The undeniable truth about travelling is that it’s good for the soul. No one will ever deny you that. It a magical remedy for growth, peace and healthy challenges that help us to flourish into happier, powerfully independent versions of ourselves. The one thing it doesn’t always benefit though, is our bodies.
We’ve all heard of the Heathrow injection, right?
The oh so famous “she ate her way through Europe…” or “he drank German beer like it was water…”. Now call me vain, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who has embarked on a lengthy journey abroad, with the underlying fear of my jeans not fitting very soon, or returning a little (or a lot) rounder than I left. Personally, I am at my happiest in myself, when I feel healthy inside and out. I’ve always lived a very active lifestyle, watching what I put in my mouth and maintaining my figure by exercising a lot, so the thought of living off pizzas and living a life absent of routine and gyms was a tad daunting.
Let me assure you though it’s definitely not impossible, or necessarily difficult to stay healthy on the road and make sure those jeans still fit at then end of your expedition, all without ruining the adventure. Here’s just a few things you can do to make it a little bit easier:
Ordered a coffee in Freiburg, Germany and it came with icecream! Sometimes I think Europe wants to make you fat...
#1 Get out of the gym and into the habit…
For a lot of people, exercise is our thing. Whether you’re the kind of person whose daily workout sets their mind up for a brilliant day, or you just like to burn some calories to justify inhaling a pizza for lunch because ‘you earned this’, at the end of the day some of us just feel happier in ourselves when we feel fit and healthy. If this is you, you need to prepare your mind and your body for exercise on the road. Odds are you won’t always have access to a gym (or ever if you’re living out of hostels…) so you need to learn to get creative and comfortable outside of the weights room.
I found the easiest form of exercise on the road was going for runs or walks. It’s important to start running or walking a few times a week before you go especially if you’re not used to it, to build up your cardiovascular fitness and develop the habit. Prepare short high intensity body weight sessions involving all exercises you don’t need any equipment for (lunge jumps, planks, pushups etc) to mix up the cardio and keep it interesting. Get creative with what you have too. Use park benches for things like dips, bench hops and step ups, and walk up and down stairs like its your stair master. There are lots of ways you can use your simple belongings to create an awesome workout. We had large shampoo and conditioner bottles that were enough for me to do a small arm workout and when my backpack was packed it made for a good squat weight. Throw a stop watch and some resistance bands in your luggage and I promise you won’t struggle to get in your morning buzz as long as you prepare and think outside the box.
I became a big fan of my morning runs thanks to the beautiful things I got to run past, like the florists that were on every corner of Montmarte, Paris.
#2 You don’t have to have pizza for every meal
I don’t want to be a spoil sport but fun fact… Italy does more than just great pizzas. They do some awesome Caprese salads and seafood delicacies too (especially at Cinque Terre!!). So try to mix it up a little bit. Maybe pick a salad for lunch and then indulge at dinner time or vice versa. Think of yourself as being allowed to have a ‘cheat meal’ each day (instead of each week I know but remember you ARE on holiday!). For example I’m pretty sure I had an ice-cream every day (Seriously they aren’t kidding when people bang on about French Gelato), but I didn’t have a pizza everyday. Try to stick to normal portion sizes too. If at home you’d only eat have a pizza for dinner, don’t start eating an entire pizza every other day it will catch up to you. Buffet breakfasts are great but if you’ve got the same intentions as me, which was to have the fruit and yoghurt and then the eggs and bacon… and then the pancakes and waffles… and then of course the desserts… don’t make them all full plates. Have just a small amount of each. Trust me you’ll be just as satisfied.
#3 Boycott the booze (occasionally)…
Holidays are always an excuse to drink. Have a beer or a glass of wine with lunch… and afternoon tea… and dinner … and before you know it you will have drunk more calories in a day than you usually would in five back home. Then you do that every day for months… Wine is cheap in most of Europe and the beer rarely comes in less than a jug. Alcohol is just in the culture and you can’t avoid it. That doesn’t mean its water though… By all means try all the wines and beers in the world. Have cocktails on the beach of the Mediterranean and dance your way drunk across the entire Adriatic by yacht but give yourself the occasional day off. We went for four months and often did have a drink most nights, however very rarely did we finish any bottles. It depends on your tolerance as well. I found it easy to skip the booze most days as it wasn’t worth the hangover the next day and when you’ve only got 24 hours somewhere, you don’t want to be hungover wandering through Rome in the blazing 40 degree summer heat. Skipping the dinner drinks is also a strategic way to save money. Instead of spending 30 euro on drinks for the night we’d often spend the money on a bike tour or kayaking the next day. So yes if you don’t want to blow out of your jeans three weeks in, by all means drink litres at Oktoberfest, but then maybe lie low for a week.
The fruit in Italy is amazing and their juices are just as good. I passed over the afternoon cocktail for an equally refreshing juice. It didn't hurt my wallet or my head quite as much..
#4 Taxi? Train? Bus? ... WALK!
This is really a tip but more a fact. You really underestimate how much walking you do as a tourist when travelling, especially in certain European cities. I’m sure it was partially because of our strict budget meaning we opted to walk a lot more than take transport but we walked an average of 7km a day on our journey. When planning our day if something was up to 3km away we would walk and if it was 6 or 7km we made it the destination and had little stops along the way. It might sound like it makes for a long day but you don’t really feel it. You’re so caught up in taking in the surroundings and spotting where you want to stop for lunch or coffee that it just becomes one big exploration, you don’t even notice all the exercise you’re doing. Our first day in London we walked 16km exploring and I’m sure we did similar in places like Rome, Vienna, Venice and Berlin making our way between all the different attractions we wanted to see and experience. Some days you’ll walk 20km around all of Rome and the next you’ll lie on the roof of your Croatian sail boat walking no more than a kilometre in the whole day, it will all balance out. So if you’re not one to go for a run in the morning or do a little workout, don’t stress, just walk everywhere it’ll be just as effective I promise you.
MOST IMPORTANTLY THOUGH
This is definitely the most important one. By all means keep an eye on it, go for runs, order salads instead of pasta and pass up the occasional drink. But don’t become obsessed. Make sure you experience a real Italian carbohydrate coma, a few proper beery German hangovers, and make copious comparisons on which French district makes the best dessert. Spend entire days sipping cocktails by the pool in Santorini moving as little as possible, and stroll as slowly as possible through the endless vintage record stores in Amsterdam and Budapest. Take it all in, because the chances are you won’t be back for a while and that extra slice of pizza wont bust the button on your jeans. Just make sure you’re happy and enjoying yourself.