You want to know the biggest drawback of travelling?

Habits you’ve worked hard to build get broken, routines get interrupted, and temptation is all around. It’s easy to eat poorly and sleep rarely. Before you know it, your defined biceps and chiselled abs are covered in a layer of Bintang beers…

And once you lose momentum? Well, it’s way easier to stay fit than to get fit.

But travel fitness also doesn’t have to be complicated! So today I’m going to run you through some quick, effective, ways to keep fit on the road. Because ultimately keeping fit while travelling is the best thing you can do for yourself mentally and physically.

And, y’know, the sexy smush times get better when you’ve been keeping fit. 😉

Keeping up my fitness while travelling has been a game changer for me personally. I feel more energised and have noticed huge benefits from having SOME kind of routine whilst on the road. I workout daily (even if it’s just for 20 minutes) which, alongside my journalling practise, has become the best thing I do for my overall happiness.

Alright friends, that’s enough jibber jabber, let’s get stuck into it –  it’s time to share the simplest ways to staying fit on the road.

You don’t need a fancy guru or fitness influencer style workout. Just a good set of habits 🙂

girl doing wall sits near snow
It doesn’t take much to stay fit on the road!

The EPIC System for Travel Fitness Success

First things first, we need to talk about mental AND physical health. Ultimately, if you aren’t taking care of your headspace your body is unlikely to look its best…

Binge eating, shit sleep, too much drinking, and general spirals of despair – this doesn’t lead us to juicy gains.

Ideally, you want to practise mindfulness and be aware of where your mental state is at. I don’t have any secrets or tricks to staying mentally fit. But I do have a routine that keeps me in balance.

The Mental Health Routine aka the Prerequisite to Gainz

The number one thing that I’ve noticed improving my headspace is having a morning routine. There’s a tonne of science behind the usefulness and benefits of a morning routine. They help you focus and improve productivity; they lower your stress by combatting forgetfulness and increasing your confidence.

Everyone’s morning routine will look a little different.

Some morning routines might involve a beach walk

I think the best routines have are:

  • Some kind of mindfulness or meditation (for me, it’s sitting in my ice bath and reading my affirmations)
  • Journalling
  • Moving my body
My mornings include coffee and journaling.

How did I get to this routine? By habit stacking. I picked small, achievable tasks – like five minutes of mindful breathing – and linked them together. This chain of habits turned into a routine that clears my mind each day. Starting each day with a clear head not only makes you less of a grumpy bum before you’ve had that caffeine fix, but it also sets you up for mad physical fitness improvements.

If you’ve got a clear head to start your day, you’re less likely to spiral into the weird and uncomfortable anxiety states. You can keep an eye on the unhealthy feelings and deal with them before they tell you it’s a good idea to smash ten beers, two pizzas, and a bump of ketamine for good luck.

Ultimately, it is so worth putting the time into your mental health and building a habit stack – start with some affirmations, journaling, and maybe have a crack at writing your own manifesto.

Now We Talk Gainz and Travel Fitness

Ok, so you’ve got your journalling and a morning routine down, now it’s time to get hot and sweaty 😉

Step 1: Suit Up

First things first, I strongly recommend buying a travel-friendly yoga mat. Personally, I travel with this badass yoga mat: it’s grippy and fast to pack away, PLUS compact enough to get inside my pack if I want it to (which I always do on flights).

You need to set up a space in which to exercise. In theory, this can just be the ground, but I find having a mat acts as a little Pavlov-dog reminder to yourself that this is where you exercise. Doesn’t matter if you’re high in the Himilayas or deep in the Guatemalan jungle: when you see your yoga mat, you know it’s time to work out.

A woman does a handstand in the golden light
Time to handstand!

If you’re sans-yoga mat, well, exercise anyway! Throw a towel down, or a shawl, or even borrow the hostel’s yoga mat (hostels and yoga mats go together like backpackers and beers). And, you can always just go for broke on the bare ground. All you’re doing is toughening up your hands! You just have to tell yourself: this is my exercise space. It’s time to go hard or go home, and I’m not going home.

Step 2: Make TIME

To stay fit while travelling, you need to put in the time. A good baseline is 30 minutes of exercise, four times a week. You can achieve quite a lot with this!

The best way to achieve this, which often runs counter-intuitive to the life of a traveller, is to set a routine. Routines are POWERFUL tools for personal development overall, however, they’re key to working out on the road. So just as you do your morning routine for your mental health, so you set a routine that shreds you into awesome physical health.

Magic mornings.

We’ll swing back to routine tips later, but think: when’s roughly the only time of a day that a traveller can predict peace and solitude? The morning.

Plus, you’ll see more sunrises. 🙂

Step 3: Burpee Like a Boss!

Burpee like a boss. Burpees are boss. For those of you that don’t know, this is how to burpee.

Burpees are your new best friend – this incredible movement improves strength, cardio, and endurance. There is nothing as time-effective as burpees for spiking your heart rate with no equipment. Plus you can pop a burpee routine ANYWHERE: bus stops, airports, the 40 million piss & snack stops the buses in India make.

I recommend training burpees twice a week, using one of the below formats. I popped my records in there in case anybody wants to try and beat me. 😉

  • 100 burpees for time (my record is 4:30). 
  • 7 minutes max effort burpees (my record is 140). 
  • 50 burpees as fast as possible, rest => 2 minutes, 40 burpees as fast as possible, rest => 90 seconds, 30 burpees as fast as possible, rest => 60 seconds, 20 burpees as fast as possible, rest => 30 seconds, 15 burpees and finish.

Honestly, burpees are fucking epic for training with no equipment – these make them the perfect exercise for travelling. Again, slap a burpee set down anywhere in your travels. Except in queues at immigration. The bloated bureaucrats don’t like to be reminded of how feeble their form is in comparison to the jacked-up legend popping burpees in their queue. Yeah, it never ends well.

Step 4: Train in Tabatas

Heard of Tabata training? It’s the secret ingredient that Mr Krabs always hid; it’s the eleven secret herbs and spices of your travel workout routine.

First discovered by the Japanese scientist Dr Izumi Tabata and his stalwart team of researchers (at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo), Tabata training is the level-up your workout routine needs.

Essentially, Tabata is taking any singular exercise and pushing it to its max with an intensive (but short!) routine.

You can those tabatas in anywhere.

The format is simple you do 20 seconds of maximum effort with 10 seconds off. You do this eight times and boom! Tabata complete.

I lean HEAVILY on Tabatas. I choose two to four exercises and then cycle them across two to three Tabatas. That’s just 8 -12 minutes but it can be as intense as you choose to make it…

Some of my favourite Tabata pairs include:

  • Hollow body hold and high plank
  • Squats and banded bicep curls
  • V-ups and sprinter crunches
  • Oblique crunches
  • Jumping jacks and mountain climbers

I normally travel with some Athena strength bands which allow me to do shoulder mobility work as well as banded bicep curls and tricep curls. They are well worth having if you’re serious about working out on the road. 

But really, you can chain any two movements and make it tough. Sweat it out, amigos, just get it done! Tabata the thali belly away.

Another hack is to buy some piece of portable fitness equipment that fits in your backpack, and can be set up anywhere you are, and incorporating it into your Tabata’s. A classic option is to get some form of resistance equipment such as the TRX HOME2 SYSTEM.

The tl;dr?

Honestly, if four times per week, you do 10-15 minutes stretching, followed by one of the burpee workouts above, followed by four Tabatas? You’re golden.

And the beauty about this is that it’s FAST, it’s effective, and you can do it anywhere.

Just what a traveller needs!

If you want to take your training to the next level I can personally recommend Wanderfit Fitness Programming. This is run by a good friend of mine and one of the best athletes I know; it’s perfect for travellers wanting customised programming that fits their needs. 

Step 5: Get a Fitness App

One hack that I recently came across, was to start using a fitness app to help me stay fit on the road. The beauty of this approach is that you can use the app to find a routine that is suitable – ie, a work-out that requires no equipment or one that can be executed with very limited space.

TRX fitness app

Using an app also means that you get the chance to mix things up rather than simply going through the same boring routine day in, day out. Personally, I currently use the TRX “Training Club” fitness app that offers a wide array of different routines ranging from HIIT, Core, Yoga and strength. Check out the app by hitting the button below;

Step 6: Get Outside! (And go trekking!)

For me, the mountains are my happy place. Whenever I’m backpacking Pakistan, or another country full of dope mountains like India or Nepal, I always make time to head off for a trek into the mountains and usually this is a great time to lose a few pounds and come back leaner.

Plus, mountain sunrise views are the best kind of views…

travel workouts mountain sunrise
Boom… only accessible through early starts.

If you can’t go on a gruelling mountain hike, then be sure to take a walking tour of the newest city you’ve found yourself in.

Walking and cycling tours offer you a chance to get some exercise, whilst exploring, having fun and making friends. I have done some kind of walking tour in cities across the world.

While I was out living the freaking dream and exploring San Francisco, I joined a cycling tour. And man oh man, riding over the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise no less… A dream come true!

What is the One Item Every Traveller NEEDS???

There is one item every traveller NEEDS. Some travellers don’t even know they need it, but those travellers need it more than anyone.

What is this forgotten essential of the backpacker-life? SPOILERS! Guess you’ll just have to click the button to find out. 😉

Find Out What It Is!

Bonus Steps, Bonus Tips, Yay!

The good news is that part of life on the road is staying active. Day hikes, spontaneous adventures, worming your way on and off those aforementioned Indian buses with a 20-kilo backpack on your back. So even if you do indulge in that chocolate covered churro for the eighth day in a row, you’ll still be able to keep nice and active!

But tips are always good, and life hacks are even BETTER. (Muahahaha!)

So I gotchu! I gotchu some good-ass tips and life hacks to getting your five-step fitness routine flowing. These are the tips that will improve your travel fitness.

Travel Fitness Tip 1 – Soft Exercise and Routines

Staying fit becomes a lot easier if you constantly engage in soft exercise. What is a ‘soft’ exercise? It’s all the activity you do off your exercise mat. It’s taking the stairs, having lots of sex, getting up for an early morning sunrise hike, walking you and your 20 kg backpack to town instead of taking the bus.

Increasing your soft exercise is super useful as it can make up for the loss of routine that impacts your ability to get your ‘hard’ exercise routines done.

Whilst the sense of “timelessness” that you find when travelling is a rare and beautiful thing, it can take its toll on your wellbeing leading to inertia, lack of exercise, and excess drinking. So along with increasing the amount of soft exercise you’re engaging in, it’s important to set a routine to help you get your workouts on the road accomplished.

hammock in bali
Getting out of bed is hard with this view, though.

Keeping a routine can be as simple as setting your alarm for the same time every day. Sure, whilst you may not need to shoot up at 7 am to go to work, you certainly don’t need to languish in bed until 10 am either.

When I’m on the road, I usually set my alarm for 8 am each day, jump out of bed and force myself into a 15 minute Tabata. If you don’t have the space or energy for the Tabata, at least you’re up and out of bed with more time under your belt to get moving.

The Ultimate Routine Hack: Volunteering!

girl holding lamb
You never know when your day living off the beaten path may lead to lamb cuddles!
Photo: Samantha Shea

Another way to keep some routine is to do some volunteering. You have a reason to get up, and deadlines to meet, and this will do absolute wonders for your focus. Plus it’ll also help you to limit the drinking and avoid the classic backpacker traps.

Of course, if you find a physically demanding project then that’s a bonanza bonus! Digging wells and planting seeds is bloody hard work but it does help keep those abs nice and tight…

On top of the benefits for your physical health, volunteering affords you a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community you’re staying in. When you’re looking for a meaningful project, make sure that you read the reviews and go through a reputable site. I’d personally recommend using Worldpackers.

Their website is easy to use and while they don’t have the range of the Workaway website, they’ve got more meaningful projects with good references.

Pluuuuuus, broke backpacker readers get a sexy discount when they sign up. So click that link and get into an ab shredding routine that also gives something back to the world!

Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.

Travel Fitness Tip 2 – Diet is Everything

Look, at the end of the day, you can’t out-train a bad diet. What you put in yo’ belly is KEY.

The usual advice applies here: Avoid sugary drinks and beer! Liquid calories are super hard to keep track of, don’t provide you with any nutritional benefit, aaaand cover your shiny abs in a layer of blubber. Stick to plain old water to re-hydrate – and plain old gin and tonic to get tipsy!

man in van drinking a beer while working from his laptop
Only for two days in a row, right?

Excess drinking and party drugs on the road are pretty standard for a lot of backpackers. Most hostels have bars and, usually, they are filled with interesting, beautiful people you want to interact with. And, in the absence of a job or any responsibilities to keep you on the straight and narrow, the temptation to hang out all day in the hostel bar can be all too much to resist.

I countenance the urge to drink too much by setting a basic ground rule when travelling: don’t drink more than 2 days in a row.

If you find you are drinking too much, then make an effort to find hostels with limited social facilities and sign up for as many day trips, hikes, and activities as you possibly can. Oh, and avoid Brits and Aussies at all costs! Or, you know, go on a deeper adventure to somewhere with less party culture but more true adventure opportunities; like Iran for example.

Extra Nutrition Points

Aside from keeping on top of the drinking, you want to make sure you’re keeping on top of your nutrition. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat the churros, or that you need to obsessively track your calories. But you want to make sure you’re getting enough protein, good fats, and enough carbs to keep up your energy.

Protein, fat, and carbs are the three micronutrients that are crucial to your ability to build and maintain muscle. And good muscle means better fitness. At every meal try to eat unprocessed foods that are low in sugar and that target each of these three macros.

And who says healthy food can’t be delicious?

Also, you may want to look into intermittent fasting: it can be a game-changer. There is a fair bit of science behind the way that intermittent fasting helps you to lose weight and control your blood pressure. It’s also pretty easy if you’re on the road to avoid food for a bit as well.

Of course, you are travelling so remember my golden rule: everything in moderation including moderation. 😉 Besides, if you eat enough dodgy thali you’ll probably get Giardia and then poof! All that belly fat will vanish in one painful food poisoning session…

Travel Fitness Tip 3 – Rock Out!

Rocks are your best friend… Whenever I find a good rock I always tend to pick it up and, depending on the situation, throw it around. It’s a great way to get some impromptu strength training.

There’s nothing quite so primal and satisfying as lifting a heavy rock above your head. I AM MAN. THIS MY ROCK.

Enchanted Rock Natural Area
ROCKS!

Also, the HIIT Tabata training and the burpees are great for getting your heart rate up. But keeping fit goes well beyond cardio. You need to engage in strength training on the road if you want to keep those big muscle gainz you earned in the gym.

The way that you build muscle is by spending time under tension aka lifting heavy shit. The longer you lift heavy things, the bigger your muscles. But, you don’t want to be weighing down your backpack with 40-kilogram dumbells. Which is why when you see a rock, you lift that bad boy!

For s spicy little extra something from me to you, here are my favourite Tabata tracks to get me going…

Final Thoughts on Staying Fit on the Road

Ultimately, you are on your travels to have fun and to explore a new place! And everything in moderation including moderation so don’t worry if your fitness slips too much! You’re not going to remember that year that you put on a few kilos. No, you’re going to remember the year you booked a one-way ticket and saw a sunrise in a foreign city while eating chocolate croissants.

But if you keep travelling and spending long portions of your life on the road, it’s time to dedicate a routine to your travel fitness. It doesn’t need to be anything extravagant. Simply budget four half-hour sessions per week to HIIT and strength training and eat well.

Getting good foods, good gainz, and good sleep will do freaking WONDERS for your mental health – not to mention will keep you looking gooood without a shirt on. 😉

Whether you find a gym in one city, run up the mountain in another, or simply stick to your dedicated exercise mat, you’ll be sure to feel the benefits of working up a sweat.

Good luck staying fit amigos! It’s a game-changer!

walking in australia
Never underestimate the fitness power of a good hike!

Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀

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