When I jacked in my career and kick-started a life of long-term travel some four years ago, I was so excited for the changes my new lifestyle would bring.
I couldn’t wait to see the world, have new experiences, explore new cultures, meet new people…and maybe even lose some weight doing it!
I can’t tell you exactly how much weight I put on over the course of my travels (I refused to step on the scales), but I’m willing to hazard a guess at around eight kilos in four years.
I had this vision of turning into a hiking, biking, mountain climbing machine when I went away. I would get fit, shed the pounds and come back lean, strong and super fit. Little did I know my body would be more cut out for sumo wrestling by the end of my trip!
It’s not right to blame the lifestyle. It’s not like the good Thai people forced me to eat all that pad Thai, or like I was dragged kicking and screaming to all those bakeries in Laos. And don’t even get me started on Spanish tapas and authentic Napoli pizza…
You see my problem. Couple that with the fact that I’m not in my early twenties anymore (bye bye metabolism), and you see the scale of the problem.
Sometimes, I look at my belly rolls and think, you know what? It was a worthy sacrifice. I got to the heart of the countries I visited through the food. I tried new things, savoured new cities and travelled happy.
Sometimes, I look at them and think, huh. Those never used to be there. And wish I could start over and exercise a bit more control over what I shovelled into my body on the road.
It’s not like I didn’t know where I was going wrong. In fact, I can pinpoint exactly how long-term travel led to my extensive weight gain.
1. Lack of routine
To travel is to be free. To have nowhere you need to be and nowhere you need to go. There’s a distinct lack of routine, with no set time to exercise and no certainly regular meal times. You’re constantly moving about and doing different things every day, making it harder to live a healthy lifestyle.
2. Lack of exercise
Since you’re always on the move, there’s no point signing up for a gym membership. You have to be more creative when it comes to your workouts, which instantly makes things that bit harder, especially when you have no idea where the nearest park or fitness facilities are, or what’s on offer. It’s also easy to assume that you offset your calorie consumption with all the walking you’re doing plus a few quick dips in the ocean, when in reality it’s not enough – especially when you spend a lot of time sat on planes, trains and buses.
3. Desire to try new things
It would be a shame to travel and miss out on the planet’s culinary diversity. Food is a huge part of the travel experience: the tastes, the smells, the textures, all so tempting and unfamiliar. I go out of my way to try new food, understand why it’s particular to a certain region and suss out the ingredients so I can recreate it at home. While this is an important part of the travelling process for me, actively seeking out new food hasn’t exactly helped in the health department.
4. Too much choice
I admit defeat before I’ve even entered a food market. This is particularly true of Spain and Asia, where there’s so much on offer that it’s impossible to make a choice, so you wind up having a little bit of everything. Similarly, the array of fruit shakes in Thailand were my lighthouse and my albatross in equal measure – so good, so refreshing, so sugary. I must have eaten four mangos or an entire watermelon every day for six weeks!
5. Cheap food
In cheap countries, food is so inexpensive that eating like a king will merely nibble at your budget, making it easy to overindulge. In more expensive countries, staying on budget often means opting for cheap, carby foods like bread, rice, pasta and crisps to see you through a day of exploring or a twelve hour bus journey.
6. Hostel kitchens
I love having my own kitchen at home, so having to share with ten other people really stresses me out. I tend to eat at odd times to avoid peak time in the kitchen, buy microwave food so I’m in and out in five minutes or avoid it altogether and eat at a restaurant, where of course the food is loaded with salt, sugar and who knows what else to enhance the flavor.
7. Elastic waistbands
Those Ali Baba trousers you found in Primark before you left are great in the heat, and the five pairs of elephant trousers you picked up in Chiang Mai make those long journeys so much more comfortable. However, when it comes to managing your weight, they aren’t doing you any favours. It was only when I tried to squeeze into my trusty pair of jeans that I realized I’d been indulging a little too much in the local delicacies.
Hostel environments often give rise to a drinking culture, and it can be hard to say no to a night of making new friends over a game of beer pong. In the heat, often all you want is a cold beer. And another, and another…which gives you the munchies, so you go off in search of a burger. It’s a slippery slope!
Now that I’m back in the UK, more settled into a routine and living near a gym, I’m on health and fitness highway. Follow my new journey and enjoy my throwbacks to favourite travel moments on Instagram!