional value and excess sugar does nothing but raise your blood sugar level.

When you’re traveling long term, your schedule is all messed up and you might not be able to work out as frequently while having a less than ideal diet.

Do activities that are active and burn calories

I love to travel and do things. I am not one to just lounge around all day and do nothing. That’s why many of my travels involve physical activity like scuba diving, kitesurfing, hiking etc. I might not be doing these things all day every day but they are definitely one of the main things I’m doing.

Komodo National Park Batu Balong manta rays
Beautiful manta rays in Komodo

One 60 minute dive in tropical water will actually burn something like 300-500 calories. That means a two tank dive day means you’re burning almost 1,000 calories! It’s no wonder I have such a huge appetite after scuba diving.

As well, something like surfing will burn 200-300 calories an hour, and perhaps even more depending on how much you’re paddling. I’m mostly a novice surfer and my paddling skills are terrible. After 1-2 hours on the surfboard trying to catch waves, I am absolutely spent. This does mean however, that I’ve already burned more than enough calories to enjoy a delicious meal.

surf in lombok indonesia, catching a wave

Treat yourself but don’t do it all the time

The main theme of this post centers around calories in and calories out. However, you are traveling and sometimes it’s simply unavoidable to eat certain foods. This post is not to tell you to not eat, drink, or do something. It’s simply how I manage to stay fit while traveling because I’ve learned how to optimize what I eat and what I burn.

Everything in moderation.

That is the slogan of this post. Of course you should eat that juicy steak in South Africa. Of course you need to sample all the wines in Tuscany. Of course you must eat plenty of mango sticky rice in Thailand. Of course you should be eating trying local beers in Germany. Of course you need to eat all the best tacos of your life in Mexico.

Naples pizza
Can’t be happier than with pizza especially at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in Naples, Italy.

This is the whole point of traveling for me. Eating the local food and trying different things is what makes travel the best experience you can get. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

However, I know that if I’m traveling for months at at time with limited access to good workouts and a steady schedule, perhaps I shouldn’t be drinking a bottle of wine every night. I probably should not be constantly eating super fatty foods like the lechon in Cebu.

lechon cebu
Making friends with the chef at a delicious restaurant that serves suckling pig or “Lechon” as it’s known in the Philippines. So delicious.

What’s the perfect balance then? For everyone that’s different depending on your body and what kind of physical activity you’ll be able to do to burn off the calories.

grilled prawns in Mozambique
Round god knows which of giant prawns on the grill with peri peri sauce!

What type of foods to target?

I’m not a nutritionist by any means and I could be entirely wrong in my approach. I am, however, in my late 30s and still have a six pack while traveling all over the world. Dont’ believe me? here is the proof from my trip to the Maldives.

La Locanda Breakfast at the Ritz Carlton Maldives local breakfast
Delicious local breakfast of tuna in the Maldives

If I know I’m traveling for a long time without a steady workout schedule/routine, I tend to eat slightly less because I know I’m not burning as much calories. I try to stick to higher protein foods with less fat and carbs. This is especially true for fried foods, fatty foods like pork belly, low quality cheeses, and cream based sauces. Learn meats and seafood are my favorite things to eat. I always opt for grilled over fried if I can. Charcoal grilled is even better for the flavors.

I’ve been told I eat too much meat which is probably true but I find eating a bit too munch meat for the protein beats loading up on carbs and sugary things. This is at least the case for my body but everyone is different.

Grilled meats in Folegandros
Grilled meats in Greece

As an example, I would mostly opt for a Bolognese over a creamy cheesy pasta. I would take chicken or pork souvlaki over any sort of bacon style meat dish. I’d eat seafood and fish as much as I can because they are high in protein and low in saturated fats.

I tend to avoid desserts, sweets, and because I also don’t have a carb tooth, I avoid having too many baked pastries. Things like almond croissants, cinnamon rolls, and other pastries are obviously delicious but I don’t need to eat them every day because I know they don’t provide much nutrition but have crazy amounts of calories.

Sometimes, I might even skip a meal if I know my options aren’t great and have something like a protein shake (assuming it’s available) with some fruits just to keep things in balance.

Calisthenics is your friend

If you don’t have access to a gym, and you know you’re going to be away for some time, then the next best thing is definitely calisthenics. There are a million things you can do to get a good sweat in and calories burned. I’m definitely not an expert at calisthenics as I focus more on weight training. However, simple things like pushups with variations like wide stance and narrow stance are really amazing for a full upper body work out.

Ab workouts like sitting crunches, leg raises, knee to chest, and planks are spectacular for keeping your stomach fit. Combine them into a circuit to keep your heart rate up.

Finally, if you have a travel buddy with you (like your significant other), try using them as extra weight to make things more difficult. Push ups with my girlfriend on my back makes the exercise 10x harder and is almost akin to bench pressing. Piggy back her and do standing squats for a full body squat work out. Do that a few times outdoor overlooking the ocean and you have an amazing start to the day!

Get into a routine

Getting into a routine and sticking to it is one of the most important aspects to staying fit while traveling. This is important even when you’re not traveling. This is of course easier said than done depending on where you’re traveling. It’s not so much that you stick to your routine 100% of the time but rather you are acutely aware of what you should do and not do, and stick to it.

Ritz Carlton Maldives gym fitness center

I try to stick to some sort of routine as best as possible. If I’m far away from a gym and I know I will be so for some time, I will wake up every morning and do a short calisthenics exercise. This might be something like:

  • 100 pushups spread out over 4 sets alternating between wide and narrow stance
  • 50 leg raises
  • 100 bicycle kicks
  • 50 jumping squats
  • Pullups if I can find a bar or something firm to grab on to

This type of workout will make me sweat a bit and give me a wonderful start to the day. Just because I did these things also doesn’t mean I can go eat 4,000 calories because it’s not a proper full length workout. Again, just be mindful of what you’ve done throughout the day.

Something is better than nothing

Last but not least, always remember that something is better than nothing. I’ve mentioned this a few times now in this post but need to hammer away at this point.

Gotta gym anyway you can get it.
Gotta gym anyway you can get it.

Even if you can’t get into a solid routine, doing something at some point is better than doing nothing. If you’re feeling de-motivated and wondering if one gym session will even make a difference, just be of the mindset that it does.

The same can be said about food. Getting into the mindset that every little bit helps will do wonders.

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