I’ll admit, it took some convincing. My girlfriend Tabitha is a planner and while she has travelled in her past, it wasn’t quite the way I prefer it: one-way-tickets, no plans, and the absolute minimum packed into our bags. If that sounds stressful, that’s because it is. But I’ve always viewed it to be less stressful than booking a fully planned itinerary with a fixed return to a pile of work and trying to force yourself back into the routine you left waiting for you at home. Last fall, my persuasive powers prevailed and we embarked on a mostly unplanned 4-month car trip through Europe.
What Tabitha taught me when we did that first international road trip was that a little bit of routine isn’t necessarily bad. We found that incorporating regular exercise into our flexible itinerary, while difficult at times, allowed us to stay sane and get the most out of life on the road. Before I talk a little more about exercising while traveling, a few definitions:
Travel - If your idea of travel is staying at a luxury resort that likely has a hotel gym and spa that you can use in the off chance that you decide to do something other than presenting your wristband for a fruity cocktail, this probably doesn’t apply to you. If you’ve ever wondered how people stay in shape during long-term budget travel - I’m talking hostels, campsites, couch surfing, with an occasional nice hotel -read on.
Exercise - While we’re not Crossfitters or extreme yogis, working out is a huge part of our lives. For us exercise means cardio however we can get it, lifting weights, swimming, hiking and rock climbing.
Gym in Bogotá, Colombia
A run-down outdoor gym in Medellín, Colombia.
With the constant stress that goes with being on the road, many travelers will put off regular exercise until they return home or maybe consider the constant shuffling about on foot and hauling backpacks around to be enough of a work out. For us, we fall into bad habits while traveling if we don’t make exercise a priority. Often times this means finding a gym in unfamiliar territory. In rural towns or cities where you don’t speak the language, you have be a little savvy as they don’t always have a protocol for strange foreigners asking for a day pass. Being friendly and confident can often get you a free gym visit. For the gyms that charge for entry, we have paid anywhere from $1 USD for entry (in Guatapé, Colombia) to $8 USD (in Kotor, Montenegro) which means that we spend less on gym fees than when we are paying for membership at any regular gym in the United States. The best part about finding gyms in foreign cities is that it’s often it’s own adventure. You end up seeing a part of the town you wouldn’t normally venture to, you interact with locals in their environment, and appreciate different cultures with a common activity.
Beyond the obvious benefits of working out, we find that this little dose of routine gives us crucial travel stamina. Long bus rides, late nights, early mornings, stressful accommodations and travel in general means constant flux. Nothing gives us a healthy reset and a boost to the immune system like a solid workout.
But sometimes there simply isn’t a traditional gym nearby, so we have to improvise. Is there a place I could do pull-ups? A playground? An outdoor facility? No matter how funny I look in public, this is how important that routine is to me.
Above all else, getting exercise in nature is our first choice. We are traveling to see the world afterall. And when you take the time to take care of yourself, you can travel longer, stronger, and with open eyes.
Written by Michael Coen, Edited by Tabitha Yeasley
Michael Coen is a professional video producer from Portland, OR living in Boulder, CO.
Tabitha Yeasley works for Matador Products and co-produces content with Michael.
Together, they have produced travel/lifestyle content for shoe brands, backpacking and clothing companies.