You probably hear it a hundred times per week – taking care of your health by eating right, exercising and managing stress will lead to a happier, healthier and longer life. And let's face it, who among us doesn't want to live free of heart disease, strokes or limited functional capacity? On top of that, a Center for Disease Control analysis suggested the annual medical savings for Americans could be as much as $70 Billion if inactive couch potatoes got off their butts and became a little more physically active. With that kind of coin, people could do a lot more traveling, and be in better shape to take on some more physically challenging adventures like hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, not to mention a little sidestep to Winay Wayna.
For many of our existing Embark.org community members, this is no secret, and wellness is likely an existing part of your lifestyle today. But even seasoned adventure travelers know that staying healthy while trotting the globe is not always an easy feat. Far too often, getting off the beaten path requires airport layovers with overpriced fast food chains as well as long flights with crappy airplane food and limited physical movement. On top of that, the crowds, crying babies and stinky guy sitting next to you can make you want to cancel your trip and just find a quiet corner to sit in peace. But alas, we must make basic sacrifices to achieve our greater goal of redefining our boundaries.
That doesn't mean that it's impossible to maintain your health and well-being during your travels. With a few tricks and travel hacks, you can beat the system, rise up and have an even more incredible adventure while eating well, exercising and integrating with the local culture. I'll share some of my personal tips and tricks as well as a few others I have yet to try. Feel free to jump in on the comments and add your own.
Starting with my least favorite part of traveling, airports have now become an exercise in gastronomical innovation to find the best ways to pack approved foods through security (legally of course). As a frequent traveler, it still shocks me just how many perfectly delicious foods get confiscated and disposed of every day at checkpoints around the world. Despite all of those tough TSA regulations, there are actually a LOT of simple, healthy foods that are great to travel with and don't take up too much space either.
My go-to snacks for carrying on a plane are raw and roasted nuts as well as dried and fresh fruits. These snack options are a great alternative to the weak selection of plebian eateries found in most airports, which usually consist of burger chains, coffee chains, a small convenience store and a few overpriced bar-grills. I know I'm generalizing, but the fact is that airports don't deliver the goods when it comes to fresh, tasty, healthy choices. But for those of you who will yell at me and say you can't go on a long flight with just some fruits and nuts, I'll let you in on a few secrets I've discovered on my quest for alternatives.
If you're taking a shorter trip, or simply someone who can go a longer time without a "full-on" meal, then pack a shake bottle with some organic protein powder. Once you clear security, water is usually available for free. Just add water, shake it up and you got yourself a nice meal supplement free of trans fats, processed ingredients and unnecessary sugars. If a shake isn't enough sustenance, boil a few eggs the night before your flight and pack them with you before you go.
On the longer trips, you can still pack a few extra scoops of protein powder as well as some extra hard boiled eggs, but another great trick I've learned is opting for the vegetarian meals. These meals are far healthier and you definitely won't miss the artificial processed meats that come at most in-flight mealtimes. Personally, I opt for the Indian vegetarian or Asian vegetarian options (perhaps due to my cultural bias), but most airlines offer a handful of options. And the icing on the cake – you will always get your food before everyone else!
Another aspect of eating right when traveling is what to grub down on as you're exploring a city. For many people, myself included, a big part of exploring a new place is eating all of the great foods that local establishments have to offer. That means a lot of eating out at restaurants, cafes, bistros and street carts. As delicious as that sounds, it also means you'll probably be consuming a lot more calories and fat because restaurant chefs around the world tend to cook for flavor, not for health. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this style of food exploration in order to get a great local experience as well as indulge in a little gratuitous food porn, but if you make this the standard practice for all of your meals on vacation, you might be in too many food comas to make it to the next destination.
So a great alternative I suggest is trying to cook up some meals yourself. In the past, this may not have been so easy, but the experiential traveler who chooses an option like Airbnb for their accommodations all too well knows the joys and pleasures of cooking for yourself while on holiday in your temporary home away from home. Now, I know some of you readers out there might react by saying, "Dude, I'm on vacay…no way I'm gonna cook my own food". Well, those readers can disregard what I'm saying, but I highly implore you to reconsider the err of your ways.
In my experience, shopping for and preparing your own food while traveling creates an opportunity to engage with the local community in a way you otherwise could not. For example, many countries, especially in Asia, have local wet markets where vendors show up every day with the fresh produce that has recently arrived in the city. You'll find great deals on fruits, veggies, and even local sauces and spices that you can take home to recreate authentic dishes for all of your friends. You get to meet local mom-and-pop fruit peddlers, delivery boys, and customers and engage with them in an amazing way. More than likely, they will be just as excited to see a foreigner mixing it up with the locals. In all of my adventures, this experience across many countries is one of my favorite parts of the trip.
At the very least, all of you non-chefs can hit a local market, buy some fresh fruit and have a delicious, healthy snack to throw in your backpack as you wander off to the next step on your journey.
In addition to eating right, taking care of your body while traveling is critical part of maintaining your health during your trip. Similar to eating right, this aspect of staying healthy while traveling can start right at the airport but can also be an integrated part of your trip. As many frequent flyers know, airport delays and waits are far too common and all that inactivity is bad for the body. But there are many ways to fight the silent stagnation while awaiting the departure of your flight. Of course, much of what you can do is dependent on the airport you're in, but no matter what, you can do suitcase and weight resistance exercises anywhere.
One of the key things to realize is that taking a long flight to your next adventure could also mean ten or more hours of inactivity in a relatively small space. This makes it even more important to take advantage of any downtime in the terminal prior to departure to do some yoga stretches, take a few laps, or do a small weight resistance routine. For some people, the idea of finding a remote corner and getting down and dirty on the ground of a public place can be a bit off-putting, but fortunately, there are now even a handful of airports around the world that offer yoga rooms. For those who don't mind being the trendsetters at the gate, simply pack an extra towel with your carry on and lay it down in a quiet spot away from others so you can have your space and you've now got your own personal gym ready to use.
Prior to a long flight, some people might opt for simply a nice, deep stretch with focused breathing to increase your blood flow and reduce stress before takeoff. More experienced practitioners will probably be able to jump right into their first asana without any guidance, but for those less experienced, I highly recommend the videos Yoga Yak because they have a broad range of difficulties, lessons that focus on a specific part of the body, and on top of that can be downloaded for offline viewing when you don't have a good Wi-Fi connection. My personal favorite is the Neck & Shoulder Practice as my neck tends to get stiff after dozing off in strange positions through the flight. If you don't like any of those routines, Kayla Matthews recommends nine other YouTube channels focused on yoga.
When your flight gets delayed and you have some extra time to kill, you can move on to a few weight resistance exercises as well. Now that you're fully stretched from your yoga practice, you can immediately dive into some muscle building exercises that don't require any equipment. Are you familiar with the Spiderman Burpee, Plank Tricep Extention,Plyo Push Up, Body Saw or Jump Squat Punisher? Don't worry, neither was I until watched this video from Turbulence Training. If you still have some juice left after a few sets of those, throw in some sit ups for good measure and you've officially earned that multi-hour rest on the upcoming flight.
Of course, when you're on the flight, that's no excuse to sit in your seat the whole time. Make it a point to get up at least once per hour and casually walk back and forth in the aisle for at least 10 minutes, pausing occasionally for a small stretch. Obviously you won't be able to sneak in your P90-X combo during a flight, but for those who need a little more inspiration, a quick wikiHow might help you to get started.
The beauty of everything mentioned above is that it's not simply restricted to what you can do in an airport or on a plane. In fact sometimes putting these "restrictions" on the exercise allows us to think more creatively about how any other space can be used as an opportunity to squeeze in a little workout. When traveling, you'll often be in small spaces, be it a small hotel room, Airbnb, or a flat rock you hiked up to for the spectacular view of the valley below. Learning to use any space as an opportunity to take care of yourself is an invaluable lesson that every traveler should learn in the course of their journeys.
Don't Forget Your Mind
Unfortunately, mental health and peace of mind are some of the most overlooked aspects of personal wellness and something that most people don't spend enough time focusing on. However, as described above, traveling can also be a cause of stress. From booking flights, staying within budget, dealing with airport crowds or having your stuff stolen on the road, there are many things that can drive up stress levels during what should be an enjoyable vacation. However, the good news is that you have the power to combat negative energy and bring more enjoyment to your trip. While there is far more concrete data on the benefits of eating healthy and exercising, media coverage today doesn't really do much to support mental health. But there is some general guidance I can provide from my experience that could help with adding some balance to your next trip.
For starters, don't try to do too much during your trip. Many people make the mistake of trying to pack a month's worth of activities into a two week trip. This is a recipe for disaster. Imagine this: you fly 10 hours to a new city in a foreign country, arriving at 8PM, only get to bed by 11PM after you've eaten and reached your residence. You have a 6AM wake up call to take a 4 hour bus ride to an outer village, then enjoy a combination of hiking, swimming, biking, chatting with locals, and eating before you rest your head again at 11PM. Sounds like a full and fun day, right? I agree. Now imagine doing this every day for 14 days straight just so you can visit every small village and see every sight you read about in the last issue of Nat Geo. This is enough activity to wear out the most energetic people I know. Furthermore, when you rush through everything, you better take a lot of pictures and document things clearly. If not, all those memories will just blur into a single, fuzzy memory.
Of course, most people of sound mind would not do this, but my point is that it's not so important to see everything a place possibly has to offer, because the reality is you never will in a short trip (or arguably a long one) anyway. It might be better to slow down and enjoy a single place for a longer period of time. Allow yourself to find "your spot" – the place that you go to every day because they make that cup of coffee exactly the way you love it, or you've shared enough stories with the waiter that you now know the names of each other's' children. Allow yourself to get "stuck" in a routine in a foreign place. You will really get to see the ins and outs of how a small neighborhood works. This will lead to unforgettable memories.
Lastly, much of a trip is about experiencing a new place, which means a great deal of stimulation from the external environment. However, it is equally important to take time for yourself. Reflecting on the experience as you take it in is an incredibly powerful way to discover how the values and cultures of other people influences yourself. Meditation is an often difficult practice this day and age. With the amount of distractions available to us, it is sometimes hard to even know where to begin. However, with a minimal amount of effort, anyone can get started with meditation practice and it literally requires nothing more than the will to try it.
If meditation is not something that works for you, another alternative is keeping a journal. Documenting your thoughts, experiences and reactions to what you've seen during your trip is not only a great way to keep the memories for that book you'll write one day, but it also allows you the chance to be more honest with yourself. Have you ever traveled with some friends and maybe you went to go see a historical site that they were interested in but you couldn't care less? Perhaps you went along, and pretended to enjoy it to allow them to fully enjoy it themselves. That's a nice thing to do as friend, but if you have a personal journal you would be able to not only document the experience, you could be completely honest about the fact you didn't care about the site at all. In the process, you may even write about a part of it that surprised you and that you truly enjoyed. This is an amazing part of traveling, growing and learning more about yourself through your travels. For travelers interested in keeping a personal journal on your next trip, try using Day One for iPhone, iPad or Mac. Unfortunately the only support Apple users today, but hopefully that will change in the future.
My intention in writing this post is to inspire travelers to be conscious of their health and well-being no matter where they are in the world. However, I would also encourage that one occasionally indulges in all the great, and sometimes unhealthy, treats a locality has to offer. Trust me when I say you will regret not eating that weird barbeque skewer on the side of the road in Vietnam or super-sweet gulab jamun in India. It would be a sin to pass on the most relaxing Thai massage that only costs $10 USD or getting a haircut in a local barbershop in the Philippines that comes with a shoulder rub and scalp massage. There are appropriate times to indulge and allow yourself to take a step back in the unhealthy direction, but just remember that the bigger picture involves a few steps forward.