Travel is a wonderful way to grow, in every sense. But it comes with a downside. It’s that moment when you look in the mirror to find undeniable evidence that being away from your routine and shamelessly eating your way through a foreign country makes you grow in ways you didn’t expect, or desire.
During 10 months away from home working as an Australian Volunteer for International Development in the Maldives, my mind has expanded, my emotions have been tested and my body has grown a little pudgy around the edges. “You little bit fat now,” Hawwa, my landlady was the first to notice. It’s the flipside of travel after 50.
There are no mountains to climb in the Maldives, the highest peak measures just 5 metres. Long beach walks are not an option on small tropical islands or in the traffic chocked streets of Male; the few yoga classes I tried in Male were pitched at senior citizens. So how to keep fit while travelling?
For the first five months things were actually going great. I lived with the energetic 25 year old Carly, another Australian Volunteer for International Development, who got me to join a gym within the first week of arriving, and actually go. I hadn’t been to a gym in years and thought 3 days a week might be pushing it. Within a week I was hooked and upgraded my subscription to 5 days a week. Carly and I were two hot chicks pumping iron, doing circuits every day after work, like clockwork.
Well, she was the 25 year old hot chick, I was a 51 year old hot flushed chick. But at that moment I was 25 again, pumping that iron and watching my progress. Every few weeks I managed to increase the weights I was lifting. The Christmas flab around my belly began to dissolve into something that deserved the word ‘toned’.
But then Carly returned home, I turned 52, became a sedentary travelwriter (I travel some and I sit heaps to write and upload photos) and, surprise surprise, gained a few kilos. I hadn’t considered this downside to being a resort reviewer. I had only seen the upside; buffets overflowing with all the things I was deprived of in Male; champagne, prosciutto, French brie, fresh croissants, deserts to die for, wood fired pizza, Australian beef that melts in your mouth, more wine, you get the picture.
I fooled myself into thinking I’d just get away with it. The sad truth is that once you hit 50, a woman’s body naturally begins to accumulate fat around the belly. I never had one of those enviable flat bikini bellies, but now the fat is gathering in places that I’d never considered to be problem zones. Call me vain, but I don’t want to look like a stuffed sausage in my wetsuit the next time I go diving.
The other sad fact is that it takes only 2 weeks to loose your fitness. But it takes 6 weeks to get it back. That’s more than a little unfair. It also means that living the travel blogger’s nomadic life is going to be a lot more challenging than I had anticipated. It means I’ll have to create my own routine, which kind of goes hand in hand with the challenge of being a freelancer. It’s all about being self-motivated, goal focused and able to stick to a self-imposed routine. All of which I am not particularly good at. So I am seeing out the year with a self imposed fitness routine, to set me up for the new year. It’s only day five and my fitness instructor says it takes 28 days to get used to a new routine. Let’s see how it goes!
My top 6 tips to keep fit while travelling
1. Eat less
A no brainer, in theory only. Because it’s not my brain that makes me put that profiterole on my plate, or that wedge of exquisite French brie in my mouth. It’s that animal instinct that makes me want to treat myself to all the things I miss whilst traveling in a foreign country. As a travel writer, it’s also an occupational hazard; sampling a country’s cuisine goes hand in hand with seeing its sights. The solution is to built fasting days into the week. I’ll start with two days a week when I will only eat fruit and vegetables.
2. Run & crunch your abs
Another no brainer. You can run anywhere for free. I started running by accident whilst living in the Maldives. Every morning the call to prayer from the two mosques on either side of my apartment would wake me just before 5 am. Some days I’d turn over a couple of times and go back to sleep. On other days I’d doze for another hour or so and get up feeling cranky. One day, as an experiment, I forced myself to jump out of bed at the dawn call to prayer. I did that for five days in a row. To my surprise, I began to crave my new routine runs around the small island of Villingili in the pre-dawn hours before the world is fully awake. It’s the time of day when the best ideas come, when the mind is still uncluttered and fresh like the morning air.
I find it helps to devise a defined route that you can do every day. It makes it easier to track your progress and to increase stamina. Every day I manage to run a little longer. I also build sprints into my jogs which helps increase the cardio vascular workout. I’ll always try to finish my run with a set of ab crunches, push ups and stretches.
3. Join online yoga classes
Yoga is another activity you can, in theory, do anywhere, anytime for free. But if like me you suck at self motivated yoga classes, subscribe to an online program. The one I use is Laughing Lotus online Yoga following a recommendation by Jordan Ashley, who was my yoga teacher for two weeks at a retreat at Villa de Zoysa, near Galle in Sri Lanka. You’ll get a 7 day free trial. After that it’s USD $15 per month. She also recommended Pilatesology. You’ll get a free 10 day trial, after that it’s USD $19 per month.
These online classes work for me. It’s so much fun doing down dogs to the accents of a cool bunch of New York based teachers. It also sets me up for the day, because they will always throw in a few words of wisdom like “Inhabit your body, it’s your home.” Yes universe, here I come!
4. Join a fitness class
When I am in one place for more than a week, I will make a point of seeking out a fitness class that suits me and commit to going at least a couple of times a week. It helps to create a routine and it makes for an invaluable cultural immersion experience. During the last three weeks in the Maldives I went to Zumba fitness classes with my landlady a couple of times a week. It was a lot of fun to watch the Maldivian ladies take off their burqas and shimmy their butts and bosoms to energetic Bollywood tunes.
At the moment I am doing bootcamp with TraceYourFitness in El Arish, Far North Queensland, four mornings a week at 6 am. I love it because you never push yourself the way you do when you are in a real class competing with your neighbor. It’s also another cultural immersion experience to be crunching my abs to the chatter of the local ladies about their daily lives in this remote sugar cane country of Far North Queensland.
5. Ditch the bus and walk
I am lucky, I’ve always loved walking. In the forests of Germany, along an Australian surf beach, even in crowded Male. Walking is the best way to see a place, sample its smells, meet the local people and stumble across the unexpected. Travel should be a form of slow meandering. Sadly, that in itself won’t keep you fit.
To get a better workout, I put on my best footwear (runners if I brought them) and join the locals in the early mornings or at the end of the day, when the whole world is in in exercise mode. In Bondi you’ll find hordes of women wearing expensive Lulu Lemon yoga gear, in the Maldives you’ll see women wearing burqas and runners, in China you’ll find groups of people dancing or doing tai chi in public spaces, like these ladies I came across in a deserted Shanghai shopping mall on the second of January this year. They line danced in feather down jackets – made in China- to the tunes of Feliz Navidad at 7 am.
6. Hire a bicycle
Wherever I can, I will get hold of a pushbike and ride around a new place. It’s as good as walking, only you get to cover larger distances. In Kyoto I hired a bike for a week and never used public transport. I crossed the city in every possible direction and ventured out into winding roads through forests and way beyond the city. It was pure bliss.
In most German cities you can Call a Bike, a service provided by the Deutsche Bahn, the German railway system. You will find the bikes at major intersections. All you have to do is phone the number on the bike to get the code to unlock it. You pay by credit card and can return the bike by simply locking it to a fixed object and typing in a code to signal that you have finished the rental. It’s a perfect system for exploring German cities, which are very bike friendly, and get a work out at the same time.
What is your fitness routine?
Latest posts by Kerstin Pilz (see all)
- Travelpilz gets a facelift, a new name and a new website! - February 9, 2017
- 5 things cyclone Yasi taught me about life (and death) - February 2, 2016
- Why I love Christmas in Germany - December 22, 2015